Banks remain mostly closed despite pressure from junta

Banking in Myanmar has come almost to standstill in the more than six weeks since the February 1 coup, with only basic services still available at a limited number of locations.

In the commercial capital Yangon, only a handful of branches of two of the biggest domestic banks, KBZ and AYA, remain open, according to customers.

As of Wednesday afternoon, every bank in the city’s Yankin, Tamwe, Bahan, Thingangyun and South Okkalapa townships appeared to be closed, Myanmar Now found in an effort to confirm these reports.

However, a customer who had used the AYA Bank branch on Sayarsan road in Yankin said it was still open for withdrawals.

Meanwhile, services in other cities were even more restricted.  In Mawlamyine, the capital of Mon state, local sources said there was only one KBZ Bank branch still in operation on Wednesday, while all banks were reportedly closed in Bago. 

While some banks continue to fill ATMs with cash, few other services are available, bank employees said. 

Unhappy customers

Large crowds have been reported at some of the few branches in Yangon that are still dispensing cash, occasionally resulting in tensions between staff and customers.

“At the KBZ Bank headquarters on Pyay road, they were writing down people’s names and phone numbers as the crowd got bigger. They said they would get back to us,” said Aye Aye Phway, a customer who was seeking to withdraw money.

KBZ Bank came under fire on Tuesday when four of its customers were arrested following a dispute with bank staff. 

On Wednesday, the bank released a statement denying that it had called the police, as alleged by some who criticized its handling of the incident. It also said that it would assist the customers who had been detained.

According to the junta-controlled broadcaster MRTV, the customers were arrested for pressuring bank staff to take part in the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) against military rule.   

Pressure from above

A month after many of their employees joined the CDM, privately-owned banks have come under growing pressure from the junta to reopen for business.   

Banks that haven’t reopened have been instructed to turn over all of their customers’ information to the state-owned Myanma Economic Bank or one of two military-owned banks, Innwa Bank or Myawady Bank. 

The Central Bank of Myanmar would not be responsible for the consequences if banks failed to abide by this demand, the regime warned.

The regime originally issued this order, through the Central Bank, on March 8, to no avail. Despite repeating it again on Wednesday, the situation remains unchanged.

Currently, private banks are required to allow regular customers to withdraw 500,000 kyat per day from ATMs or 2,000,000 kyat per week if they appear at the bank in person. 

Companies are permitted to withdraw 20 million kyat at a time, according to Central Bank instructions issued on March 1.

Myanmar has 27 private banks and 17 branches of foreign-owned banks.

Editor’s note: This article has been edited to include KBZ Bank’s statement on the arrest of four of its customers on Tuesday and the state-owned broadcaster MRTV’s claims about the incident.

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