With all the fanfare surrounding Cambodia’s emerging middle class and the rise in consumer spending tied to this demographic, one would perhaps expect a large international bank with long experience in the Kingdom to start offering credit cards.
But Malaysian banking giant Maybank says that despite the possibilities of netting a high profit, they won’t be offering plastic to Cambodians anytime soon.
Why? It’s because of what Maybank (Cambodia) CEO Lee Tien Poh calls “humanising financial services”, which means thinking about community benefits alongside financial ones when the bank considers new products and services.
With approximately 24,000 credit cards already issued by banks in Cambodia today, the concept of a credit card has not diffused into the Cambodian market yet. People might overestimate their spending power and end up in a debt spiral just because they misinterpreted how credit cards work.
“We know for a fact that if we do it right, the credit card business is very profitable. Interest rate for credit cards are normally high and even with the charge off due to bad debt, a bank can still make a decent profit, in fact good profit,” Lee said.
Maybank’s precaution is not baseless, as Lee told the Post:
“This market may not be ready for it. We are able to see that there are certain countries in the region where the people have reached a stage of using credit cards to bridge their monthly financial problems and that is not healthy in the long run.”
“Eventually you are encouraging them to take on debts and some of them go into personal debt problem, which is difficulty in paying back. This is not really something that we want to do and to us that is humanising financial services.”
This approach does not mean that Maybank’s products and services are priced cheaper than any other banks. Instead, the bank’s objective is to “sell ourselves as being a bank that gives the market fair terms and pricing”, says Lee.
And while Maybank does strive to provide fair terms and pricing, it wants customers to know that they want to have a long term mutual relationship with them.
“We are not here to make super profits and then move out from you . . . We don’t take away the umbrella when it’s raining,” he says.
Country of origin Malaysia
Total assets $461m
$65.9m (shareholder’s equity)
16 branches, $9.8m profit
In Cambodia since 1993
Key people Lee Tien Poh, CEO
Main Products Savings account, current account, fixed deposit, remittance, trade financing, business loan, housing loan, internet banking
$21.5m (net operating income)
All numbers for 2013.
“There may be banks in the market that do that, whereby when bad times come they increased interest rate and reduced the credit line. As for Maybank, we will on case to case, especially long term mutually beneficial customer, make sure we don’t run away when they need us most.”
Part of this long-term view means rewarding good customers.
“You have to bear in mind that if this customer has satisfactory track record with us, we need to take proactive step to reduce the interest rate and give better terms,” he said.
It also involves making decisions that a customer may not necessarily like, but this may be to his or her best interests.
“When a country is booming everybody looks at each other and says, wow how nice [would it be] if I could double up my wealth in a short time. They tend to get more aggressive in their investments and they want to diversify,” he says.
“[But] we are always very careful in our lending policy and we always advise customers that they need to stay focus at their core business and diversification need to be done slowly.”
Of course, Lee admits, like any bank Maybank is ultimately here to make profit.
“But what I am trying to say is that the mission of humanizing financial services always comes first to us. [And as] a consequence of what we do, the profit will flow in.”