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Mobile services often first step to banking

A customer visits a Wing outlet in Phnom Penh last year.
A customer visits a Wing outlet in Phnom Penh last year. Vireak Mai

Mobile services often first step to banking

The rapid growth in the number of Cambodians using mobile money services to transfer remittances is a positive step towards greater financial inclusion, and is serving as a gateway to financial services for the largely unbanked rural population, experts said yesterday.

Panelists speaking at the Mekong Financial Inclusion Forum said Cambodians until recently relied on informal methods of remitting money to their families, such as sending money by bus or entrusting it to a person travelling to their home village.

However, the advent of Wing in 2009 and the subsequent launches of mobile money transfers by several local banks and microfinance institutions (MFIs), has given people a safer and more convenient alternative.

Ron Bevacqua, managing director of Access Advisory, a Manila-based consultancy working to address poverty by promoting financial inclusion, said Cambodia’s growing array of mobile money transfer services has largely replaced informal means of remitting money. And by using these services, people living in rural areas are beginning to see the benefits of regulated financial services.

Bank and MFIs should pay close attention to this fact, he said, adding: “Financial institutions can use the need for money transfer services to access people and then give them other financial services.”

According to the FinScope Consumer Survey, released on Tuesday, more than 3.6 million Cambodians, or about a third of the adult population, are using mobile money services. Of these, 98 per cent use mobile money services to remit money, with just 4 per cent using it for transactions such as paying utility bills or buying airtime.

Paul Luchtenburg, an inclusive finance program specialist at the UN Capital Development Fund (UNCDF), one of the agencies behind the survey, said only a handful of financial institutions in Cambodia had ventured into mobile money services geared for the rural poor but costs would fall further as more joined.

“In three years, the landscape will be very different,” he predicted. “Then there will be a lot of [financial institutions] will doing it.”

Speaking to reporters on the forum’s sidelines, a representative of Wing (Cambodia) Specialized Bank said the growing use of mobile money transfers shows no signs of slowing.

Franchette Chingcuanco-Cardona, Wing’s product and marketing director, said the company’s 4,000 agents nationwide assist customers in sending or receiving remittances, providing an access code that is sent to the recipient’s mobile phone.

She said after comprehending the benefits and convenience of Wing’s money transfer service, unbanked customers often get more confidence to use other financial services.

“Educating is one thing, but if we are able to apply customers’ actual experiences, then they will become more familiar with the services and able to be easily understand them,” she said.

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