Myanmar's 'Frontier' Investor

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Marco Werman: After a two-week tour of the US, Aun San Suu Kyi is heading back to Myanmar. The Burmese opposition leader gave her final speech in Los Angeles. It was about her hopes for democracy in Myanmar. Those hopes are bolstered by the rapid changes the country has undergone in the past year. First, its military rulers freed Suu Kyi from house arrest, then they allowed elections. For a country that was one of the world's most undemocratic, the changes are dizzying. The United States has lifted a number of sanctions on Myanmar and now the country, also known as Burma, is starting to open up to foreign business. Alisher Ali is one of the first to take advantage of that. The Uzbek entrepreneur has set up Myanmar's first investment bank, using his own money. He says it was love at first sight.

Alisher Ali: When I visited Myanmar for the first time, it only was a two-day trip but this was sufficiently enough for me to understand that this country has enormous untapped potential.

Werman: So, you have experience in coming out of the Soviet era Uzbekistan and all the other experiences you've had. You've had experience seeing opportunity in fairly economically bleak areas. So, what gives you hope for returns on your investment in Myanmar?

Ali: I'm extremely bullish on Myanmar because of the following factors. We have seen success stories in Eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union countries — Russia, Kazakhstan, and particularly a country like Mongolia where I spent the last 4 years as an entrepreneur. These experiences and the success stories I have seen in those countries give me optimism that Myanmar will join the global economy and will re-take its position as one of the prosperous nations in Southeast Asia.

Werman: So, a faster growth, more profit for you and your investors that you're bringing in. There's no real legal framework for investment bankers in Myanmar, not yet anyway. There's not even the Securities and Exchange Commission type thing to give you a license. Are you worried that this degree of insecurity could lead you to lose everything?

Ali: Obviously, investing in Frontier markets represents a significant risk and there are many examples around the world — places like Venezuela and others. Yes, the regulation right now in Myanmar doesn't include the notion of an investment banking industry, but that was the case also in Russia. And so, I think Myanmar, in 5 years down the road, will have quite a dynamically growing investment banking industry which will be so attractive that you will have Wall Street banks present there. They will all be keen to move into Myanmar because that country represents one of the best opportunities in Asia, if not globally.

Werman: I'm wondering Mr. Ali, how excited are your wife and kids being in a place where they might not see the same opportunities as you? In fact, I don't know, do they even want to be there?

Ali: I think my wife is a hero. Without her, I would not be able to move to Myanmar because I wanted us to be as a family together. So, the fact that she visited with me and visited the place and she liked it, because she wanted to move in, we're there. Yes, we have four kids. It's a fascinating place. I think the people are warm. It has gems in terms of architecture, the cultural heritage, its nice weather, nice food. Yes, there are not many modern amenities. I mean, there are no Starbucks there; internet not working well, and there are not many choices in terms of restaurants but my wife and I are quite confident that that all will happen. Starbucks will be there. There will be multiplexes there and there will be Wi-Fi around. This kind of historical transformation that we can see with our eyes and really be part of that process, it's a privilege and my wife and I we really treasure and value that.

Werman: Speaking with us from London, Alisher Ali, founder of the first investment bank in Myanmar. Thanks for joining us and the best of luck to you.

Ali: Thank you.