Public Bank Sees Strong Growth in Cambodia

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Phan Ying Tong, Regional Head Indo-China Operations. Supplied

Public Bank is Malaysia’s third largest bank by assets and largest by capitalization. It was one of the first foreign banks to invest in Cambodia, in 1992 – before the UN-supervised 1993 election and at a time when the Khmer Rouge was still active.
Since then, it has expanded into securities and insurance. From its first branch, it now has 30 around the country. It helped underwrite the recent Phnom Penh Special Economic Zone’s listing on the Cambodian Stock Exchange – the fourth company to list.
Phan Ying Tong is head of the bank’s Indo-China operations. He told Khmer Times’ Terry Friel he is optimistic about the country’s economy and sees strong potential for the bank and the country.
KT: What brought Public Bank to Cambodia?
Phan Ying Tong: We made a brave decision to invest in Cambodia in 1992. At that time, Cambodia had just returned to peace after civil war. We recall the very good relationship with Cambodia at that time. Malaysia was the first country to offer Cambodians visa-free entry to show our friendship. The [then] Malaysian Prime Minister, Dr. Mahathir Mohammad, invited businessmen to invest in Cambodia because he firmly believed in the policy of ‘prosper thy neighbor’ because if your neighbor prospers, then you are at peace as well. We have come a long way from a very humble one branch. Through ups and downs, from our head office we have 30 branches at the moment.
KT: How has that paid off?
Phan Ying Tong: We are very happy with our investment in Cambodia. It’s bearing fruit. We are really deeply rooted into the community. Our main customers are the Cambodian people and Cambodian business. All this is a testimony of our bank’s success in this country.
We will continue to grow stronger if required. We also firmly believe in human resources. If our own staff are ready, we can expand faster. We believe in developing our own human capital rather than getting it in from somewhere else. We prefer to give opportunities to our own employees. We believe in career advancement.
We also have subsidiaries, such as Campu Securities. All in, we have three companies operating here now. We will not stop here. Because we believe Cambodia is the fastest growing economy in this region and we believe it will grow further.
KT: Cambodia is the world’s sixth-largest growing economy. But sectors such as the rice industry want help. Infrastructure is not working. What can the government do? Or should it be up to the private sector?
Phan Ying Tong: I think the government definitely can play an important role in any economy for development. Especially, making clear the investment policies, the terms and conditions, and the certainty that investors are looking at. So that will provide a lot of confidence for the existing investors as well as the new investors coming from overseas.
There is definitely room for improvement to provide a clear investment policy, including tax and land title.
KT: Business is not just about money. What is Public Bank doing to help the Cambodian community?
Phan Ying Tong: We always bear in mind our corporate responsibility. And we believe in poverty reduction. Especially in a country like this. So, one of our commitments is to better the education opportunities. Especially in the rural areas. So we help in schools and so on.
KT: You have spoken positively of Cambodia’s economic outlook. Vietnam – a major competitor in everything from rice to garments – is part of the 12-nation Trans Pacific Partnership. Cambodia is not, but is looking at joining. What do you think?
Phan Ying Tong: There is no problem at the moment because the effect is not there yet. But I think government and businesses are a bit concerned. Therefore, if I understand correctly, the government agencies are quickly talking with the US about a bilateral agreement to counter the effect of the TPP.
This is the right thing to do immediately. Cambodia has a lot of potential. It may not just want to remain as a manufacturing hub for the garment industry, which is labor intensive. Maybe it is the right time now for Cambodia to quickly go off into other industrialization.
If there are no changes in the economy or the environment nearby, you may not think of any changes right now. Maybe circumstances will make you change for the better. I think the Cambodian people are ready to receive a lot of training. And more sophisticated production, right? It’s not just low cost labor any more.
KT: Public Bank, through Campu Securities, recently helped underwrite the Cambodian Stock Exchange listing of the Phnom Penh Special Economic Zone. What impact does the zone have?
Phan Ying Tong: Inside the zone, you don’t see only garment factories. You see more advanced factories. Even diamond cutting – Tiffany’s is there. This shows the economy is evolving. Not only being limited to garment factories. And this is the way that we should go.
KT: And investment in the zone?
Phan Ying Tong: Bankers will follow where the customer is. There is a lot of Japanese investment and we are tying up with the Japanese customers and community. We have Japanese-speaking officers taking care of the Japanese clients.
KT: And the future?
Phan Ying Tong: We will not stop here. Because we believe Cambodia is the fastest growing economy in this region and we believe it will grow further. We want to be here.
And we have shown our commitment.

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