As the number of banks in Cambodia swells, students are flocking to
study banking and finance. But simply having a relevant degree is no
guarantee of a job in the sector.
Good interpersonal skills are essential for a job in the banking sector.
THE closure of VIP Bank this month suggests it is not all one-way traffic in Cambodia's banking sector, but the general trend is definitely one of rapid growth.
Many new banks have been established over the last couple of years. According to figures from the central bank, Cambodia currently has 25 commercial banks, six specialised banks and 17 microfinance institutions.
Many of these are rapidly expanding their networks through new provincial and local branches.
The banking system is also becoming more complex through the growth of new banking services, including ATMs, credit cards, debit cards, e-banking and telephone banking. As they grow and expand, all are on the constant lookout for fresh recruits.
Alex Ng, general manager of Angkor Capital Bank, which launched with 24 staff numbers in November last year, said the bank expects to open two new branches in Phnom Penh this year and is aiming to recruit about 50 new employees for its expanding operations.
Chhorn Sopha, head of ACLEDA Bank's Human Resource Division, said the bank currently has 6,128 employees but was aiming to increase staff levels around 20 percent year-on-year over the next five years. "At least 500 fresh graduates in banking and finance will be recruited each year," he said.
The National Bank of Cambodia is also a major employer with 1,127 people as of the end of 2007 at headquarters and its provincial branches, up 94 on the year before.
Chhorn Sopha said the average starting salary for graduates at ACLEDA is $200 per month over the three-month probation period. After probation, the salary is lifted to $230 per month, plus other benefits including uniforms, child allowances and a twice-yearly bonus. "We raise salaries for employee's based on their performance appraisal, which we do once a year," he said.
Good news for graduates
The high annual recruitment needs of Cambodia's banks is good news for banking and finance graduates, but it doesn't mean work will be easy to come by. According to Tal Nay Im, director general of the National Bank of Cambodia, although the sector has been growing rapidly and has absorbed numerous fresh graduates in recent years, there is no shortage due to the sheer number of banking and finance graduates being pumped through the system.
New technologies mean graduates need to be IT-savvy for a bank job.
"There is no worry about a shortage of graduates for the sector because a lot of students graduate from universities every year," she said.
"Fresh graduates have to compete for the jobs. If they are qualified and competent, they will pass the tests for jobs, or if they are incompetent, they will fail."
She added that there were no figures on the number of people employed in the sector, and no estimates of future demand. Similarly, there was no reliable estimate on how many students graduated with a banking and finance degree each year.
However, according to the latest figures from the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports, Cambodia has around 40 higher education institutions (both private and public institutions) and most of them offer courses in banking and finance.
Chhorn Sopha said 90 percent of ACLEDA's staff were recruited as fresh graduates. "We interview them based on knowledge and morality," he said. "Both are priorities for us but even if potential employees are highly knowledgeable we will not consider them if they have poor morals."
The best of a big bunch
Although the bank recruited from all universities, the National University of Management (NUM) was the top source, he added, providing 27 percent of all recruits.
NUM Vice Rector Seng Bun Thoeun said students flocked to the banking and finance major, in large part because of the success its graduates have in finding work.
"We are extremely successful in this industry in terms of our [banking and finance] graduates," he said. "For instance, ACLEDA Bank alone has 6,000 staff, and one-third of them are graduates from our schools. The career in banking and finance is more successful than other careers that our school provided."
He expected the number of applicants to the four-year banking and finance bachelor's program to increase as the banking sector continues to expand. "I believe that due to the progress of the banking and finance industry, more and more students will flock to take up a major in banking and finance because they will not be concerned there will be no place to work when they graduate," he said.
The school admitted 1,335 students to its banking and finance program last year and 1,696 students this academic year, up 27 percent, Seng Bun Thoeun added. "If all the banks expand their operational branches nationwide as ACLEDA Bank has done, this industry will generate huge employment for Cambodian people," he said. "Already 85 percent of graduates from our school get the right jobs for their skill," he said.
Polishing the raw recruits
Chhorn Sopha said the quality of graduates was generally high, but they still needed to be molded. All new recruits at ACLEDA received a three-week orientation and training course to ensure they understood the principles of the bank and the products it offers.
It also gave them three months on-the-job training in individual skills to ensure they could do the work required before letting them work unsupervised.
"What they learn from school is general theories, so what they know is general," he said. "When they come to work in the bank we require technical skills so the bank, has to further train them to help them gain the skills we want. Fresh graduates can work in the bank, but we need to first train them for a short period."
They may be trained as tellers, cashiers, accountants or financial assistants, he added.
Seng Bun Thoeun said ACLEDA recruited heavily from NUM as its graduates generally had a high level of specialisation, although he acknowledged English could be a weakness.
"Our students are quite skillful in each specialisation because our school's professors are old hands but, and I speak frankly, they are poor in English," he said Seng Bun Thoeun.
Sandra D'Amico, managing director of employment consultancy HR Inc Cambodia, said the challenge for the sector - as for most sectors in Cambodia - was to build a bigger pool of human resources and a more highly skilled pool.
"For us to address the skills challenge in Cambodia specialised training needs to take a very important role," she said, emphasising the need for technical and analytical training. "Technical and analytical skills will be the biggest challenge for the market over the coming years."
She also identified a need to improve management and interpersonal skills. "Everybody in any training, whether higher learning or vocational, needs training in interpersonal skills and customer service. That needs to grow quite quickly for people to be effective in their jobs."