> Posted by Jeffrey Riecke, Communications Assistant, CFI

The World Economic Forum on East Asia was held last week in Myanmar. Following the country’s recent political and economic changes, the forum was Myanmar’s first international meeting that spanned leaders from industry, government, academia, and civil society. The three themes of this year’s gathering were Inspiring Inclusion Transformation, Realizing Regional Integration, and Scaling Regional Solutions for Global Resilience. A few of the forum’s sessions focused directly on financial inclusion. These included Moving from a Cash to a Banked Economy, and From Social Protection to Financial Inclusion. Video recordings of these, as well as all of the forum’s sessions, can be found here.

Myanmar today may be the nearest country in the world to a cash-only economy. Only 10 percent of the population has access to formal financial services, though if this year is any indication, changes to the country’s financial services and economic landscapes are coming, and rapidly.

This past September MasterCard became the first international payments network to issue a license to a Myanmar bank, enabling Co-Operative Bank Ltd. (one of the country’s largest banks) to offer MasterCard-branded cards to its customers. Since September, similar licenses have been issued to four more banks, and the ensuing five bank network of ATMs, currently totaling 140 facilities, now accept MasterCard payment cards. Beyond this new service opportunity for many of Myanmar’s banked, the development allows tourists and business travelers in the country to withdraw local currency using international MasterCard cards. 2012 was a record-breaking tourism year for Myanmar, as over one million visited the country. New point-of-sale merchant terminals for cashless payments are also in the works. With its first MasterCard terminal opening this past September, the payments company is working with in-country banks to roll out upwards of 500 terminals at restaurants, hotels, and other retail outlets by the end of the year.

These developments coincide with increasing country-wide economic growth. Myanmar’s GDP increased by 5.3 percent in 2010/11, by an estimated 5.5 percent 2011/12, and is projected to continue climbing to 6.25 percent in 2012/13.

Image credit: World Economic Forum

Have you read?

Financial Inclusion and the World’s “Unbanked” Population

Measuring (and Missing) Financial Inclusion

First Report from FI2020′s Mapping the Invisible Market Highlights Implications for Financial Inclusion as World’s Demography Changes