Mobile financial transfer service Wave Money is encouraging its customers to ditch cash in a country where people are known to pay for apartments with bags full of bills, but the company’s CEO, Brad Jones, insists that they mean banks no harm
How do you hope to compete with traditional remittance services and newcomers entering the market?
In terms of competition from other mobile operators coming in, I welcome it, because I think what we see here is that cash is the competitor. For a period of time, I don’t see it as a market share battle, I see it more as the industry educating consumers as to why digital cash is better than physical cash.
How would you like to work with banks in the future?
One of the things I’d like to do is provide our customers with the ability to access their funds from a bank account, like moving money into a PayPal account from a debit card.
What are some of the main challenges that Wave faces operating in Myanmar?
The biggest challenge for anyone in this business is the distribution network – Myanmar is such a big country. Anyone can go and roll this out in Yangon and Mandalay, but pushing this out where the people really need the service, that’s not so easy. Secondly, trust is a big issue – predominantly because Myanmar consumers have had such a bad experience with the banking system over the past 60 or 70 years. There’s been three demonetisations, and, in 2003, there was a banking failure.
What does the future hold for Wave?
I think this market here could support 30,000 or 40,000 agents for an average player relatively comfortably. We’re sitting at 8,500, so we’ve got a lot of growth to do, especially on the digital side.
What’s your assessment of the startup ecosystem in Myanmar?
There’s certainly lots of innovation and passion, but access to finance is a major challenge. The banking system does not allow for unsecured credit, which makes it very hard for entrepreneurs who need funding.
This article was published in the August edition of Southeast Asia Globe magazine. For full access, subscribe here.