Cambodia is witnessing a remarkable metamorphosis – gone are the days of cumbersome cash transactions. 

The nation is embracing a digital revolution, driven by a surge in mobile phone usage and a forward-thinking central bank. 

At the forefront of this transformation is the National Bank of Cambodia (NBC), steered by its astute governor, H.E. Dr. Chea Serey.

Under her leadership, the NBC is actively promoting a cashless future, empowering Cambodians and propelling the nation’s economy towards new heights.

H.E. Dr. Dr. Serey recognises the transformative potential of digital financial services.

“In line with the development of financial technology, the National Bank of Cambodia has seized the opportunity to develop payment systems and digital societies through the development of the KHQR Standard System (KHQR) and the Cambodian Securities System (CSS),” she explained at a press conference on July 16, 2023. 

The KHQR system has revolutionised payments by facilitating cashless transactions through QR codes, while the CSS streamlines inter-institutional transactions using debit cards at ATMs and POS terminals across member institutions.

These advancements have significantly streamlined financial operations, making payments faster, cheaper and more secure.

Digital payments are on the rise as the Kingdom embraces convenience, with the impact of these initiatives undeniable.

Cambodia boasts a staggering 19.7 million e-wallet accounts, a testament to the growing public trust in digital transactions.

The total transaction volume has soared by an impressive 18 per cent, reaching approximately 311.5 trillion riel (around US$76 billion).

This translates to a staggering 2.4 times the country’s GDP, highlighting the crucial role digital payments now play in the Cambodian economy.

H.E. Dr. Chea Serey speaks at the SOSORO Museum on March 25.Hong Menea

H.E. Dr. Serey herself emphasises the significance of this shift: “Digital payment services have made a significant contribution to improving the financial environment,” she says.

Expanding horizons

H.E. Dr. Serey emphasises the importance of regional integration. The NBC has actively expanded the Cambodian payment system’s reach, forging partnerships with neighbouring countries such as Thailand, Laos and Vietnam. 

This visionary approach enables seamless cross-border QR code payments, boosting tourism and facilitating trade.

H.E. Dr. Serey elaborates on these efforts: “The National Bank of Cambodia (NBC) and UnionPay International (UPI) officially launched a QR Code cross-border payment transaction between NBC’s Bakong payment system and UPI’s payment network on Friday 22 December,” she announced at the launch ceremony.

“Citizens with a bank account in riel will be able to easily pay or pay for goods and services in China by scanning the QR Code system. With automatic exchange from riel to yuan through the banking system.”

This initiative not only benefits Cambodian citizens travelling to China but also opens doors for Chinese tourists visiting the Kingdom, allowing them to conveniently pay for goods and services using yuan through QR code transactions.

Commitment to the riel

While digital payments are flourishing, the NBC remains committed to strengthening the Cambodian riel (KHR).

“The use of the electronic riel has increased at a high rate,” H.E. Dr. Serey says, highlighting a significant achievement.

“In 2023, electronic riel payment transactions increased by 44 per cent compared to 2022 and higher than the growth rate of US dollar electronic payments,” she shared at the celebration of the 44th anniversary of the reintroduction of the riel on March 10, 2024.

Bakong was launched by the NBC in October 2020. Facebook/Bakong

This trend signifies a growing sense of national pride and a shift towards using the riel for everyday transactions. 

And H.E. Dr. Serey emphasises the importance of promoting the riel.

“The National Bank of Cambodia has also promoted the connection of payment systems with neighbouring countries and the region so that Cambodians with riel accounts can easily pay by QR Code in these countries,” she said.

Building trust in digital age

The National Bank of Cambodia (NBC) recognises the importance of cybersecurity and user education in fostering trust in the digital financial landscape.

“Banks and financial institutions need to prioritise investment in technology security to ensure the smooth operation of digital financial services and maintain public trust.

“And users themselves must also exercise caution when using these services,” H.E. Dr. Serey says.

The NBC actively promotes public awareness through outreach programmes that educate citizens about the benefits of both the riel and digital financial services.

A key player in this effort is the Sosoro Museum of Economics and Currency.

A vendor scans a QR code for payment in Phnom Penh on March 14. AFP

H.E. Dr. Serey, at an event at the institution on March 25, 2024, hailed the museum’s significance: “The Sosoro Museum provides extensive commentary on the relationship between money, institutions and society, tracing Cambodia’s economic and political history over the past two thousand years,” she said.

Showcasing Cambodia’s rich monetary history and fostering a deeper appreciation for the riel, the museum also serves as a valuable resource for the future.

And the NBC doesn’t just stop at educating the public about digital services, with H.E. Dr. Serey highlighting its commitment to strengthening the riel.

“The National Bank of Cambodia has initiated seminars and programmes across the provinces to foster appreciation for the riel, aiming to increase public engagement and usage of the national currency more than ever before,” she says.

These initiatives aim to create a future where the riel thrives alongside digital advancements.