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Red app, blue app: KBZPay notches 6m Myanmar users

Marlene Nang Kham Noung, deputy CEO of KBZ Bank, adds credit to her drive for complete financial inclusion.

Marlene Nang Kham Noung, KBZ Pay

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KBZPay, the mobile wallet extension of Myanmar’s KBZ Bank, has processed $5.7 billion worth of transactions across its retail and merchant users in the first eight months of 2020.

For Nang Kham Noung – who goes by Marlene – this is only the beginning of her drive to ultimately win 100% of the addressable market.

The wallet now has 6 million users, or about 20% of the addressable population of Myanmar.

“Our target is 30 million people, the entire adult population,” said Marlene. She says officially KBZPay has a 10-year timeline to achieve this, but she says it can happen sooner, given the wallet’s rapid evolution since it launched just two years ago.

Marlene is deputy CEO of KBZ Bank, the country’s largest privately held bank, with about 40% of deposits in the domestic banking system. It was founded in 1994. Her older sister is also a deputy CEO, while her father Aung Ko Win and mother Nan Than Htwe run the KBZ group of companies, a brand containing companies in aviation, real estate, and textiles. The group got its start in the mountainous Shan region where it bought what became KBZ or Kanbawza Bank (it has since divested itself of some early businesses such as mining).

Mike DeNoma is CEO of KBZ Bank.

Red app, blue app

KBZPay has two mobile apps depending on the customer segment. One is colored blue, for customers. This is where people go to top up, make peer-to-peer payments, and cash in or cash out, including via KBZ Bank’s ATM network. The app also has games and donations. Earlier this year, KBZPay added a feature called Shopper Loans, for buy-now pay-later installment payments.

The red app is for KBZPay’s 290,000 registered merchants and agents, and other partners in its ecosystem. Last year, KBZPay introduced what it calls the loan center, to provide short-term loans to them.

Branches and the app will coexist

Marlene Nang Kham Noung, KBZPay

Marlene says her team is still working on criteria for loans. Consumers need to have a bank account with KBZ and prove they have a job, for example, although other details are still being tweaked. (Non-bank customers can use the blue app for its non-credit features.)

“Credit is important but so is financial inclusion,” Marlene said. She says the ambition for KBZPay is to be a combination of WeChat Pay and Kenya’s M-Pesa. “We envisage this as an enabler of the digital economy.”

Built off branches

KBZ’s differentiator against rivals such as Wave Money is its use of the parent’s bank branches. The bank’s 15,000 employees are also KBZPay agents, and each branch is a local hub. Agents seek to bring people into the branch to teach financial literacy skills, and encourage them to register for KBZPay – which people do at home.

“Education is the selling point. Then it’s digital so people don’t need to return to the branch,” Marlene said. People don’t need a bank account to use KBZPay, but it’s a way to encourage them to enter the formal banking system (which requires a more stringent KYC and onboarding process). Then, if they have an account, they can use the app to withdraw funds from the ATM. “Branches and the app will coexist.” 

After 26 years of operating, KBZ Bank has 5 million customers; after just two years, KBZ Pay has 6 million, of which 4 million are brand new and only 2 million overlap. “The bank relationship is bread and butter, but KBZPay is a lifestyle change, and a lot more interactive,” Marlene said.

Wave Money says it has 1.3 million monthly users. Marlene did not detail how many of KBZPay’s 6 million sign-ups are active users.

Huawei is the primary developer behind KBZPay. Marlene didn’t comment further on the company’s involvement, other than to note KBZ also uses other tech vendors from the U.S. and Singapore for things like biometrics and data management.

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Red app, blue app: KBZPay notches 6m Myanmar users