Note: This episode originally ran in June, 2013.
It's something you can see on every block in most major cities. You probably see one every day and never give give it a second thought. But in Yangon, Myanmar in 2013, an ATM was a small miracle. For decades, Myanmar was cut off from the rest of the world. There were international sanctions, and no one from the U.S. or Europe did business there. But when those sanctions started to be lifted, companies like Visa and Mastercard were excited to start setting up shop. Myanmar has about 50 million people — that's a lot of potential customers to pay ATM fees.
Setting up ATMs was a big technological challenge, because of the country's aging infrastructure. But there was a bigger problem that a lot of the international companies weren't expecting. People in Myanmar were reluctant to use ATMs because they didn't trust the banks. They weren't sure that the machines would actually give them their money. "The banks don't work very well," said Zeya Thu, a journalist. " Sometimes you have to bribe the staff at the counter to get your own money back." He said lots of people kept their money at home, under their mattresses. Thu is a business columnist, but even he was keeping his life savings in a personal safe, outside of the banking system.
On today's show: How do you get a country to join the world economy when the people there don't trust their own banks?
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