Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Choosing a Bank

There is not much going on for us jaded Cambodia bloggers to write about right now – at least not for me. Politics in Cambodia is as usual – there is no change in how things are handled or mishandled, and the traffic police hasn’t changed either; they stop people wherever they can to bolster their meager incomes.

So today I will write about the mundane, like choosing a bank, which is a sort of important decision for everybody living in Cambodia, unless you want to deal strictly in cash as the majority still does. Not that I haven’t chosen a bank before since I have participated in Cambodian business life for a long time. Of course, I haven’t had the opportunity to check out all banks so I will just give the pros and cons of the ones I have banked with.

In the early 90ies, there was only one bank to speak of – the Foreign Trade Bank (FTB). One could do international transfers, open letters of credit (L/Cs), receive L/Cs, and they didn’t ask for a lot documents when opening a business account. At that time, I just gave them the name of the company, my passport and that was it. I did register a business here later on, though.

My requirements are pretty simple: I need to be able to make international transfers, possibly do the occasional L/C, although that has become rare, but most importantly, I want to do e-banking. If the bank pays a comparatively good interest rate, so much the better. Getting cash at an ATM is a must these days anyway.

So let me start with the FTB.

Opening an account is easy, whether it is a checking, savings, or fixed term account. A passport with a valid business visa is sufficient.

International transfers are handled at one of their offices. So you need to go there, fill out a form, and voila. Still cumbersome but normally it is handled quickly, smoothly, and efficiently. Funds usually arrive in overseas accounts overnight.

Fixed terms deposits are available but at miserly interest rates.

E-banking is confined to seeing what your account balance is. No other services were offered while I banked there. This is the reason why I closed my account there after 20 years. If need be I want to be able to make a transfer even when I am not in the country.

The fee schedule is normal, that is, not too much for overseas transfers. They offer a VISA credit card for their better customers, meaning you need to have some sizable cash in your account. I never bothered with that. I still use my U. S. issued VISA card and bank account.

They have three branch offices in Phnom Penh and a limited number of ATMs.

Customer service is good. The staff knows what they are doing. There are no wait times when you go to one of the branches due to the fact that they seem to have few customers to begin with.

Living in two places, I need at least an ATM in Sihanoukville. They have one at the port. That’s it. Too meager for me.


Since I own a rubber plantation in Kompong Cham province, I opened an account at the bank with by far the most branches and ATMs in Cambodia. Sure enough, they have a branch at the small town near my plantation.

International transfers: the same as with the FTB. You need to go to a branch. Service is quick and reliable.

Fixed term deposits: interest rates are pretty good for longer terms.

E-banking is not offered. But you can pay your power bills at ATMs, and power and water bills with your mobile phone. That’s pretty flexible. You can make transfers within the ACLEDA network by email.

You can also send cash by email to somebody who doesn’t have an account with ACLEDA. You email your branch with the details, including the recipient’s ID, and the branch where the person will pick it up and if done before 11 o’clock the recipient will be able to pick up his/her cash in the afternoon. That’s pretty nifty.

They have a lot of branch offices all over Cambodia, a huge number of ATMs, so you can get cash even in more remote towns like Kompong Trach. Kep, unfortunately, does not have an ATM but Kampot does.

The one small downside of that bank is the fact that they charge you fees even when you deposit money in one town and the account is registered in a different town. I guess this is for the communication as not all branches are online.

My account there is in Khmer riel. But I can still get USD from an ATM. That’s another nice plus.

Customers can also get a VISA credit card once they have established their bona fides, e. g. maintaining a good positive balance in their account. I didn’t get one, so I don’t know how much their interest rate is.

Customer service is very good. Being one of the few foreigners banking at my branch, they know me personally and I seem to get preferential treatment and I never really had to wait in line. The staff is knowledgeable about their product, only when you get a trainee or novice there might be the occasional hiccup, but a supervisor is always nearby to help out.

Normally, this bank is pretty busy especially after paydays.


I had always heard that ANZ was not too great when it came to personal banking. We once opened an account in SHV because we needed to transfer a larger amount from Phnom Penh to SHV and didn’t want to carry the cash. (That account is still dormant.)

Last year I opened another account there as the company I consulted for preferred to deal with them as the main bank in Australia had a branch in that company’s country. Initially, I strictly used it for my dealings with that company.

