With Sathapana Bank having been recognised for the huge advances made since becoming a commercial bank in 2016 with a number of prestigious international awards – including for its mobile app – CEO Lim Aun tells The Post about the significance of these awards, the financial institution’s continuing embrace of technology and its future plans.
What awards have you received and what does this mean to you?
These awards are a milestone in the development of Sathapana Bank as a leading commercial bank and a major player in Cambodia’s digital economy.
Sathapana Mobile was recently named Cambodia’s Most Innovative Retail Banking App in the 2020 Global Banking and Finance Awards, while Sathapana Bank itself was named Cambodia’s Most Innovative Digital Bank at the International Finance Awards 2020.
Earlier this year, the bank won the Cambodia Best Employer Brand 2020. Of course, we are delighted to receive these awards and happy for this recognition of the digital innovations we have put directly in the hands of our customers through Sathapana Mobile.
It is credit to the hard work and dedication of our team, and of our shared vision to transform our business for the 21st century.
How do these awards reflect Sathapana Bank’s growth since its inception?
From a microfinance institution that grew up in what was a very different country back in 1995 to a leading digital-first bank that is supporting the development of Cambodia’s digital economy, this has been quite a journey.
But the journey is still only just beginning, and we are constantly exploring ways in which technology can improve our services to customers and the efficiency of our operations.
We hear a lot about ‘digital transformation’ and a lot of buzzwords that go with that. But what does it mean practically for your customers?
There is indeed a lot of “trendy” talk around digital transformation, but I am confident that our transformation into a digital-first bank is more than just talk as we are seeing the changes that this is bringing to people’s lives.
One straightforward example is opening a bank account. This used to be a very time-consuming process where you had to visit a bank’s physical branch to fill in lots of paperwork before being approved for a new account.
Now with Sathapana Mobile, you can open a basic bank account directly from your mobile phone, and within minutes of starting the process you can start paying bills, transferring money or topping up a mobile phone all from the app.
The time saving, the convenience and the security of using technology like this is of immense benefit to our customers.
In a developing country like Cambodia, it seems that many people remain reluctant to embrace digital technology and still prefer using cash. How are you trying to change that?
That’s true everywhere in the world, even in the most developed economies like the US, where contactless payment solutions have only really started catching on since the Covid-19 pandemic struck.
Until this year, American consumers were extremely reluctant to use these more secure and convenient systems because cash was still king.
In Cambodia, we have leapfrogged this situation and thanks to great efforts from private sector companies as well as from the government and the National Bank of Cambodia, the adoption of cashless payment solutions and digital banking has been very fast here. There is still a lot of work to do, but I sense a real commitment in the public and private sectors to support the development of a digital economy.
There are an amazing number of cutting edge fintech companies growing up in Cambodia to meet people’s daily needs.
At Sathapana Bank, we have introduced digital payment services in support of the government’s efforts. For example, with our mobile app, customers can conveniently and securely pay through a QR code.
Transferring funds is also easily done via QR code as well as using the recipient’s phone number.
What is more, with Sathapana Mobile, customers can pay their electricity, water supply, waste disposal and other bills anywhere, at any time.
We are also strongly promoting contactless payment through our Sathapana Visa Contactless. Customers can pay things without having to handle cash or to be in contact with anything.
You say more needs to be done. What sort of measures should be taken to bring more people into the digital economy?
It’s really about financial literacy and educating people about the benefits of entering the formal financial sector through bank accounts, mobile wallets, and so on.
By doing this, people have time and money-saving opportunities that don’t exist when still using cash. Mobile phone ownership is extremely high here, and networks cover the whole country with very competitive data rates, which is a very good measure of the potential for digital finance.
So all stakeholders in the government and the private sector need to continue our efforts to engage with customers and highlight the advantages of digital financial services.
With Sathapana Mobile, for example, money transfers, bill payments, mobile phone top-ups and many of the other app’s features are entirely free. When you compare that to spending time and money going to a bank branch or a money transfer agent, the benefits are evident, and we want to make sure people are aware of this wherever they are in the country.
How have you adapted your operations in response to the Covid-19 pandemic?
Of course, the coronavirus has changed the way we look at the world around us, and at Sathapana Bank we have focused on ensuring the safety of our staff and customers by closely adhering to social distancing and health and hygiene guidelines in our offices and branches across the country.
The bigger piece of work is in supporting our customers through these challenging economic times, and we have been very proactive in engaging with customers to understand the challenges they face and to search for solutions that can help sustain businesses and families through difficulties.
While it was not specifically designed to help people socially distance, one of the unintended benefits of creating our market-leading app has been to allow people to manage their finances wherever they are without needing to visit a physical bank branch or handle physical cash.
The fact that most of the features in our app are available without fees is also a way of showing our support to our customers by reducing their costs even in a small way.