Interview for World Investment News & Far Eastern Economic Review
|Can you present us your bank since its formation and its main developments ever since?
SCB started in 1993 with the aim of providing all the commercial banking services to Cambodians and any foreigner that come to invest in Cambodia. When we first arrived in this country, Cambodians were used to buy everything from overseas with cash. Throughout the years we tried to teach them how to use letters of credit; presently most of the trade with overseas companies is based on the use of a letter of credit. This is how we started our operation here.
Can you show us in figures how the bank has evolved in those 10 years?
We started with about 40 staff in 1993, and now we have about 80 staff working with us in four offices: 3 in Phnom Penh and 1 in Siem Reap. Our customer's deposits have also increased substantially over the years. The Bank is locally registered in Cambodia but is fully owned by Singaporeans.
In terms of profitability how is the bank managing throughout the years?
Over the last few years the profitability has not improved that much, mainly due to the fact that the bank has engaged in new investments, which has taken a bit of our resources. Presently, we are investing in a VISA credit card system which is EMV chip based and it is going to be among the first in Indochina and one of the few in Southeast Asia to issue an EMV chip-based credit card.
Next to this VISA Card project, what is your main development strategy?
The credit card project is just one of the few projects that we have engaged. After it is implemented, we are studying the possibilities of an ATM network and also to introduce Internet banking. For those using the credit cards, we are also looking at the introduction of an SMS system, which works by sending an SMS message to the cardholder every time a transaction is being made with the card.
What can you tell us about your expansion plans, are you going to concentrate your efforts locally or are you looking for an internationalization of the bank?
Presently, we are concentrating in the expansion within the country to reach the provinces. As of today, there are not yet plans for international activities, at least not within the next three years. Possibly in the long term, we may consider expanding to overseas.
Who are your main customers and what is your positioning within the Cambodian banking sector?
We have both local customers and foreigners, including some NGO's. We are not targeting an specific group, more towards the general public.
What would you say is your competitive advantage? Why would someone want to become a customer of SBC Bank instead of one of the other commercial banks in Cambodia?
I think customer service plays a very important part, as well as the efficiency and speed. By speed, I mean how fast you can attend to the customer when he comes to make a deposit or withdrawal. These are very important to determine the quality of service, and we definitely have an advantage on this area.
As president and shareholder of the bank can you tell us what are your plans in terms of partnership?
We will look into all kinds of possibilities to make the Bank grow to a bigger size, whether it is a partner from overseas or a local one, we just have to have the same kind of goals and foresight. For the time being, there is nothing in this area but we are open to any opportunity.
What are, according to you, the main advantages and constrains of the banking sector in Cambodia?
I think the Cambodian banking sector is still at its infant stage as it started in 1992, which is 11 years ago. It does have a long way to go, but in the last five or six years, many changes have been made. Regulations and rules have changed. There are certain international standards being adopted. And I foresee there are many more good things coming.
Our readers are always interested in the background of the managers and decision makers of the country, can you give us a brief historic of your professional background and your greatest satisfaction while working in Cambodia?
Before I came to Cambodia, I was working in the financial sector, not in banking though, I had a main project in Malaysia to start a membership resort. My greatest satisfaction working here is to see the Bank grow and the staff becoming more knowledgeable about banking.
You just mentioned that you were working in the financial sector but not specifically in banking. What made you decide to come to Cambodia and start a bank?
When I came in 1992, I saw there was a lot of potential and opportunities. So, I decided to come here instead of continuing the Malaysian project I was working on at that time. That is how we started the bank. In the last 10 years, we have seen the country going through remarkable changes most of them for the better. We are hoping for this continued change, which will bring Cambodia to be known by other people in the world.
As a businessman, banker and investor in Cambodia, what would be your final message for all the people interested into coming to this country?
There are definitely opportunities to invest in Cambodia. Of course, there are certain difficulties. The most important thing is to know the culture. When you understand the people, then you will be able to smooth out those difficulties. My advice is to come and have a look by themselves. Papers and magazines don't always reflect the reality as it actually is. You never get the real picture until you come and see it for yourself. Look at me, I have been here for the last 11 years. They can come to see me or other people from the Government. They are always welcoming potential investors.