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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Mobile top ups move beyond scratch cards

Mobile top ups move beyond scratch cards

Mobile service providers are looking beyond the scratch card for methods of adding credit to prepaid mobile phone accounts.

ANZ Royal Bank inked an agreement with operator Beeline on Wednesday allowing top ups at the Bank’s ATM network, which ANZ Royal CEO Stephen Higgins said will cut down on scratch cards.

“This service eliminates the use of scratch cards, which is a tremendous step in the right direction for both banks and mobile network operators to provide more simplistic and convenient services to their customers,” said ANZ Royal CEO Stephen Higgins said.

While scratch cards have become ubiquitous in Cambodia, mobile companies and retail phone shops alike have pointed out challenges in their use.

Scratch cards are printed outside the country, imported and then distributed to wholesalers and retail shops, said Smart Mobile CEO Thomas Hundt.

“From a logistical standpoint, scratch cards are an issue,” he said.

The handling required, and even the environmental impact of the excessive amount of paper used, weighs on mobile providers.

Smart signed an agreement with ANZ Royal allowing top ups at some of its ATMs in May 2010, though it and other operators continue to use scratch cards as a proven method of topping up accounts.

Even if the costs of getting those cards to customers may be higher than desired, in the end they are still generating overall revenue for Smart, Hundt said.

For shopkeepers along a stretch of phone shops on Sihanouk Boulevard, the problem is one of profit margins.

Billy Lim, who works at a Hakse store in the area, said he earns “only a little bit” on scratch card sales. Hakse will buy a US$50 card for $47.50, which assumes a profit of $2.50 per card. But competition among area stores can drive the face value down to $48 – leaving just $0.50 a card in profits.

Other shop owners described similar issues. But they continue to offer scratch cards because they are part of an overall stable of phone-related products they deliver to customers, they said.

“What if people need scratch cards and we don’t sell them?” asked He Sophavy at IndoChina mobile phone shop, adding that it’s better to have them than not to.

Whether or not phone companies and shops find them difficult, scratch cards may still be the best way to serve customers, said Bun Tharum, a technology specialist and occasional contributor to The Post.

He cited their convenience overall as the main reason they stay in circulation.

Card sellers are much more prevalent than ATMs, he said, and the cards themselves don’t have to be bought by the eventual user.

Beeline General Director Gael Campan did not return request for comment.

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