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Trading on the future

Swiss-born Aung Thura, founder and CEO of a research and consultancy firm in Yangon,
has big plans for Myanmar’s nascent financial industry

By Christian Vits
Moving to Myanmar was always an ambition for Aung Thura. And when Southeast Asia’s last frontier market opened up its economy, that dream was finally realised.
“My mother is Burmese and my father Swiss, so I regularly visited Myanmar in my early childhood,” said Thura, founder and CEO of Thura Swiss. “I always liked the country and I saw a lot of business opportunities here. So finally, I decided to move.”

The 36-year-old Swiss-Myanmar businessman grew up in Switzerland and moved to Myanmar in 2011. Before relocating to Southeast Asia, he worked with Zürcher Kantonalbank. He holds a doctorate in economics from the University of St Gallen in Switzerland. Photo: Lauren DeCicca

 
Thura Swiss, established in January 2012, specialises in research and consulting, advising enterprises to evaluate chances of an initial public offering (IPO), or servicing foreign companies with evaluations of local firms.
A third area will be the capital market, although Thura remains sceptical whether the Yangon stock exchange will open as planned in 2015.
“What Myanmar is pretty much lacking so far is a built capacity, including skilled people and players on the market,” said Thura, who is also a tango dance instructor during his free time. “We don’t have institutional investors, we don’t have brokers, we don’t have dealers, we don’t have market makers, we don’t have people who understand how this all works. We don’t have a securities and exchange commission, so a lot of questions are still open.”
Against this background, Thura aims to expand into the over-the-counter (OTC) market, where trading is done directly between two market participants.
A trade can be executed without others being aware of the price of the transaction. Therefore, OTC markets are less transparent than exchanges and are subject to fewer regulations. Companies often start trading their stocks via the OTC market and eventually upgrade to listing in a fully regulated market.
“We see a huge opportunity in the OTC market,” Thura said. “At the moment, there are only ten companies that might be listed on the stock exchange. But on the other hand, there are about 200 non-listed companies and we will try to set up an OTC platform with similar functionalities to a stock exchange,” he added.

“The financial markets have a lot of opportunity, especially because we can build the whole sector from scratch,” said Thura, who thinks Myanmar has the potential to “leapfrog” some development stages. “For example, banks in advanced economies have a lot of legacy systems. Myanmar has the chance to use the newest technology.”
Thura is referring to online payments and mobile phone-based information systems, making the opening of many local bank branches unnecessary.
However, doing business in a country that has been through almost five decades of military rule is still not easy and progress sometimes takes more time than initially thought. Two years ago, “there were a lot of investors who expected that everything would change very quickly. Nowadays, we don’t see a lot of companies with this attitude any more,” said Thura.
According to Thura, business opportunities depend on the timing of market entry. “If you are in the oil and gas sector, in telecoms, in the infrastructure sector where you are building, it is a very interesting time right now, especially for building roads, airports and public transportation,” he said.
However, when it comes to the production of goods, Thura feels there is still a long way to go: “If you are in the manufacturing industry, where you need reliable infrastructure, it might be a little too early.”

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