In addition to being battered by the Covid-19 pandemic, Myanmar found itself in the throes of a military takeover in February 2021; the resulting civil unrest and nationwide protests have proven to be an unprecedented challenge from an operational perspective. In an interview, Ms Chaw Ei Nander, a Loan Officer (‘LO’) at ASA Myanmar Daik U-2 Branch, graciously explains how she manages to maintain contact with stakeholders in her community and what the situation is like six months after the takeover.

Navigating the pandemic

“During these difficult times, I was devastated when I heard that three clients from my branch had perished during the third wave,” says Ms Chaw. “It gave me some solace that ASA Myanmar provided moratoriums, deducted the outstanding loan balance and refunded the savings of the deceased clients to their nominees.”

At the height of the pandemic, many clients suffered financial problems, with some being forced to close their shops temporarily or even permanently, and others taking on extra employment to earn an supplemental income.

This harsh reality check and working in the field with many clients prompted Ms Chaw and other branch colleagues to get vaccinated. “I completed both vaccination doses in October 2021 and feel much more protected, yet I remain cautious. Some clients continue to be afraid that LOs carry the virus. We reassure them that we are very careful and take the right precautions. Also, during client visits, I encourage them to be proactive about prevention measures and take the vaccine as well. Raising awareness is something we did during the entire pandemic.”

According to the Company’s most recent records, 130 staff members and 6,403 clients have been infected with Covid, resulting in the death of 2 staff members and 452 clients of ASA Myanmar. The current infection rate has decreased and people are less afraid, however, ASA Myanmar continues to closely follow health and safety measures.

Coping with the takeover

Working in the field to collect and process payments became even more challenging due to the military takeover and subsequent political instability in February 2021. Money withdrawal and deposits were disrupted, as most bank branches closed after the takeover. Those loans which were previously disbursed by cheque now needed to be done so in cash.

There were also great logistical barriers that arose after the takeover. Collecting loan instalments could be precarious, as robbery cases were not infrequent. Moreover, the Government Forces set up a lot of barricades and checkpoints along the roads to the group meetings.

If the road was blocked or I was not permitted to enter a village, I had to ask clients to transfer loan instalments digitally or to make payments at the branch, where possible.

Chaw Ei Nander, Loan Officer

As of this publication, Myanmar remains politically unstable and is unsafe in certain areas. Bombings occur in public areas, there are checks and interrogations on the streets and a night curfew is maintained. Many clients who live in the most dangerous areas have taken refuge elsewhere. Moreover, people are suffering from concurrent financial instability in the country. Banking institutions have not been operating well since February, resulting in a high inflation rate and high cost of living.

Continued operations

Despite the political turmoil, ASA Myanmar continues to serve those clients that are persevering to run their businesses and provide for their families.

To prioritize safety, branch staff observe the situation on the ground through a group leader or trusted person before going to any group collections. Only if the situation is considered to be safe, will the group collection be permitted to proceed. Clients who cannot reach group meetings can continue to pay via digital channels or at branch offices. If safety cannot be guaranteed or a client cannot be reached, collections are postponed. In the conflict-prone areas where it has become too dangerous to operate, branches have either been merged or closed entirely, which is the case for 6 of the 96 branches.

Meet Ms Chaw Ei Nandar

Ms Chaw Ei joined the Company in 2018 and is in her third year of her Botany bachelor’s degree at Bago University. Before joining ASA Myanmar, she was a volunteer teacher at the village school for two years. Although she thoroughly enjoyed teaching the children, she was determined to find a paid job to support her family and to develop her career. She was particularly excited to work in Yangon, the former Capital. Since starting at ASA Myanmar, she has improved her time management, client management, technological and financial management and social skills. Ms Chaw Ei has a wide range of responsibilities, including new member admissions, loan collections, data entry, income and expense management. “One of my favourite aspects about the job is that I’m entitled to branch accommodation with full facilities such as service staff, kitchen and first aid materials,” explains Ms Chaw. Upon her own request, she has recently transferred to the Daik U-2 branch near her hometown in the Bago region.