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A Revolutionary Crypto-Based Bank in Myanmar

Originally published on Mohinga Matters

Spring Development Bank (SDB) is a pioneering independent “neobank” based on blockchain and cryptocurrency technology, established to offer an alternative banking system in Myanmar. Launched in July 2023 and supported by the National Unity Government (NUG), SDB aims to safeguard people’s assets, disrupt funds flowing to the military regime and raise funds to support the resistance. As Myanmar faces political turmoil, SDB aspires to provide secure and efficient financial services to donors, fundraisers, and recipients, including the People’s Defence Force (PDF) and humanitarian response actions.

An Alternative Banking System

In a country where traditional banking institutions are subject to heavy surveillance by the regime, the emergence of SDB as an alternative banking system brings hope to many frustrated customers. The initial focus of SDB will be on agency banking, with plans to evolve into a fully-fledged online banking service in multiple phases starting from August 2023. The services offered by SDB include saving accounts, gold purchases, remittances, a long-term investment fund, and foreign currency exchange. SDB accepts deposits in U.S dollars, Singapore dollars, Thai baht and Myanmar kyat and plans to expand its currency offerings to Euros, Pounds, Japanese yen and Korean won in the future. This innovative banking platform is licensed and regulated by the NUG Interim Central Bank. 

Supporting the Revolution

As the tech-savvy initiative NUGPay laid the groundwork for digital currency in Myanmar, the SDB seeks to complement it by enabling efficient fundraising and fund deployment during the ongoing revolution. The local banks’ pervasive surveillance has led to customers losing access to their accounts, facing arrests, and encountering numerous challenges. The SDB’s arrival as an alternative banking system raises optimism among the people, providing a safer option for transactions for private donors and fundraisers, enabling direct support to various recipients, including PDF units, internally displaced persons (IDP), and humanitarian response efforts.

Overcoming Major Hurdles

While SDB holds promise, it faces significant hurdles, including the regime’s efforts to counter its operations through hacking, disruptions, and physical threats. The widespread internet shutdowns across the country pose a challenge to gaining widespread use of SDB’s services. The movement of funds from a crypto-based system to physical currencies and usable resources remains a concern due to existing oversight and regulations on financial transactions in and out of Myanmar. Overcoming these obstacles will require robust cybersecurity measures, increased digital literacy, and cooperation between stakeholders to navigate the changing political landscape.

Users’ Aspirations

Currently, SDB is in the beta testing phase, involving a total of 1000 users. As user feedback is limited, people’s opinions are largely based on their expectations and hopes for SDB. Users are excited about having a bank that supports the resistance and provides a safer alternative to traditional banks. By aligning with the revolution, SDB holds the potential to become a platform for secure fundraising and seamless fund transfers, particularly in conjunction with NUGPay. Users anticipate that the revolutionary bank will facilitate efficient transactions, benefitting both the resistance movement and personal businesses alike.

One user hopes for a safe and secure means to support the revolution. “It has been so long that I am frustrated with the local banks in Myanmar. I am glad that now we have a bank that sides with the resistance. We would no longer need to go to the bank and that would make us feel safer,” said a supporter on the condition of anonymity. 

While the advanced technology can be daunting, another user is also hopeful for the SDB. “I have learned about the SDB through its Facebook page. I have not used it so I do not know if it works well. If the SDB can stand as a ‘revolutionary bank’ and has the capacity to turn the funds into physical currency and connect efficiently with the existing NUGpay, we would be able to undertake both fundraising for the revolution as well as our personal businesses.”

The launch of SDB marks a significant development in Myanmar’s banking sector. As the first independent crypto-based bank, SDB seeks to disrupt the regime-controlled banking system, support the resistance, and provide safer and more efficient financial services to the people. The initial response from users indicates shared hopes and aspirations for SDB to be a valuable asset in fundraising and fund deployment efforts during the revolution period. But the road ahead is challenging, requiring innovative solutions to overcome hurdles imposed by the junta regime. As SDB evolves into a fully-fledged online banking service, its success will depend on continuous adaptation, cybersecurity measures, and cooperation among its stakeholders.

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