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Myanmar goes digital

Recently I was suggested to move to Myanmar. To my shame, I knew pretty much nothing about Myanmar, apart from it being Burma before. Ok, and except the fact that Myanmar is a Chinese gambling heaven. And that I have never been there or wanted to. So that got me curious — what in the world is happening in Myanmar?

Credits to Guilherme Romano,

Turns out, Myanmar used be in the bottom of the world internet penetration ranking list, right alongside the most unfortunate African countries. And then they climbed up.

For the past 3 years Myanmar has rocketed in all sorts of internet metrics. Local expert suggests this wonder to be a disappointing glitch in statistics. Myanmar was online even 10 years ago, when internet-cafes were consuming much of the traffic, and some offices and apartments had their cable from the local internet cafe.

Myanmar went straight to the age of affordable Chinese smartphones, just as so many other countries. Around 16 million happy smartphone users watch Korean TV series, download pirate movies, play games and write a looooooot on social network.

Digital in Asia

Western media connects Facebook to the unfortunate political events that happened in the country in the past several years.

As media suggests, Facebook became involved in the epicentre of the political events — ‘muslim population genocide’ they call it, that happens near the Bangladesh border right now. Myanmar Facebook users could not handle the hate speech and the fake news spread like fire, until it became fire on the streets. Facebook could not handle it either, there were simply not enough Myanmar-speaking staff to censor the posts, so the misinformation and hate speech was spreading like decease. UN organisation recognised Facebook to be one of the reasons for the current crisis.

However, locals are way more sceptical of the western news drama, and ask readers to do critical thinking, and not believe everything they read in the news. Political journalism never paints an honest picture.


Apart from Facebook, Myanmar has another thing they love… games! Even 10 years ago Myanmar youth was very much engaged with online games in the internet-cafes. And now, thanks to smartphones and increased internet speed Myanmar is full open for the mature gaming industry. Especially with game developer rich Vietnam being so close.

And guess what. Alibaba is here.

This May Alibaba acquired Daraz Group, the e-commerce company from Rocket Internet, with focus on Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Myanmar, Sri Lanka. It is known in Myanmar under the Shop brand. And looks like they are getting full speed ready for the first ever 11/11 event in this country.

I’m curious as to how Alibaba is going to change the country payment behaviour, how they are going to handle population where only 23% have a bank account, in reality even less. Well, now it seems, they have connected ‘cash-on-delivery’ payment system, but based on their experience with Russia, where ‘cash is a must’ belief quickly shattered, cash might not be the king in Myanmar in years to come.

Dozens of mobile money wallets are drawn to Myanmar to solve the ‘cash problem’ — Norwegian Wave, Thai TrueMoney, Qatari M-Pitesan, and many new ones that just opened this year. As local experts suggest, most of them are focused on solving the ‘money transfer’ problem, both inside the country, and outside from the many Myanmar nationals working in Singapore, Thailand, and other countries. Wallets are trying to replace the ages long hundi network system that is a agent-powered informal exchange system between friends and families.

Is any one of them going to solve the last mile problem? Convert the cash to digital, and become Alibaba’s payment partner? More than that, become the brick and mortar of the burgeoning Myanmar e-commerce. Seriously, how many of such markets are left on Earth?

Credits to Harish Shivaraman,

Special thanks to an expert on the ground — Peter Kozma, author of the Мьянма * Myanmar blog, for the feedback and valuable comments —



Anna Kuzmina is the deputy Chief Commercial Officer at Yandex.Money, one of the leading fintech companies of Russian origin, operating both b2c and b2b financial services. Follow Anna on YoutubeTwitterMediumTelegram или Яндекс.Дзене.


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Anna Kuzmina

Anna Kuzmina



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21 Jan 2019



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