Myanmar has a mostly rural population dependent on farming or self-employment for income, with limited levels of education. However, despite a significant minority experiencing volatile incomes, they overwhelmingly report earning similar amounts on a week-to-week basis: with low levels of income, it may be volatility feels less noticeable than it might to those in higher-earning countries. They have very strong belief in social support, reflected in their low levels of formal financial inclusion, vanishingly small mobile money account ownership levels, and very low overall savings levels (including at home, and even through the social groups 40% of them are members of — such groups used more for borrowing than saving). They are also the only country we surveyed where women are more likely to say they make the financial decisions alone (61% of women do) than men are (45% of men say the same). With such a nascent state of financial inclusion and socially-based approach to financial management across the population of Myanmar, there are clear opportunities for financial service providers to strengthen the financial approaches of the Myanmar people with products that operate in sympathy with their existing approaches, helping them cope with emergencies and access credit beyond what their community can offer.
Myanmar people mostly rely on farming or self-employment as their primary income source. They do not seem to experience high income volatility, with 59% reporting earning a consistent amount on a week to week basis, and 53% knowing how much they will earn when they wake up each day – though 21% of Myanmar strongly disagree with each of these statements. 82% feel very or somewhat confident being able to pay all of their household bills, too. However, this everyday security may be due to their low income and limited outgoings just balancing – almost half, 46%, report they never save or put money aside, suggesting limited spare income. They can deal with everyday finances thanks to very strong planning: 60% strongly agree they have a plan for paying their household bills, the highest degree of confidence of any country by far.
Outside of what they can plan for, however, is a different story. They find it hard to cope with financial shocks. Thirty-two percent say it would not be possible for them to raise money in an emergency — also the highest level among countries. Fifty percent say it would be somewhat or very possible, likely looking to their community for support: 54% would look to assistance from others, while 19% would look to informal financial sources – both the highest level among countries. They are the joint-most likely country to have faced a large one-off medical bill in the last two years, at 40%. However, they do not typically save to cover this possibility: 47% strongly agree that they make too little money to save for anything, and 46% report they never save.
Formal Financial Services
Just 7% have an account at a bank or other formal financial institution. This does not seem to be because they do not trust banks (49% strongly agree that banks do their best to be affordable), but 39% do strongly agree that financial services are complicated and confusing (the highest of any country – though 19% strongly disagree, also the highest of any country). They are split as to whether banks care about serving people like them: 31% strongly agree they do, while 24% strongly disagree – both the highest among the countries. Whatever the reasons, they are much more likely to turn to informal financial services.
The rate of use of mobile money in Myanmar is vanishingly small, with less than 1% having a mobile money account. Mobile money providers have only recently begun to offer services in the country, but as with other formal financial services, they will have a steep hill to climb to overcome the informal financial services that Myanmar people choose when looking for financial products.
While 52% of Myanmar people have higher levels of trust in banks, 70% have higher levels of trust in people — even while 65% feel the need to get to know someone well before fully trusting them. This wider trust is reflected in the very similar rates at which they save with informal groups (23%) vs. save at home or with family (also 23%). They have high rates of belief in their communities’ willingness to support their family’s education or a business venture (64% agreeing or strongly agreeing), and very strong belief that money lent to friends and family will be repaid (73% agreeing or strongly agreeing, the highest among the countries). This suggests financial service providers would have to offer significant value and/or convenience (such as higher levels of lending) to compete with the existing, trusted social financial networks that Myanmar people make use of.