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An ATM machine in Yangon, Myanmar. (Lam Thuy Vo / NPR)

Episode 463: How To Get A Country To Trust Its Banks

Jun 4, 2013

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It's something you can see on every block in most major cities. You probably see it every day and never give a second thought to. But in Yangon, Myanmar, an ATM is a small miracle.

For decades, Myanmar was cut off from the rest of the world. There were international sanctions, and no one in the U.S. or Europe did business there.

But last year, when the international sanctions started to be lifted, companies like Visa and Mastercard were excited to come in. The country has about 50 million people — that's a lot of potential customers to pay ATM fees.

Setting up these machines has been a technological challenge because of the country's aging infrastructure. But there is a bigger problem with ATMs here that a lot of the international companies weren't expecting. The people in Myanmar are reluctant to use ATMs because they don't trust the banks.

"The banks don't work very well," says Zeya Thu, a journalist. " Sometimes you have to bribe the staff to get your money back. So people put their money under their mattresses."

Thu is a business columnist, but even he keeps his life savings at home, out of the bank.

On today's show, how do you get a country to join the world economy when the people there don't even trust their own banks.

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