To illustrate the meaning of the word oxymoron you might use the example “bankers with a heart”. At least you would in the West. Here in Cambodia things are slightly different.
“Our mission is to improve the livelihoods of our customers and also our staff,” says Prom Chheatmantha, branch manager for ACLEDA Bank in Kampong Chhnang. “We don’t want to see them using our service and having bad lives.”
She should try telling that to the head of HSBC or Allied Irish Bank as he celebrates his performance bonus on the beach in Bermuda this winter.
But you sense that Prom Chheatmantha actually means what she says.
Having started working for the bank 15 years ago as a credit officer in Banteay Meanchey, she became one of just a handful of female branch managers in Kampong Chhnang province in 2004. She is familiar with the needs of her customers.
“You can come to the bank and borrow money at a low interest, and you can come to the bank to deposit some money, even if you sell just one pig you can deposit money,” she says. “We want the capital flow to benefit society.”
Lam Sarun, 54, is one customer who benefits from the bank’s free-flowing capital.
In October 2010, the agricultural trader took out a loan of US$30,000 from ACLEDA.
“I borrowed the money to increase my capital,” he explains.
This loan enabled him to purchase more agricultural stock such as rice, soya beans and sesame seeds. It also means he is not compelled to sell his stock at a low price. Close to the port in Kampong Chhnang, his warehouse is packed with blue sacks full of soya beans that are destined for sale in Vietnam.
A fleet of trucks is waiting outside for the order to be confirmed.
Lam Sarun took out his first loan with ACLEDA about three years ago. Over the intervening period he has developed a sense of trust for the bank.
“We can talk and listen to each other,” he says. The current loan is either his third or fourth one with ACLEDA. He has forgotten how many loans he has already paid back, such is his relaxed attitude towards taking loans with his trusted partner.
Despite business being good this year, Lam Sarun is unsure whether to take out a further loan. The final decision will largely depend upon his youngest daughter, who works with him at the warehouse.
“If my daughter wants to expand the business, maybe I will take out another loan,” he says. “But for me, it is enough.”
INTERPRETER: RANN REUY