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Playing Tontines: Taking a gamble

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Students gamble their money by playing tontines. For some, it's a way of earning a living. Photograph: Phnom Penh Post

University student, Sous Kunthea, has been sharing tontinewith her classmates for two months and invests a portion of her monthly allowance given by parents.

The 22-year-old explained that her group consists of nine members – all students -and there are nine shares. Each member has to pay US$30 per month, andthere is a ten per cent interest charged.

“The reason I useit is to save money,” she said. “Saving money in the bank earns me less interest because I’m only able to deposit small amounts of money every month.”

According to a university research paper by Man Hau Liev, the practice of using tontine is engrained in Cambodian society. It is a seemingly easier approach to save or borrow money, compared to formal processes in banks.

“Participants in Cambodian tontines believe that the returns from tontines are higher than those available from other saving methods,” wrote Hau Liev. “To them a tontine is a familiar financial instrument within their ethnic communities.”

Kuntheasays that the important element in her tontine group is trust. “In the event that one of us cheats, we have to forfeit our bachelor’s degree,” she said.

Nevertheless there are risks involved. “People do cheat in tontine but I dare to use it because I trust my group members,” she shared. “However, if I lose money, it will be a hard lesson learnt.”

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