Myanmar’s Yoma Bank has long enjoyed a local reputation for its investment in technology, resulting in an efficient branch network, remittances services and specialist SME services. As CEO Hal Bosher tells Douglas Blakey, its collaboration with Misys will expand its offerings and help the bank target new segments

First there was Royal Bank of Scotland, Starbucks and – but to that list add at first glance an unlikely partner for Facebook’s beta test of “Workplace by Facebook” – Myanmar’s Yoma Bank.

Since the start of the year, Yoma has partnered with Facebook enabling bank staff to communicate directly with senior management, and each other, using defined working groups that can be accessed through a smartphone application.

“Workplace allows Yoma Bank to leverage the incredible penetration of smartphone technology in Myanmar to strengthen our corporate culture and improve our efficiency. Workplace turns a social into a professional platform. Our 3,000 employees now consume information, share their views, and have a voice,” says Hal Bosher, Special Advisor to Chairman and CEO.

He adds that Workplace has changed the way the bank functions for the better. Not only can branch staff interact with the management directly, it also promotes transparency from the top down and helps facilitate quick, direct communication.

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It’s just the latest in a series of technology investments at Yoma. The biggest recent investment was Yoma selecting Misys’ FusionBanking Essence for a complete front-to-back transformation of its core banking system to launch mobile and online banking.

The investment also enables the bank to venture into lucrative trade finance business.

“Myanmar is on the verge of a growth and development explosion; a new, modern and robust financial system is critical to support the economy and our people,” says Bosher.

“Yoma Bank has always pioneered new technology. We were the first bank in the country to use a computerised accounting system and wireless communications.

“We’re now transforming the bank to introduce new channels, new products and a new dimension to customer service which will cement our position as an innovative leader in Myanmar.”

Bosher adds that the bank took the decision to keep customisation of the new core banking system to a minimum. Wherever possible, Yoma will modify its processes to match those of FusionBanking Essence and not other way around.

“It is important to us to adhere to international processes and best practices, which Misys delivers in the MAPS model bank approach.”

Adds Bosher, there were a number of reasons for Yoma opting for Misys’ solution.

“We required sustained attention from the vendor and needed the right level of support, from a technology partner prepared to offer customisation and localisation.

“The project remains on track with a full roll out planned for early 2017.”

Wave Money

Yoma’s most important ever IT project is however just one part of what amounts to a bank transformation. Bosher is positive to the point of being evangelical about the prospects offered by its Wave Money initiative.

Wave Money, a mobile financial services joint venture between Yoma and telco Telenor, is the first such project to be given a licence by the country’s central bank.

Not only does the project expand the bank’s range; it hugely expands the bank’s distribution.

At launch, Wave Money will be available at more than 4,000 Wave shops.

“Currently, we have a branch network of 62 outlets and have been rolling out a disciplined 10 branches or so a year the past couple of years.

Our new digital channels combined with the agency network, Wave Money, will enable us to grow customer numbers in the mass market via the smartphone.”

He says that building a strong distribution network is key to mobile financial service success and that a typical Wave Money customer will be a domestic migrant working in the city sending money back to their home.

In time, Wave Money will be on offer nationwide in around 15,000 Wave shops.

Initially, Wave Money launches in November with remittances and mobile phone top-ups and will expand to incorporate bill payments, savings and lending products.

Bosher is broadly positive about the banking sector’s prospects.

“The new government is progressive and there is a general consensus that modernisation of the financial sector is a priority.”

He says there is huge scope for growth of products such as consumer lending and retail mortgages while the unbanked sector offers massive potential.

In the next 10 years, it is feasible that the current banked segment, a mere 10% of adults (five million) can treble to 30%-some 15 million adults.

“Most Burmese people are on the land. We are putting together a team, with expert assistance from Dutch agri lending experts Rabobank, to see how we can lend into the agriculture sector.”

With combination of IT investments going live, a growing banked sector, huge growth in mobile phone penetration, expanded product ranges and new segments of the market to target, it is no surprise Bosher is so chipper.