CSR In Banking: The Movement For Financial Inclusion

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‘Doing good is good for business’ may not be a centuries-old adage, however, that doesn’t make this statement any less accurate, as companies throughout the world seeking the triple bottom line have proven and researchers have demonstrated time and time again.

Take Devin Thorpe, for example, a journalist and author who in an article for Forbes.com published in 2013, interviewed a number of managers and directors in hopes of finding out the actual benefits to companies of a sound CSR strategy. 51 of 59 people interviewed believed that they had happier employees while 45 of the same 59 believed they ended up with better employees “either as a result of being able to attract better talent or because the CSR programs help to develop better employees.”

Cambodia may be relatively new to the concept of corporate social responsibility, but the number and quality of existing CSR initiatives and strategies belie the fact. From Himawari Hotel Apartments’ support of Cambodians with social, economic and health disabilities to Smart-Axiata’s efforts to counter illiteracy, there is a host of creative initiatives leaving a mark in the Kingdom, as we discussed in our previous article on the subject Cambodia And The Budding CSR Movement.

This time we put the spotlight on the banking sector, as we meet with representatives of the major banking houses to find out more about how they are endeavoring to give back. We take a look at some of the most original initiatives, that, while creative in nature, are also efficiently doing what they are meant to do: better the communities where the banks operate. Spoiler alert: we found ‘financial inclusion’ to be a recurrent theme.

‘Financial inclusion’ is indeed the first thing that comes to the mind of Igor Zimarev—Head of Marketing Division— when we ask him about ABA Bank’s CSR program. With 24/7 self-banking facilities, cash-in kiosks, countless ATM machine spread around the country, and now also boasting virtual cards, an advanced mobile banking application and cardless cash withdrawals, the bank’s financial inclusion program aims at bringing the millions of unbanked Cambodians into the fold. In addition, the bank is constantly opening new branches throughout the provinces to provide basic banking services to the rural population.

“Another social program we are proud of is our financial education activity through the radio program More than Money,” Zimarev tells us. With over 30 shows under its belt, More than Money covers topics indispensable for sound financial management, including family budget planning, business expense and income control and management, shadow lending, bank loans, business planning, ways to get out of debt, and women entrepreneurship, to name but a few. Engaging and didactic, the program hosts small business owners, business experts and economic gurus, who come to share advice and experiences with the audience and the impromptu callers. The program airs two times per week at FM 102, one of the most popular radio stations in the country.

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The popular radio program More than Money coaches the audience on financial matters.

ANZ Royal is another banking house fixated on financial inclusion and financial independence in the communities it operates. 2016 saw the arrival to Cambodia of the ANZ’s flagship financial literacy program—MoneyMinded. The programs is carried and delivered free of charge to communities around the Kingdom, with the aim of building the money skills and confidence of individuals and families, while supporting the communities’ overall economic development. It consists of five core workshops, namely: (1) planning for the future, (2) making money last from one payday to the next, (3) understanding the difference between needs and wants, (4) budgeting and (5) assertiveness, and (6) commitment to action.

A program that has particularly impressed us at B2B Cambodia is ANZ Royal’s $20 Challenge, a contest for disadvantaged youth that seeks to provide them with insight into running a business while developing their business mindset. With the modest startup capital of $20, the young participants are challenged to budget wisely and make sensible investment choices, generating as much profit as possible during an 8-week period. The contestants are mentored by ANZ Royal employees—including senior management—who spend  many weekends with the teams to develop their business ideas and plans.

“We aim to create this kind of business exposure to provide the practice and confidence for students to build and develop sustainable small businesses to support themselves and their families in the future,” says Kanika Cheth, Corporate Communication and Community Relations Manager at ANZ Royal. In the latest round, the bank funded 20 groups of students aged 16 to 18, with ideas ranging from selling simple street food to recycled souvenirs to intermediary distribution services.

Maybank Cambodia’s Qazreen Chan Abdullah—Head, Marketing & Customer Experience—tells us the Malaysian universal bank builds its CSR program around sustainable initiatives. She brings up the bank’s Women Eco Weavers, a community-based program that’s setting up a formal silk weaving training centre—the first in the country—, and a sericulture plan to help farmers produce high-quality Cambodian golden silk.

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Maybank’s CEO Cynthia Liaw uses a loom with one of the beneficiaries of the bank’s Women Eco Weavers program.

Started in March this year, the initiative has the overarching goal of creating economic independence and financial inclusion for weavers in the region, while promoting and enhancing traditional textile globally in a sustainable manner. Their first weaving training course began in June this year, with a total of 32 participants. The sericulture program has also started, and already 3,000 mulberry trees have been planted by 21 farmers.

These CSR programs showcase the potential of Cambodia-based enterprises to turn a profit while improving the communities they touch. This potential was glaringly clear in a SWOT analysis of CSR in Cambodia carried out by Rajesh Chhabara, Founder & Director of CSR Works International, published in 2008. The discussion paper concluded that a careful deployment of corporate social responsibility principles can “boost competitiveness and open up new market and opportunities”, facilitating and guiding a sustainable and inclusive socio-economic growth.