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Beyond the Transaction: Every Transaction Has a Story

Myanmar’s Cash Culture

As I embarked on my trip to Myanmar to study the usage and perceptions of financial services in this cash based economy, I was not expecting the lack of electronic payment methods to significantly impact my life or my attitude towards money.  How difficult could it be to transact only in cash?

The first order of business upon arrival was to purchase a mattress. However, when I arrived at the shop, the mattresses cost US$120, four times the amount of cash I had in my wallet. “It’s ok,” the storeowner told me, “you can pay later”. When the mattress was delivered that night, my landlord, Aunty Sanda, received the mattress, as I was not at home. At that time, the deliverymen requested to be paid for the bed. Aunty Sanda, however, didn’t have US$120 dollars on her, so she asked the neighboring liquor store for extra cash, who lent it to her without question. When I later heard what had happened, I was embarrassed that an unknown liquor store fronted money for my mattress. However, I quickly learned that because of the lack of formal financial services penetration in Myanmar, lending money to friends and family was a common occurrence.

Myanmar’s tumultuous history with the formal financial sector explains the population’s aversion to incurring formal debt. Moreover, stringent collateral requirements and complex application processes make acquiring a loan from the bank extremely difficult. Borrowing from friends, family, and occasionally liquor stores, has thus played an important role in providing liquidity in times of need.


A weaving workshop in Mandalay

As international financial players enter Myanmar, regulations in the sector are expected to create a more business friendly environment, allowing for the introduction of increased electronic payment services. Myanmar residents may initially be wary of non-cash alternatives, however, once services become commonplace and easily accessible, customers will no longer need to rely on their friends, family and neighbors to buy a mattress.

Does the way you pay for goods and services impact your attitude towards money?

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