SINGAPORE (Jan 30): Singapore’s sovereign wealth firm GIC Pte has bought a substantial stake in Myanmar’s Yoma Bank Ltd. as the country seeks to attract more foreign capital from across the region.

Yoma Bank is one of Myanmar’s largest lenders and was founded by local tycoon Serge Pun in 1993. As part of the latest funding round, GIC and Norway’s Norfund AS will buy about 30% of the business for 130 billion kyat ($120.8 million), Yoma Bank said in response to questions from Bloomberg.

The lender already counts the World Bank’s investment arm International Finance Corp. among its shareholders. Once the transaction is complete, IFC will have an interest of around 4% while GIC and Norfund will own 20% and 10% respectively.

“Post the introduction of the new investors, we will be the best capitalized local bank in Myanmar,” Yoma Bank Chief Executive Officer Dean Cleland said. “One of the best things we get out of GIC is their experience across the regions. They’re in many different businesses, they see many different business models and have experience in all kinds of things.”

GIC didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Foreign investors remain divided on Myanmar. While Western funds are wary of putting money into the nation as the Rohingya crisis continues, their Asian peers are hungry for deals. The Philippines’ oldest conglomerate, Ayala Corp., plowed US$237.5 million into Yoma Strategic Holdings Ltd. and affiliate First Myanmar Investment Public Co. in November.

Myanmar’s banking sector opened to foreign investors in January last year, spurring international interest given the nation’s 53-million-strong population is under-banked. Lenders from Japan to Singapore are hoping to expand in the country, whose almost 7% economic growth rate is among the highest in the region.

Thailand’s Kasikornbank Pcl confirmed earlier this month that it has sought approval from the Central Bank of Myanmar to invest. The statement was in response to reports it has purchased a 35% stake in Ayeyarwaddy Farmers Development Bank Pcl.

GIC, estimated by the Sovereign Wealth Fund Institute to manage about US$440 billion in assets, has been looking at opportunities throughout Southeast Asia as it hunts for long-term growth in the face of U.S.-China trade tensions. Last year, it paid US$60 million for a minority stake in ILBC, which runs schools with local and international curricula across Myanmar.

The latest investment also represents a vote of confidence in Yoma as a group. The conglomerate has business interests stretching from financial services to power generation, property and fast food -- it even operates a chain of KFC restaurants in the country.

Yoma Bank has around 80 branches, according to its website. It also has a joint venture called Wave Money with Telenor Myanmar, the country’s largest telecom provider. Wave provides financial services via mobile phones.

Total assets stood at 2.8 trillion kyat as of Sept. 30, a 22% increase from a year ago, according to the bank’s latest annual financial statement. Equity share capital was 32.3 billion kyat. IFC converted a 2014 loan to an equity shareholding in mid-2019.