Top Myanmar Bank May Sell Stake to Foreign Firm, If Law Allows

  • Bank needs capital in order to expand in under-banked country
  • Myanmar considers changes to law allowing foreign ownership

Myanmar’s largest privately-owned bank by assets says it’s willing to sell a stake to a foreign lender, pending a change in the country’s law, as it gears up to expand its operations in one of Asia’s most under-banked nations.

“In any emerging market, capital is important,” said Nang Kham Noung, an executive director of KBZ Bank. “For us, we are open to foreign partnership. However that’s subject to the central bank and the regulation,” she said in an interview last week in Yangon.

Myanmar is considering changes to the companies law that would allow foreign investors to acquire stakes of up to 35 percent in local firms, a government official said last month. Existing laws don’t allow foreign investors to hold stakes in local banks, according to KBZ Bank. Like many companies in Myanmar, the bank needs foreign capital to keep pace with rising demand in Myanmar’s rapidly expanding economy, which grew by 8.1 percent last year.

KBZ Bank, founded in 1994, aims to more than double the number of its branches to 1,000 by 2020, as well as grow mobile financial services to reach people in rural areas, Nang Kham Noung said. It may consider an initial public offering, she said.

Myanmar’s banking system is “immature” and regulation remains rudimentary, said Nam Soon Liew, managing partner for ASEAN financial services at the consultancy EY in Singapore. “Myanmar banks need to make sure that their businesses, operations and risk management are more robust, that they have stronger balance sheets, stronger management control, product platforms and accounting systems," he added.

About 77 percent of the population has no access to banking, according to consultancy Roland Berger.

Group Interests

KBZ Bank is part of the KBZ Group, which was founded by Nang Kham Noung’s father Aung Ko Win. The business empire includes gems and jade mining and trading, aviation, insurance and construction, according to the group’s website. Aung Ko Win, his wife and three daughters sit on the group’s board, the website shows. Unlike several other local companies, KBZ wasn’t subject to international sanctions under the former military government, the bank said.

“We are working towards international standards in corporate governance” and plan to include more independent directors on KBZ Bank’s board, Nang Kham Noung said. She declined to give details of the current composition of the board.

KBZ Bank’s assets grew at a compound annual rate of 44 percent between 2012 and 2016, and now stand at $8 billion, according to the bank. It has 17,889 employees. The bank is recruiting more staff, targeting Myanmar nationals who have lived abroad as well as foreigners, Nang Kham Noung said.

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