ON May 2 Au Siek Kheang flicked a switch that brought Cambodia's first Automatic
Teller Machine (ATM) on-line and officially initiated Cambodia into the age of electronic
Two months later, Kheang, the Assistant Manager of the Pochentong Boulevard branch
of Canadia Bank in Phnom Penh wonders if it was worth the effort.
"The ATM is used only three or four times a day and only during business hours,"
The major disincentive to public interest in the Canadia ATM is apparently the fact
that it's not linked to international ATM networks such as Plus System and Interact
which allow electronic transfers from foreign bank accounts.
Instead, the ATM offers withdrawals of a daily maximum of $400 or one million riel
to Canadia customers only.
Kheang blames the lack of international network access for the Canadia ATM on the
high fees charged by the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications to lease phone
lines necessary for such a system.
"It would cost us $10,000 a month to lease the phone lines, without counting
the increased number of staff salaries that would be necessary to maintain the system,"
he said. "It would be impossible to make the system pay for itself."
Not necessarily, according to Koy Kim Sea, Undersecretary of State for the Ministry
of Posts and Telecommunication.
"[The price] depends on how they want to do it, there could be other, cheaper
ways," Sea said.
While Kheang counts the number of Canadia ATM card holders as "more than 600",
he notes that the vast majority of those clients hold cards inherited from the bank's
Smart Card program, a debit card system used mainly by "Chinese businessmen
and a few Europeans" that also suffered from a lack of public enthusiasm.
"Since the ATM began operation in May, we've opened 30 [ATM] accounts,"
The cool reception of the Cambodian public to the new ATM is described by Kheang
as symptomatic of a widespread distrust of banks in general.
"There are still lots of people who prefer to keep their money at home, who
don't dare put money in banks," Kheang explained. "Also unlike in the West,
Cambodians' salaries are not paid through [bank] accounts, so people don't so much
see the need for banks."
Interest in and development of electronic banking in Cambodia compared to neighboring
SE Asian countries such as Vietnam is also hampered by the lingering effects of the
"In Vietnam, even after thirty or forty years of war, nobody killed the intelligentsia
... only in Cambodia was that done," Kheang said. "The people who had the
knowledge and skill level necessary for electronic banking all disappeared [during
the Khmer Rouge era]."
Until public interest in Canadia's $60,000 French-built ATM picks up, Kheang says
that the ATM's status remains "experimental", and prospect of additional
ATMs popping up at Canadia outlets around Cambodia "won't occur very soon".