Acleda Bank, Cambodia’s largest bank, is morphing its existing training centre into a full-fledged educational institution, after obtaining a licence last month. The new institute will look to provide bachelor’s and master’s degrees in business administration, with majors in finance and banking. The Post’s Sorn Sarath sat down with So Phonnary, president and group managing director at Acleda, to discuss the intentions behind the new institute and the quality of education and human resources available in Cambodia.
Why is Acleda Bank investing in establishing an educational institution?
The Acleda Institute of Business (AIB) is actually a transformation of the existing Acleda Training Center (ATC). In 2012, we launched ATC to train our internal human resources, but at the same time we also provided training to those from outside, with participants from all kinds of financial institutions and organisations. As of 2015, we had 186 courses with around 5,000 trainees.
We want to stop the impression that studying in Cambodia is of a low quality. We don’t want to hear that anymore. If our ancestors could build Angkor Wat, why can’t we provide quality education? This is why we want to develop this sector.
So, based on the success of ATC we want to develop the education sector, apart from only the banking and financial sector. Cambodia is currently lacking quality human resources in this sector as well, so we wanted to build on our success. We will provide master’s degrees, after we do well with our bachelor’s degrees.
How much has the bank invested in the new institution?
We bought seven hectares of land in Phnom Penh, with the total investment being around $37 million, including construction and the land. The facilities include two, five-storey buildings, a library and a dormitory for students. We will break ground this May and will complete construction by the end of 2018.
What kind of skills are you looking to provide at AIB?
We only focus on business-related subjects because we want to develop human resources to meet the job demands in ASEAN. We will not only focus on training them for the local market, but we want them to be able to work in Singapore, Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam. The basic of subjects that will be taught are English, for which we will cooperate with other educational institutions in ASEAN. Currently, we see that quality business education is lacking and we want to fill that gap.
So far, we facilitate our employees for e-learning programs in Germany, and also send some of them to study at Harvard and Frankfurt University.
Does this also help with diversifying your investments?
That is true. It is also a part of our business expansion and will contribute to creating local jobs for the next generation. It will also push economic growth because this investment will involve payment of taxes, which will go toward the national revenue. On the other hand, Acleda is a big bank, so it is good for us to have our own school and we hope we will be successful in this as well.
Acleda has operations in Myanmar and Laos. Do you plan to start similar institutes in those countries?
We will think about this and can establish [similar institutes] in Myanmar and Laos in the future. But for now, we need to first ensure success in Cambodia.
Currently, there are many training institutes in Cambodia. How does Acleda expect to compete with them?
Revenue is a main thing for our banking business, but [in the education sector] training high quality human resources is very important. It will be competitive, but I think that the education sector is more of an exchange of experiences, as well as cooperation with each other.
How does the financial market in Cambodia look right now?
Nowadays, we see tough competition in the financial market. We have an increasing number of microfinance institutions, specialised and commercial banks as well. But the market is still strong so the finance sector in Cambodia is growing well. This will help small and medium enterprises, who are the backbone of economy, by creating more opportunities and jobs.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.