Acleda Bank Opens in Burma, Eyes China

Acleda’s first microfinance office in Burma—the Cambodian bank’s first of many branches planned for the newly emerging country—has served slightly more than 300 customers and handed out some $47,000 in small-scale loans since its launch in mid-February.

After a few months’ delay, Acleda secured its operating li­cense from Burma’s Directorate of Investment and Company Ad­ministration on February 8 and opened the doors to its five-story flagship office in Rangoon, the country’s largest city, 10 days later.

“It’s faster than expected,” Acleda president In Channy, who attended the branch’s official inauguration last month, said Tuesday of its growing customer roll.

The branch had been in the works for nearly a year, since Mr. Channy broached the idea with the visiting deputy governor of Burma’s national bank, Nay Aye, in Phnom Penh in April 2012.

After 20 years of banking in Cambodia, Acleda was eager to tap into Burma’s relatively virgin but much larger market of 60 million people on the heels of a spate of economic reforms in the former pariah state aimed at attracting foreign investors.

Though wholly owned by Acleda for now, Mr. Channy said the International Finance Corporation, France’s BRED Banque Popu­laire, and German bank KfW would soon be taking over a combined 45 percent interest in the branch’s $10 million in planned capital.

He said Acleda planned to open a total of seven micro-lending branches in and around Rangoon and to reach a total 2,000 customers within the first year.

“It’s a great opportunity because the supply [of micro­loans] is very limited over there,” Mr. Channy said.

But Burma may just be the beginning.

After working its way toward the country’s border with China by building more branches over the next several years, Mr. Chan­ny said he hoped to eventually break into China.

“This is our long-term plan; it depends on our experience in Burma,” he said. “This is maybe a long time [away] because Myanmar is so large.”

Despite Burma’s reform efforts, however, recent clashes between the country’s majority Buddhist population and minority Muslims have killed dozens and displaced thousands, putting much of the country on edge.

Thirteen children died Tuesday in a blaze at a mosque in Rangoon, though authorities were quick to blame an electrical fault.

Citing Acleda’s experience starting out in war-torn Cambodia in the early 1990s, Mr. Channy said he was untroubled by the mounting violence and its creep toward Rangoon.

“We have that experience and we know where to go to,” he said. “It [Rangoon] is the heart of the business community, so we feel confident with that.”

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