When Tauch Ngam Youra arrived in Vientiane, Laos as part of the ACLEDA team, he noticed a cultural difference between Khmer and Lao people right away.
The date was December 31, 2007. He already knew the Thai language which made the Lao language easier to learn.
Luckily, a Lao lady from the Women’s Union Training Center helped the ACLEDA team locate itself in temporary offices. Another lucky break was that 35 students had come from Cambodia to study at a Lao university. Those students helped promote ACLEDA Bank in Laos.
“We set up temporary offices by renting a room in the training center,” Tauch said. “They came to meet us and then we tried to explain how we came to Laos and our purpose to expand our brand and network in Laos.”
Tauch said that, at the time, the big challenge was to find qualified people who could speak English, understand the differences in the culture and build trust.
“We had interviews with newspapers,” he said.
Tauch studied the Lao language in a 15 hour course and soon became able to read and speak Lao.
A big challenge in those early days was to build trust with the Central Bank of Laos in order for them to issue ACLEDA Bank a licence.
Following six months of work, they were granted their commercial banking licence in August of 2008.
The challenge that followed was to transfer the ACLEDA team’s skills to the new Lao recruits.
One difference was that the Lao workers were not accustomed to getting to work as early as the Cambodians.
“There was a change of the culture and a change of the working time. It was hard for us to push people to get up early in the morning.”
With a risk portfolio that differed from that of Cambodia, including default rates of up to 10 per cent on loans, they set out to bring Lao people into the Cambodian ACLEDA Bank culture.
Tauch said they also changed the culture regarding under-the-table money to zero tolerance.
“We provide loans without personal benefit and we get trust by providing good service to them. This is one-stop service. People feel happy because they never saw service like this.”
ACLEDA Bank started out in Laos providing small loans to green grocers, small businesses, farmers, fishermen and tuk-tuk drivers.
ACLEDA then expanded their banking business across the three largest cities: Vientiane, Savannakhet and Pakse.
The original 2008 ACLEDA Lao team consisted of 12 experts including Tauch - then a brand manager. Leading the team was Vann Saroeun, who served as President and Managing Director of ACLEDA Bank Laos. Today, the CEO is Phon Narin.
“We provided training, coaching and mentoring of credit officers. That’s the way we train, working closely with people who are on the job,” Tauch said.
Another key to success in Laos, as well as Myanmar, was supporting the training of the entire industry, even if they were competitors.
“We provided training to Laos two times, cooperating with the German government cooperation organization GIZ, as well as international organizations to support microfinance activity in Laos in general,” Tauch said.
In terms of a team, we were working very closely together, with a strong team and strong relationships with involved ministries especially with the Central Bank of Laos.
Born in 1959, Tauch’s father was a doctor and his mother was a nurse. He lost both of them during the Pol Pot regime and grew up as an orphan. He spent time in Pursat Province during the Khmer Rouge period, learning to survive in the jungle.
Tauch first joined ACLEDA Bank in January 1998, having earlier worked for a branch of the National Bank of Cambodia. From his initial job as an accountant, Tauch steadily rose through the ranks, becoming a credit official in 1982 - a position he held until 1998 when he started at ACLEDA’s micro loan office. He worked his way up to medium loan officer, then internal auditor and district team leader before becoming brand manager for the Laos office in Vientiane.
Tauch said his priorities were to build trust between the manager and the subordinates and, essentially, provide staff with training.
“Staff commitment building is a big thing. Inside we respect the competency of the leader, but outside we are also friends. This is our working culture, which is very important, and the main point of ACLEDA working culture is that we recruit people without involving any money spent for the recruitment process.”
Tauch says the strong recruitment policy also included empowering women.
“We come to share our experience, to transfer our success to them and let them lead the bank by themselves,” he said.
Today ACLEDA Bank employs more than 500 people in Laos with 28 bank branches across the country.
Tauch has now been in Laos for two years and serves as head of training for the ACLEDA Training Center Ltd.
“I love to transfer skills to people according to my long experience,” he said. Tauch uses the “real case in a real place” as a motto of the training system.
Last November, ACLEDA Training Center put on a “Microfinance Winter Academy” in Siem Reap with 29 participants from 12 countries.
Chhan Ponloeu, president and managing director of ACLEDA Training Center Ltd. said it was through ACLEDA training that Lao people realised that sharing experience provided good information whether someone was a competitor or not.
When recruited staff joins ACLEDA, they undergo a five-day training program. Trainees are also evaluated on attitude. More skilled positions take 15 days, and credit officer and teller program positions take three weeks.
“If they pass, they can get a contract. We charge the bank, and they pay us. We hire resources from the bank, and have some resources to provide training, and we pay the bank for resources.
Laotians were invited to Cambodia where they took classes at ACLEDA Training Center in Tuol Kork. The same process is going on for people from Myanmar right now. Recently, a training session was completed in Naypyidaw.
Another important component in ACLEDA’s success is morality training in which staffs members are required to show gratitude for their parents because the parents guarantee that they are good people, according to Tauch.
“We get it right from the parents during the home visit of the recruitment process and show people how to pay gratitude to their parents.”
At every meeting, every staff party and at public inaugurations, ACLEDA people pay respect to their parents and their ancestors.
“This is the way we build our gratitude. We have to stand up and show respect and gratitude to our parents.”
Nineteen per cent of ACLEDA Bank shares are owned by ACLEDA staff, an important psychological point for staff motivation, Tauch said. “We are the owners and we have a sense of ownership – not only of the bank, but the policy as well. We develop our policy from the bottom to the top,” he said.
ACLEDA Bank CEO In Channy said there were very few commercial banks in Laos and that competing with the state-owned bank presented a challenge.
“We needed to build our presence and capacity and financial product tailor-made to low income people in Laos. Most Lao customers had never used bank products and financial services before,” In Channy said, adding that the goal was for an ACLEDA Bank branch to reach the Lao border with China in 2017.
“At ACLEDA bank we promote transparency in banking and finance, and we want our partners [to be] transparent to us and we want to build a strong bond with them.”