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MasterCard and Visa: Cage Match in Myanmar

John Grgurich
September 13, 2012

Anyone who's anyone wants to be in Myanmar. At least, that's what one would think after hearing about all the companies that are making or executing plans to get in there. But there's good reason for this.

After essentially being closed for business for decades, Myanmar, the southeast-Asian country formally known as Burma, is again wide open. They are offering 60 million practically new consumers to U.S. companies who can set up shop first, no matter what they're selling. Coca-Cola and PepsiCo are already off to the races in Myanmar, set to reignite the old cola wars for a whole new citizenry. And now, it's MasterCard's (NYSE: MA  ) and Visa's (NYSE: V  ) turn to go toe-to-toe.

MasterCard takes the lead for now
On September 5, MasterCard announced that it will become the first international payments network to license branded cards in Myanmar, following the signing of a breakthrough agreement with the country's Co-Operative Bank Limited. According to MasterCard, Co-Operative Bank Limited is one of Myanmar's most established commercial banks, and operates the country's largest ATM network. The agreement lets merchants in Myanmar accept MasterCard payments, giving them access to the company's entire global-payments system. According to MasterCard's Vicky Bindra, president of MasterCard Worldwide for the region:

Allowing the issuing and acceptance of MasterCard branded cards in the country is a huge step forward for Myanmar's banking sector, its merchants and for the country as a whole. Electronic payments will be crucial in helping Myanmar connect to the global economy, facilitating business activity, and creating a better life for its citizens through financial inclusion.

This MasterCard agreement follows hard on the heels of a similar move by rival Visa, which recently began teaching local Myanmar banks the ins-and-outs of processing electronic payments. Visa sees this as a first step to signing a similar deal as MasterCard's.

Go forth and use credit cards
There's good reason for investors in both companies to be excited about the prospects of getting Myanmar onto the electronic payment