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In Myanmar, buying cars and homes with gunny sacks full of cash

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Banks have even received deposits of S$10 million in bills, in a country where most still prefer cash in hand over credit. But could mobile wallets change all that?
YANGON: At banks in Myanmar, it’s not unusual to see people lugging huge and heavy gunny sacks into the lobby.
Once inside, they’ll split open the sacks, and out will pour cash. To process the deposit, bank tellers have to count and check every note – no small feat when each gunny sack can hold as much as 250 million kyats (S$250,000).
Their largest note is worth 10,000 kyat (S$10).
The adage that ‘cash is king’ is never more true than in Myanmar, where “people typically use cash for large transactions such as buying a car or even an apartment”, said Mr David Wang, deputy managing director of AYA Bank.
ATM cards are uncommon here, and credit cards are usually issued to those from middle-income and the higher-income. “Myanmar is predominantly a cash-based society. One big challenge is that there’s no credit bureau here. So it’s very difficult to ascertain the credit standing of a customer,” he said.
While the government has been trying to move towards more cashless transactions – a credit bureau is in the pipeline, Mr Wang says – for now, people still lug cash around.
Mr Wang said he has had customers, especially those who own businesses, deposit as much as 10 billion kyat (S$10 million) in cash with the bank.


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