Finance industry experts have hit out at the Phnom Penh governor after he threatened to remove ATMs from municipality land following an attempt to blow up a Canadia Bank machine on Saturday.
The explosion took place at an ATM in front the National Pediatrics Hospital in Tuol Kork district. The glass doors of the ATM booth were blown out and the keyboard of the machine was damaged, but the cash box remained intact and nobody was hurt in the incident.
Local media on Monday quoted Phnom Penh Governor Pa Socheatevong as saying the authorities must take action to prevent another similar incident. “ATMs should be pulled out of public areas unless they have security guards, otherwise they risk attracting robberies,” he said.
“What happens if more ATMs are attacked? There would be chaos. Before that happens, we need to have a rethink of security at ATMs on public land.” The governor was referring to ATMs on land rented from the municipality around the city, not those attached to bank branches.
In Channy, the president and group managing director of ACLEDA Bank, argued there is no need to pull ATMs from public areas. He warned that the governor’s suggestion of removing ATMs would be a backwards step, saying more security guards should simply be recruited to guard machines. “We have never seen anything like that happen in any other country,” said Channy.
“We should actually increase the number of ATMs to make banking more convenient for the public, because ATMs have a critical role to play in allowing people to withdraw and deposit money. The municipality should put more security guards at ATMs on land that we rent from them, because we are their tenants. For ATMs at our branches or in private areas, we always make sure we have security guards and CCTV, so if there is any disorder, we are alerted straight away,” he added.
According to Channy, ACLEDA Bank now has 325 ATMs, representing about 25 per cent of ATMs nationwide. “Every day, our ATMs process more than 5,000 transactions, so we know it is an important service for the public,” he said.
Hout Ieng Tong, the president of the Cambodia Microfinance Association, also condemned the plan. “If the municipality wants to halt development in the finance industry, this will do it,” he said.
Chou Ngeth, a senior consultant at Emerging Markets Consulting, said having a large ATM network makes banking a 24/7 service, which is convenient for customers and banking staff. In addition to ATMs, some banks also provide Cash Deposit Machines (CDM) to make it easier for customers to put money into their accounts.
“Having less ATMs and CDMs would make the business environment more unfriendly for investors, clients and the industry at large. These machines are financial inclusion tools. They make banking services accessible to people,” said Ngeth. “If the governor wants improved security, then he should get more security guards to watch the machines. Robberies are not caused by ATMs. That is flawed logic.”
According to the National Bank of Cambodia’s annual report published last year, the country has 1,576 ATMs that are used by 1,179,953 bank account holders.