Digital technology is playing an increasingly important role in people’s work and daily lives, as digital payments become more popular as a convenient, effective and secure way of handling money.
Cambodia is fast catching up with the technology, especially in terms of mobile payments, supported by the fast development of innovative technology and infrastructure.
Vincent Ling, the deputy general manager of UnionPay International in Southeast Asia, sat down with The Post’s May Kunmakara to talk about the company’s business and the development of digital payments in Cambodia.
Q: What have you observed about digital payments – QR codes and contactless payments – in Cambodia?
Ling: QR codes are actually much more convenient for Cambodians and we look forward to working with more issuers on QR codes and contactless cards. Digital payments are definitely more convenient than carrying cash.
For instance, if you want to buy something and it costs a bit more than you have in your pocket, you have to queue at an ATM to withdraw money. That’s a waste of time. So we bring digital payments, which are more convenient for Cambodians and, more importantly, I think, safer as well.
Q: How can UnionPay contribute to the development of fintech in Cambodia?
Ling: Our involvement in fintech has been expanded in the whole region. Southeast Asia is a big fintech hub and there are a lot of new initiatives in Singapore, Thailand and Cambodia etc. UnionPay has helped to lay the foundations of fintech interoperability.
When we sign up a QR merchant, we are doing so on behalf of a fintech company. So, if anyone partners with us, they will be able to basically use their wallet at any location worldwide. Today, UnionPay has more than 16 millions QR merchants globally and over 300,000 outside China.
But what is also important is that the fintech players can also use our traditional point of sale contactless networks because you can use two modes of payments – one with QR codes and another using contactless. We have 19 million contactless merchants worldwide and that’s how we can help with fintech – if they partner with us, they get instant acceptance worldwide and across borders.
Q: The government has been improving public transport by giving passengers options like public buses and trains. Will you look for opportunities to provide QR codes or contactless payments with that?
Ling: We really love to partner with the government and help them with these payment technologies to make public transport more convenient and efficient. We’re looking forward to any project that crops up and we will be interested to help and support the existing infrastructure to make it more efficient.
We can also get more people into digital payments so they can enjoy the benefits. We feel that transport is one of the key things that can change people’s habits as they see the convenience of not carrying cash. We are really happy to partner on this project as our contactless technology is ready. So, if we are actually able to support the project, we will build a bigger network so Cambodians can quickly start using digital payments.
Q: What is your view on infrastructure development to support such digital technology in Cambodia?
Ling: The current infrastructure in Cambodia is already ready for digital payments. Cambodia has started using QR codes. At this moment, we already have more than 300 merchants in Cambodia and it will grow through our business partners. One day you will see us leapfrog other markets in the region.
We look forward to continuing to grow the base of QR code merchants in Cambodia because QR code payments are the foundation of digital payments – although contactless is still one of the ways to go. I think QR codes are an innovative way to proceed.
They can be deployed in a much more cost-effective manner – it’s just a sticker and an app on your phone. Second, I also want to encourage and improve the amount of cashless usage in Cambodia. So what we are doing today is working with issuers like the banks.
We want to encourage them to issue more credit and debit cards to Cambodian people, and for those who don’t have a bank account, they can also get prepaid cards from us so they can jump on the digital payment train.
Q: Cambodia still lags behind somewhat regarding innovative technology compared to neighbouring countries like Thailand and Vietnam. Do you think the Kingdom can be a member of the Asian Payment Network (APN)? What benefits will we get from membership?
Ling: Actually, Cambodia has a good chance of leapfrogging other markets in the world precisely because there is no legacy system – there is no old system that people are used to. So you can go straight into mobile payments, but certain conditions have to be met in order for this to really happen.
One of them is that we need to ensure that payment apps have global interoperability. UnionPay is the best partner for this and the best wallet provider in Cambodia, so our partners can concentrate on issuing and can work with us to jointly achieve card acceptance worldwide.
So, interoperability is key. We have really invested a lot in merchant networks, we will keep investing and that is our key proposition which we want to see happening in Cambodia. Another small condition has to do with telecom infrastructure.
Coverage must be increased in certain areas. But, the most important thing for me and for Cambodia is to be ready to educate people so they can jump onto the digital payment train.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.