Later I found they did offer e-banking with international transfers so I decided to close my FTB account and transferred my funds to ANZ.

ANZ has a pretty good presence in the major towns in Cambodia, but not nearly as many branch offices as ACLEDA or even ABA.

Fixed term deposits: don’t bother with ANZ; they have nothing to offer other banks don’t do better.

International transfers can be done online but it takes at least a couple or three days, if not longer, for the funds to arrive at their overseas destination.

Customer service sucks. The staff know their stuff but that’s it. For instance, if you make an online transfer you fill out the form and send it off. Don’t be surprised when nothing happens, especially when the transfer is going to Europe.

The form requires a SWIFT/BIC. In the belief you filled in everything correctly you hit the send button. When the recipient asked me after 10 days whether I had done the transfer, I checked my account and to my surprise found out that nothing had happened.

So I called them and was informed that they also require the IBAN, the European bank number. Mind you, they don’t have a field on the form for that number.

Now this happened to me twice; the second time after a longer period; I had already forgotten about that requirement.

I sent them an email and also talked to them on the phone to correct the form so this wouldn’t happen again. Wouldn’t it be appropriate if they sent you an email that they could not process the transaction? After all, they are an international bank. Nothing has changed to this day.

So forget about ANZ.

They also have high transaction fees.

They offer a VISA card if you maintain an account balance of $25,000, for which you earn .75% interest. The account maintenance fee is $25/month. I don’t know how much the credit card interest is as I sure didn’t make use of their generous offer.

The branches are pretty busy, I don’t know why, but then most people don’t need the things I do.

So altogether their reputation is well-earned for personal banking – yes, they are not that great. I don’t require business loans so I have no idea how they would fare in that field.

I still maintain my account there, though. Maybe in time I will close that too.


I had a rather decent account balance with ANZ for a few months expecting to use at least some of it for a planned investment. That hasn’t materialized so far so I was looking to at least make some money with a fixed term deposit. In my research, I came across ABA which came highly recommended as my closest friend and sometime business partner banks there.

I had originally been a little suspicious of that bank as I know its history. It was a joint venture between a Korean bank and a Cambodian entity with ties to the highest echelons in Cambodia. It was sold to a Kazakhstan group, which promptly fired the Korean president whom I happened to know,  and restructured it into one of the main banks in Cambodia. They seem to have the funds. Kazakhstan is an oil-rich country, so there must be people with money burn and invest in foreign countries. It seems to have worked out. I have not heard anything negative about this bank.

Consequently, I decided to try them out. I opened a savings and  flexible deposit account.

The staff I dealt with so far may need a little more training. But they make up for it with their proverbial Khmer friendliness.

Opening accounts is easy and quick.

They offer internet banking with all the features. International transfers need a transaction number generator which will set you back $25. The extra security is well worth the $25 in my mind.

ABA has a unique account I haven’t seen in my long experience banking in many countries. It’s called ABA flexible deposit. This account earns premium interest if a minimum balance of various amounts, depending on the interest rate, is maintained. You are even allowed to make withdrawals from that account. These interest rates stack up well in comparison to their fixed term deposit accounts.

Their transaction fees are competitive.

All this convinced me to give them a try.

They have a rather wide presence in Phnom Penh but are a little sparsely represented in the rest of Cambodia.

Needless to say, you get an ATM card and with the flexible deposit and  fixed term accounts you automatically get a MASTER card. The credit limit on that card is determined by your deposit.

Customer services is good and wait times are minimal.

I checked out Canadia too, by far the largest bank in Cambodia. Their interest rates are downright stingy, and they have no internet banking, consequently, they clearly are not for me.

I had to deal with a number of banks for potential business loans for the company I worked with. After the financial crisis they are all very cautious in their approach when it comes to larger sums, like in the seven figures. Not one bank was different; they all had very strict requirements. If you are looking for a business loan you will clearly have to do your homework and approach each and every one of them.

Compared to banking in the U. S. and Europe, this industry is still developing in Cambodia but it has made great strides and I am sure it will be up to par in a couple more years. It sure is a far cry from the early days when some really shady people came to open a bank here. One can only surmise for what purposes they were used. Most of them have disappeared again after the government put in some stringent regulations in accordance and compliance with international organizations.