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Local businesses embrace fintech

Chea Vannak / Khmer Times Share:
Panelists discuss the local fintech sector at the launch of the Cambodia Fintech Association last year. Supplied

It is lunchtime at a coffee shop in Kandal province’s Takhmao city. Customers enjoy a cuppa while chatting effusively with friends. Behind the counter, Sokun Thoeun, the owner, checks their payments on his smartphone.

Mr Thoeun and his wife, both in his thirties, have been in the coffee shop business for nearly a year, and, since opening, customers have only increased.

Despite never having studied business management or finance, Mr Thoeun, with guidance from bank officials, has already mastered the apps he uses to manage customers’ payments.

He says electronic payments are the easiest way for customers to settle their bills at the cafe and for him to pay suppliers and banks. At least 20 percent of payments at his cafe are done by QR code, he says.

“Mobile apps allow us to easily manage payments. Sometimes customers don’t have cash but they want to drink coffee. Fortunately, now they can just settle their bill by simply scanning a QR code,” Mr Thoeun says.

Financial technologies, or fintech, is a nascent industry in the Kingdom, with the government, through the National Bank of Cambodia, working to upgrade the regulation that governs the financial sector and striving to reduce the risks of using digital wallets.

Thoe Sreypov, the owner of a grocery store in Takhmao city’s Prek Ho village, added money transfer services to her offer at the shop more than a year ago after learning they were in high demand.

“Many people in my village asked me about money transfers, so I decided to start providing them,” Ms Sreypov says.

Getting the hang of the technology took some time in the beginning, with Ms Sreypov having little experience with technology in general. After a few weeks, however, she was able to use her point-of-sale machine to transfer money for her customers with confidence.

“I encountered many difficulties in the beginning to familiarise myself with the technology. Now, however, conducting money transfers for my customers has become easy,” Ms Sreypov says.

The development of fintech – including smartphone, Internet and blockchain technologies as well as data analysis – has boosted the Kingdom’s financial sector.

A man uses his smartphone at a local store. KT/Mai Vireak

Ouk Sarat, director of the payments system department at the National Bank of Cambodia, says fintech in the Kingdom continues to grow, particulary when it comes to payment systems and tools for cross-border money transfers and loan disbursements.

“These technologies have increased efficiency, safety, and transparency, while reducing costs and enhancing access to financial services for many. They have revolutionise the sector,” Mr Sarat said last week at a financial technology forum held in Phnom Penh.

Mr Sarat, however, underlined that fintech technologies can expose businesses to cybercrime, while enabling activities like money laundering and the financing of terrorism.

“The National Bank of Cambodia has been working on drafting a policy that can support the development of the sector while minimising risks,” he says.

Men Rotha, a housewife living in Takhmao city, says access to financial services has increased markedly in recent years.

“Before it was hard to access financial services, and since I didn’t know much about finance, I never used them,” Ms Ratha says. “But now there are many more options, and even the interest rates have dropped.

“Transferring money to relatives using a bank or even just a smartphone is fast and safe. I no longer have to wait in line at a bank or use a taxi to send money,” she says.

ABA Bank, a leading commercial bank in the Kingdom and a member of the National Bank of Canada group, is focusing on its offer of fintech services, believing that the technology promotes inclusion, particularly for the unbanked.

“We are constantly developing our ABA Mobile app and launching new features with focus on our client,” says Lach Vannak, public relations supervisor at ABA bank.

“The App helps customers interact with the bank faster and safer,” he says, adding that some of the most common features include access to account statements, bill payment, fund transfers, cardless ATM withdrawals, and push notifications on every transaction.

“Recently, we have also introduced fixed deposit and savings accounts, virtual cards, and QR code payments,” he says.

Fintech can also play a critical role in financial education, which is particularly important given the country’s current stage of development, Mr Vannak adds.

According to NBC’s Mr Sarat, to continue supporting the growth of fintech, the Central Bank plans to issue regulation to govern real-time gross settlement systems as well as e-payment tools like chip cards and QR code-based apps.

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