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Hong Leong Bank’s footprint ahead of ASEAN integration

As ASEAN integration is expected to take noticeable effect by the end of this year, commercial banks have already started to set themselves up in Southeast Asia’s diverse markets, eagerly anticipating business opportunities from regional affiliation in trade, infrastructure and a pan-ASEAN labour force.

But more than just capital banks have to front a great deal of trust in the economic potential of the region. “[It is expected that the ASEAN economic community will] facilitate intra ASEAN trading exchange, better infrastructure and people movement. Hence, it will provide opportunities for banks to grow in our domestic market and across the region,” Hong Leong Bank (Cambodia) CEO Joe Farrugia told Post Plus.

Malaysian Hong Leong Bank is among the regional banks that trusts the market potential outside their home country. It has started leaving its footprint in Southeast Asia’s less developed countries and has been operating in Cambodia since 2013.

With ASEAN integration still incomplete but the infrastructure already set up, one might ask where the trust in the region is, and in Cambodia, in particular, comes from.

“Cambodia’s economy started from a low base and still relatively remains low compared to its size and potential. Coupled with solid economic growth for the past two decades and the expected annual GDP growth of 7 per cent during the next few years, the banking industry will certainly continue to be on a strong growth trajectory. The driving force that fuels this growth will come from rising business activities in general infrastructure, construction, manufacturing, FDI, rapid urbanisation and increasing consumerism,” Farrugia said.

Gradually, the CEO’s optimistic hopes for the market have proven to be true and is mirrored in Hong Leong’s customer base and assets.

Having won over 2,000 customers within less than two years and built up assets totalling close to $130 million, Farrugia seems more than satisfied with his bank’s advancements in Cambodia.

“This is a great achievement and is well ahead of our growth plan,” he revealed to Post Plus.

While Hong Leong’s success can be attributed to favourable conditions in Cambodia’s economy, it also owes much to its market approach.

“On the business banking side, the majority of our customers are established SME owners who have worked hard to get to where they are now. For the consumer side, we have high network individuals and successful working professionals who are growing both in wealth and career. Banking is all but about relationships, and through good relationships with customers, our relationship managers are able to uncover customer needs and fulfill their requirements in a timely manner,” Farrugia said.

Focusing on sound investment in the growing middle class, Hong Leong follows a solid strategy for growth. “We have a clear and focused growth strategy, and it has not changed since we first started. For business banking, we focus on established SME businesses targeting few growing industries that form the backbone of the Cambodia economy,” Farrugia said.

To further grow along with the Cambodian economy, Hong Leong is also strengthening its own backbone.

“Our most valuable asset is clearly our people, so it is critically important that we recruit the right people to develop and retain our talent. The second factor is to create an open and performance-based culture where our people can speak up when they believe that things do not sound right or when they have any concerns,” the CEO explained.

In line with the bank’s market strategy, he added: “An open and performance-based workplace culture is a catalyst for innovation, and it will also enable consistent high performing staff to realise their full potential and climb up the corporate ladder.”

In their corporate culture or in their lending principles, Hong Leong honours the principles of hard work and openness and is all in line with the principles of the ASEAN integration. Having started their work in Cambodia two years ago, one might even say that a bank like Hong Leong is an example of the ASEAN integration happening right now.

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