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Wave Money is Democratizing Mobile Payments in Myanmar

Mobile money is still at its ‘very early days’ in the Golden Country, and this start-up is setting a good precedent

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BY Tricia V. Morente - 29 Mar 2017

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Mobile financial services have revolutionized the way people store, remit, and receive money in most of the countries in Southeast Asia. It has not only benefited a great segment of the population in these emerging markets, but has significantly impacted national economies as well.

Touted to be Southeast Asia’s final frontier when it comes to financial technology, Myanmar has recently joined the mobile money bandwagon with the entry of Wave Money, a joint venture of the Telenor Group, First Myanmar Investments, and Yoma Bank. The first mobile money provider licensed by the Central Bank of Myanmar, the company headed by Australian Brad Jones is enabling both urban and rural citizens in across 60 percent of all townships and economic corridors in Myanmar to send money to their families via its 5,500-strong and growing distribution network. “We target rural areas more,” shares Jones. “What we’re seeing is that in places where there aren’t banks, there are high levels of activity,” he adds.

Having worked in the mobile money and finance space across Southeast Asia for the last 13 years now, Jones says that mobile money in Myanmar is really “still at its very early days,” and the opportunity to “leave something everlasting, something that will change people’s lives by bringing in new technologies and services” is immense.

“It’s one of the most exciting mobile money markets in the world,” Jones relates. Here he dishes out three key observations on Myanmar’s mobile money space:

 

1. There is now a digital foundation in which FinTech can be built

When Jones moved to Myanmar two and a half years ago, there had been some small forays by banks into the mobile money space. However, nothing had scaled at all. “What’s been the accelerator for the country is really the digital penetration. When the first licenses were issued in 2013 to Telenor and Ooredoo to allow them to launch mobile networks in the country, the amazing proliferation of smartphones and data in the country has laid a foundation in which the fintech industry can be built,” notes Jones.

 

2. There isn’t a strong App store culture in Myanmar

To encourage more people to transact using mobile money, Wave Money had to first and foremost address the fact that “there isn’t an App culture in Myanmar; a lot of that is driven by the fact that people don’t have Internet so they can’t use Google Play, for example. When people buy mobile phones, they’re also asking the shop assistants to side-load all the apps they need. So what we’ve basically got in Myanmar is effectively 30,000 app stores,” shares Jones. To address this challenge, Wave Money commissions promoters to educate people about the app and assist them in downloading.

 

3. New mobile money players are not the competition

With two new mobile money operators launching by end of the year, Jones says that 2017 is really “when you’ll start to see the industry accelerate in scale.” He adds that Wave Money is “excited to see the other operators enter the market. What that will start to do is actually really develop a mobile money category in the country, because at the moment I don’t see that the competition are with these other guys.”

The real competition, says Jones, is cash. “There’s so much cash in the economy and we want to take some of that cash out. And even with two other mobile money providers coming in the market, the market is significantly large that when they do come in, certainly for the first couple of years, the fight is going to be on digitization and taking cash out,” he states.

As for Wave Money’s role in all this, Jones says, “We want to be an open platform where we can work with multiple banks, mobile operators, merchants, billers, and then look really to provide benefits to all those partners.”