The first community transmission of Covid-19 in Cambodia has prompted the Kingdom’s main banking lobby groups to push for the adoption of electronic payments and digital platforms.

The move comes in response to a Ministry of Health announcement on December 7 that warned paper money might harbour the coronavirus if bills were handled by infected people who had not followed sanitation guidelines.

This was the core message of a joint press statement issued on December 8 by the Association of Banks in Cambodia (ABC), the Cambodia Microfinance Association (CMA) and Cambodian Association of Finance and Technology (CAFT).

“Our community has worked and will continue to work closely with the National Bank of Cambodia [NBC] to make cross-institution transactions more convenient, less costly and safe during this period.

“In the meantime, we would like to encourage the public to download and use the digital banking and payment platforms made available by our community members,” the statement read.

Shin Chang-moo, president and CEO of the South Korean-owned Phnom Penh Commercial Bank Plc (PPCBank), told The Post that his institution has seen a substantial increase in digital transactions among customers since the pandemic hit early this year.

He said nearly half of all transactions in October were made through online channels and mainly comprised of online purchases and money, intra- and inter-bank transfers.

“To promote safer consumer behaviour, we’ve expanded merchant networks and offered various discounts.

“We also launched a contactless card and [NBC-backed] Bakong service to offer even more convenient and cheaper solutions to banking users on top of our mobile app and SmartBiz, a business internet banking solution.

“Now these new and digital banking tools are growing as part of the ‘new normal’ brought on by the pandemic. Even after recovery from Covid-19, these financial consumer behaviours are not likely to disappear and will bring more people into formal banking systems,” Shin said.

Say Sony, executive vice-president of PRASAC Microfinance Institution Ltd (PRASAC), said his organisation introduced digital payments in 2015 and has come aboard other NBC-backed initiatives such as Bakong in September 2019 and Retail Pay.

He said PRASAC is keen to adopt modern payment instruments that allow for nationwide inter-platform fund transfers and are deemed to be safe, easy to use, fast and able to be provided to customers free of charge.

“PRASAC allows customers and the public to conveniently access services through PRASAC Mobile Banking and Internet Banking.

“We are truly delighted to be such an integral part of the NBC’s Bakong project, Retail Pay and other NBC initiatives that aim to bring all payment-service providers and financial institutions onto the same platform, making it easier for people to improve daily cash management and helping preventing Covid-19 infections,” Sony said.

ACLEDA Bank Plc president and group managing director In Channy told The Post that his institution pioneered the transition to digital with the debut of ACLEDA Unity in July 2010 and still leads the fray with the continued development of the ACLEDA Unity ToanChet app launched in 2017.

He claimed that the app would increase access to finance for the majority of Cambodians and allow them to conveniently and securely view their accounts and make transactions 24/7.

More customers are choosing to use ACLEDA Unity ToanChet or self-service help channels over bank tellers, he said, adding that 68 per cent of bank account holders had downloaded the app.

He said the average number of daily transactions via digital channels was around 338,000 last month, up 63 per cent year-on-year from the 207,000 logged in the year-ago period.

“I think ‘digital’ means to increasingly support inclusive finance and leave no one behind in terms of having access to finance,” Channy said.

As of December 31 last year, there were 47 commercial banks operating in the Kingdom comprising 17 local banks, 17 subsidiaries and 13 foreign branch banks, according to the NBC.

Statistics show that there were 15 specialised banks, seven microfinance deposit-taking institutions (MDIs), 76 microfinance non-deposit-taking institutions, 245 rural credit institutions and 15 financial leasing companies.

Deposits and outstanding loans rose sharply by 25 and 26 per cent last year over 2018, the central bank said in its Macroeconomic and Banking Progress 2019 Report and 2020 Outlook.

Outstanding loans reached $19.6 billion and deposits at Cambodia’s seven MDIs reached $22 billion last year, it said.