Maybank sees mobile banking as key to promoting the riel

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Cynthia Liaw CEO, Maybank (Cambodia) Plc.

There is a simple reason why Maybank has been named the most innovative bank in Malaysia, explains the CEO of its Cambodian subsidiary. “We have observed that innovation has no borders,” says Ms. Cynthia Liaw in her office at the bank’s headquarters on Norodom Blvd.

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She’s enthusiastic about the swift expansion Maybank (Cambodia) Plc. has experienced over the past five years, but what she and other senior staff at the bank are most excited about is the shift to mobile banking here.

They see an opportunity to expand beyond their 21 branches to play a leading role in digital banking in the Kingdom.

Qazreen Chan Abdullah, Maybank’s head of marketing for Indochina, explains that the bank – the only one here with a presence in all of 10 Asean countries – is reviewing its growth strategy for Cambodia and “looking beyond bricks and mortar.”

“The time is right [for mobile banking],” Ms. Liaw says, explaining that “you will soon be able to do away with your wallet and just bring a phone.”

Both executives point to the combination Cambodia’s overwhelmingly young population and the smartphones explosion as the factors underpinning a shift to digital banking, a trend Ms. Liaw is particularly enthusiastic about.

“Cambodia is ripe for the digital era and can leapfrog to digital payments,” she says, noting that this shift also presents a unique opportunity to promote greater use of the Khmer Riel. “We believe there will be an increase in the use of the riel. It’s not a question of if, it’s a question of when and how,” she explains.

In the third quarter of this year, Maybank Cambodia will introduce riel denominated savings accounts and, more importantly, will embed the National Bank of Cambodia’s interbank transfer system for riel on its mobile banking app. Called the FAST, or Fast and Secure Transfer system, it allows users to transfer riel from one account to another at any bank or deposit-taking microfinance institution in the country.

It does so in real time. By comparison, transferring US dollars can only be done in real time from one account to another within a single bank. Ms. Liaw believes FAST is the key to increasing the use of the riel, and her bank will be targeting “digitally savvy customers and merchants” for riel payments. One drawback to using the riel is that many people may not want to carry a lot riel because it is “bulkier” than dollars. “That may be one factor that decreases its use,” she explains.

The highest denomination or a riel banknote is 100,000, which is equivalent to about $25. Mobile banking, however, removes this hindrance, and with the FAST system in place there is also the advantage of real-time transactions.

Ms. Liaw points to other potential advantages, like the ability to withdraw riel from any ATM in the Kingdom despite which bank the customer has an account at, as well as using riel for payment at points of sales.

The CEO also has a message for all financial institutions in Cambodia. “I cannot stress how important this is,” she says. “I would like to appeal to all financial institutions here to put more effort into training their staff to raise the standards of banking in Cambodia. Cambodia’s strength is its young workforce and their enthusiasm to learn. Companies that fail to tap into this enthusiasm and train their staff are missing a one of the best opportunities Cambodia has to offer,” Ms. Liaw explains.

“Cambodia is still a high-growth market, but [to benefit from growth] you have to start with your own staff.”

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