• 73 percent of survey respondents expect the business landscape to improve
• 83 percent of firms are ready to contribute to overcoming bottlenecks, e.g. by training and developing staff
• 97 percent of firms see transparent government economic policy as key to unleashing optimism and investment interest
Yangon / Nay Pyi Taw, December 2016: After decades of lying dormant, Myanmar is quickly awakening to global business. The pace of change from an isolated, closed off economy to one that is open for business on a global scale has been staggering. As one of Asia’s least developed countries, Myanmar is experiencing a transformation unlike any other today and provides a rare opportunity for international firms to be a part of one of the last frontier markets.
In August and September 2016, Roland Berger surveyed nearly two hundred senior executives from companies of all sizes to get their take on the opportunities and challenges ahead. 90 percent of respondents are owners, directors, executive officers or managers at their firms. The survey includes the perspectives of executives from a range of companies including those operating in telecommunications, media, technology, construction, real estate, utilities, chemicals, retail, banking and tourism.
These executives are enthusiastic about Myanmar’s outlook and they believe that conditions are ripe for firms to grow and expand. Nearly 80 percent of survey respondents cited the country’s status as a frontier market with a large and growing population as a prime reason for investing in Myanmar. 66 percent of respondents think that the government’s commitment to reform is a key reason to enter the market.
Businesses also expect the situation to improve and are planning accordingly. 73 percent expect the overall business landscape to get better and 92 percent expect to expand their operations in the country over the coming year. Nearly two-thirds of those surveyed preferred organic growth, while more than half of local firms prefer international partnerships, providing a platform of opportunity for international firms. Success in Myanmar is a matter of commitment and patience. 70 percent of firms operating there for more than five years are satisfied with their performance. In contrast, 50 percent of firms that have been in the country less than five years are satisfied with how they are faring. Hence, it is imperative that businesses invest in Myanmar now and go through the apprenticeship period early, thus being prepared for the exponential growth in the medium term.
The road won’t be smooth. Like many emerging markets, Myanmar also presents challenges to firms looking to grow. Firms surveyed believe that labor issues and lack of legislative certainty are the main risks to doing business in the country. 41 percent of firms say that lack of skilled staff is a very significant issue and for 85 percent it is the most significant one. As a result, much of the investment in the coming year will be on employee development and training. Higher skilled workers present the added challenge of rising labor costs, which 68 percent of firms say could be an issue for growth.
The biggest question mark for senior executives in Myanmar, however, concerns government policy. While there is broad acknowledgement that important actions such as the new investment law have been taken, the business community is missing a program that is broad enough to cover the major parts of the economy, specific enough to build business and investment plans on, and quick enough to take advantage of the goodwill created by the change in government and lifting of sanctions, before it evaporates.
The clear majority of firms that Roland Berger surveyed said that the lack of a clear economic policy, an unpredictable legislative environment, selective enforcement of regulations and lack of intellectual property rights protection all present major obstacles to business growth and investment in the country.
“These obstacles indicate the need for comprehensive public sector reform. Despite ongoing initiatives, meaningful improvements to public services will be inevitably challenging, reflecting the urgent need for swift implementation and quick wins”, says Thomas Klotz, Managing Partner of Roland Berger South-East Asia.
Firms in the survey said that government reforms were crucial for achieving economic growth. The magnitude of the transformation challenge is illustrated by how many firms are suggesting urgent government action across a wide range of issues. For example, more than 90 percent are calling for transparent government policy, stable electricity supply, better transport infrastructure, financial sector reform and promotion of fair competition.
Time for Action. Myanmar’s potential is real, but so are the roadblocks. For firms seeking to take advantage of the country’s window of opportunity, as well as policymakers who want to boost employment and investment, both have roles to play in helping the country develop rapidly. For policymakers, Roland Berger’s survey of executives working in Myanmar provides an important insight into how to attract foreign capital in the country. Both international and domestic firms want regulatory and legislative assurances as well as transparency.
Companies, meanwhile, can also take away some key lessons from Roland Berger’s first business confidence survey in Myanmar. Myanmar presents tremendous opportunities for international firms that want to expand into new and emerging markets. Companies in sectors such as tourism, energy, infrastructure and construction, chemicals, consumer goods and retail and many other all have strong prospects in the country.
“Our conversations with Government officials indicate that there is awareness of the need and urgency to clarify and detail economic policies, and determination to move from planning and deliberation to action and quick wins. If this indeed happens, we will continue to see one of the fastest and most impactful transformations of a nation ever”, says Thomas Klotz.
Take a look at the report below: