When Ratana Phurik-Callebaut first came to Cambodia almost two decades ago, she said she refused to open a bank account. “When I arrived [in Cambodia] 18 years ago exactly, I remember I was too scared to have a bank account as I did not have any interest in the system,” she said.
However, times have now changed and the banking and insurance industries in Cambodia have grown into two of the fastest-growing sectors in the country. They were far less affected by the pandemic than other sectors and even benefitted from the digital rush to provide contact-free services.
“Less than two decades later, the banking sector has blossomed and continued to grow and expand even during the pandemic. It has proven to be more than resilient,” Phurik-Callebaut, the chairperson of the Cambodia Community of Investment Professionals, said.
As the current crop of Cambodian business students at CamEd business school prepares to enter a job market shaped by the pandemic, the school hosted a forum on with leading professionals in each sector to give students an idea of what to expect once they enter the workforce.
Stability and innovation key to evolving Cambodia’s bank sector
Casey Barnett, the President of CamEd, said the National Bank has played a crucial role in encouraging a stable banking system while providing wider economic stability that has allowed Cambodia to outpace the rest of the world in GDP growth over the last 20 years.
“Cambodia has had macroeconomic stability, currency stability, [and] inflation stability due to the hard work and vision of the National Bank of Cambodia,” he said.
Looking at the commercial banking sector, he pointed out that the top three commercial banks recorded increases in profits before tax and gross interest income in 2020 over 2019. The remaining majority of the commercial banks in the Kingdom recorded declines in profits.
The difference, Barnett said, is those who chose to embrace digitalization were able to thrive during the pandemic.
“Those banks that invested in technology to provide more convenient and efficient transactions and services to customers, they have been able to grow. Those banks that did not evolve, they declined,” he said.
All of the speakers agreed that financial technology (FinTech) will continue to play an increasing role in banking as routine transactions shift to the digital arena.
Samreth Muny. the chief financial officer of AIA (Cambodia) Life Insurance, said: “In the short-term, they will [FinTech institutions] continue to grow and a lot of other players will keep an eye on them and cooperate with them. In the long term, it will be very successful and everyone will be a part of that.”
Cambodia insurance sector primed for massive growth in coming years
As life insurance continues to grow in the Kingdom, Rotha Chan, the Chief Executive Officer of insurance firm FWD Cambodia, said there will be ample opportunity for entrepreneurs to make an impact and encouraged CamEd graduates to start their own businesses.
Proving that there is massive potential in the sector, the amount of new premiums collected by life insurance companies is expected to reach $67 million in 2021, an increase of the $55 million collected in 2019 and the $53 million collected in 2020. By 2025, collected premiums are expected to skyrocket to $268 million.
As graduates prepare to jump on this bandwagon, he offered some advice before they start their professional careers.
“Don’t be obsessed with competitors. Be obsessed with your customers,” he said. “Consumers and clients want something that we could never imagine. So our role as a business is to anticipate those kinds of needs and those kinds of wants.”
Soft skills matter more than ever for Cambodian business students
Phurik-Callebaut said developing soft skills remained as crucial as ever for any graduate hoping to get ahead in the quickly growing and competitive banking and insurance industries.
“Banking, finance, or insurance are all about people’s money and people’s lives. You need to be able to relate to that. To be able to listen, to show empathy, to understand your clients’ needs and your organization’s needs,” she said.
She added that graduates must have strong ethics as well to inspire confidence in their clients.
“Act with integrity because confidence is hard to build but easy to destroy,” she said.
Further driving home the point that there’s more to business success than technical skills, she said focusing on sustainable aspects of business would shape the sectors in the future.
Adhering to Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESGs) and promoting sustainability by making changes such as improving access to finance for women and SMEs should be top priorities for aspiring graduates, she said.
“Working in the banking or insurance industry often means that you have the possibility to make a small difference and have an impact.”
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