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Bank gives Bhutan lifeline to the world

A branch of Indian bank Druk Punjab opens in Thimphu, Bhutan.

People wait outside one of Bhutan's older banks on a Sunday. Sunday hours were added as one of the new competitive pushes by the existing national banks in Bhutan.

Thimphu, Bhutan is the fastest growing capital in Asia, as evidenced by a construction boom, thanks to a growing culture of moneylending.

TEXT OF INTERVIEW

Bill Radke: Between China and India, in the tiny Kingdom of Bhutan, the first commercial bank has just opened its doors. Bhutan has been changing fast since electing its first democratic government a couple of years ago. Now the Indian bank, Druk Punjab, has opened a branch there. Lisa Napoli is in Bhutan's capital, Thimphu, and she joins us now. Hi Lisa.

Lisa Napoli: Hi Bill.

Radke: So what has the banking system in Bhutan been like up until now?

Napoli: Well Bill, this is a place where yaks roam free and where subsistence farming is still a mainstay occupation for 80 percent of the people who live here. So it wasn't very long ago that the barter system was the dominant way of doing business. And currency was only introduced, hard currency, only about 40 years ago.

Radke: And in a country used to the barter system, are they now getting used to things like ATM cards and credit cards?

Napoli: Well they want to. They see us have them and they see outsiders come in with them, wanting to spend money, and they can't. Because unless you have cash, you can't spend it here. So also it's a lifeline to the world. I mean you can't even set up an Internet business if you don't have some sort of credit card, and many people nere are eager to do that -- the entrepreneurial spirit is really booming here in a way that didn't exist even four years ago. So the promise of this bank is really making people very excited.

Radke: You know Lisa, in the States these days, we haven't, it's been awhile since we've said, "Everybody's thrilled about plastic."

Napoli: Hahaha!

Radke: What kind of conversations are people having about the advent of credit?

Napoli: You would think that they'd learn from looking at what's gone on from us. But unfortunately all they're learning is even though they're a peaceful, happy Buddhist kingdom, that they want more stuff. Lots more stuff.

Radke: OK. Lisa Napoli in Thimphu, Bhutan. Thank you so much.

Napoli: Thank you, Bill.

People wait outside one of Bhutan's older banks on a Sunday. Sunday hours were added as one of the new competitive pushes by the existing national banks in Bhutan.

Thimphu, Bhutan is the fastest growing capital in Asia, as evidenced by a construction boom, thanks to a growing culture of moneylending.

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