Financial Inclusion in Myanmar: From Opening to Opportunity
As Myanmar continues its transition to a market-oriented economy, people hope that the growth in GDP will translate to improved living standards for the entire population of 54 million. In order to encourage and enable inclusive growth, stakeholders within the public and private sectors should turn their attention to the provision of formal financial services.
According to Global , 23 percent of adults have access to an account at a formal financial institution, a departure from neighboring countries like Thailand where access is around 77 percent. This rate of access is not equal across demographics; women and poor populations tend to be less included. Additionally, financial access is “thin”, with only 6 percent of adults accessing more than one financial product. Confounding the issue of financial access is the country’s preference for cash: 95 percent of adults receive their wages or salaries in cash.
But the economy is shifting away from old tendencies and toward a more market-oriented stance. With this strategic shift comes an opportunity to increase access to formal financial services. However, in order to achieve this goal, policy makers, financial service providers (FSPs) and funders need actionable intelligence that can inform their decision making. With generous support from the MetLife Foundation, our team at MIX was able to collect, collate and publish an interactive data visualization that maps financial access points in Myanmar against a number of demand-side indicators. The Interactive Dashboard for Myanmar enables country stakeholders to understand which districts and townships are underserved, enabling the creation of policies and expansion to increase access.
The findings offer insight into gaps in service provision, including the 9.9 million people living in underserved areas, around 30 percent of the working age population. Our analysis found that there are 34 districts and 125 townships that fall below the median of 0.8 access points and 0.6 access points per 10,000 people, respectively. As the financial services industry expands beyond the three major service providers, the identification of underserved states that are densely populated – including , Mon, Nay Taw and (West) – can help inform FSP expansion plans. Additionally, our analysis found 39 townships without any access points; 5 of those also have population densities above the national average.
Although Myanmar’s economy is predominantly cash-based, digital financial services could play a role in the near future. According to a GSMA report, 40 percent of the population owned a phone as of March 2015. There are more than 11 million people living in 7 states with high mobile phone penetration and few financial access points, offering a potential opportunity for service provision. However, it is important to note that, similar to gender disparities in financial access, women are 29 percent less likely to own a phone than men.
Our Market Insights for Myanmar – top-level takeaways for managers – highlight the importance of addressing the gender gap in financial service provision. States and regions such as , and Magway have large female populations but only an average number of access points. Similarly, (West), Shan (North), Shan (South) and Rakhine have significantly fewer access points when compared with the female population (see figure). Policies that take this information into account could help encourage access point growth that is inclusive of women in these, and other, underserved areas.
Compared to its neighbors, Myanmar has some catching up to do. But as it continues to take steps to restructure its economy, the country should maintain a clear focus on connecting its population to the tools and services that can improve their lives and support their livelihoods. Central to that objective is ensuring access to appropriate financial services for all segments of the Myanmar population, including women, low-income households and the states, districts and townships currently underserved.
MIX would like to thank Livelihoods and Food Security Trust Fund (LIFT), Myanmar for their support in arranging meetings with policy makers and regulators through the project. MIX also appreciates LIFT’s support in conducting the stakeholder workshop in Myanmar that helped MIX inform the wider audience about its initiative aimed at contributing towards increased financial inclusion in Myanmar. The workshop also helped MIX understand the landscape of financial inclusion in Myanmar from the lens of different stakeholders.