Although Prince Bank, at five years young, is a relative newcomer on the Cambodian banking scene, its age in years does in no means coincide with its successes. Headquartered in Phnom Penh, this dynamic bank seems determined to outpace its peers in sheer achievements. Starting off as a private microfinance institution in 2015, three years later, it was awarded a commercial banking license from the National Bank of Cambodia. With its branches and self-service terminals springing up across the country and a finely honed digital presence, Prince Bank is going all out to achieve its goal “to become the industry leader by offering differentiated financial solutions through a mix of channels with great convenience to our customers”. Despite its age, Prince Bank has numerous firsts under its belt and has received several awards in recognition of its accomplishments.
Honn Sorachna, Chief Executive Officer, and Jennifer Lee Cheau Lin, Chief Digital and Technology Officer, of Prince Bank recently joined International Banker to discuss the bank’s plans and recent achievements. Sorachna and Jennifer, welcome….
Perhaps most astonishing of all of Prince Bank’s qualities is the sheer speed at which the bank is developing, including being the first bank to launch Visa and Mastercard debit and credit cards, less than two years after becoming a commercial bank, and the first bank to roll out 19 branches and 32 self-service terminals in 12 months across the country. How have you been able to successfully develop in such a short space of time, Sorachna?
Sorachna: Those remarkable achievements have been possible thanks to the bank’s clear strategic vision, our shareholders’ commitments, the board’s consistent support, the guidance and support of the regulator and the hard work of our management team and staff. The shareholders and board have made the necessary resources available and believed in the long-term investments so that the bank can differentiate itself from the rest in the industry. Obviously, the sheer speed and growth magnitude compete for the resources available and require a careful allocation of resources and prioritization of work. In this context, my colleagues have worked tirelessly day and night to implement numerous projects while delivering business results at the same time to ensure that we have an adequate foundation for further growth. Without committed and competent staff, we would not have gotten where we are today. Furthermore, our business partners and customers have been supportive in our growth journey. In sum, it is all about the hard work and support extended to the bank by our different stakeholders.
Jennifer, what makes Prince Bank the most digitally inclined bank in the local banking market? Do you have specific examples that demonstrate the bank’s dedication to digital banking?
Jennifer: Prince Bank practices the Digital First, Data First and Mobile First mindset and approach in everything that we build or do—not just external-facing banking services but also internal. And not because it is the bandwagon that every financial institution wants to ride on; being digital means simplification, efficiency in resources and speed to market. We also adopt agile methodology in our project management and iterative deployment of our services. We consider ourselves to be the first bank in the local market to have a digital suite consisting of a human-resources information system, electronic forms and robust mobile-banking application—and within just two years of becoming a commercial bank.
One notable stand-out feature of the bank is the considerable amount you have invested in staff-training and development programs. Sorachna, why do you consider this area of human resources (HR) so important?
Sorachna: As I mentioned earlier, people are our most important assets and underpin our ability to develop and grow our business operations. For us to be able to continue our momentum and differentiate ourselves further from the rest in this increasingly competitive industry, we need to attract more talent and develop our people further. Therefore, the bank has consciously and proactively invested in the training and development of our staff, ranging from in-class activities to online training, project assignments as well as on-the-job training and coaching. While the bank needs more and more productive human resources, we also understand clearly that our people need a favourable environment and continuous support for their professional development. In this sense, our investments in the training and development programs are aimed at fulfilling both the organization’s and the employees’ needs for growth.
Much of the bank’s internal development of solutions is apparently driven by technology, such as the Open Integration Platform. What does this platform enable, Jennifer, and how does it offer superior solutions compared to what was previously in place?
Jennifer: Here at Prince Bank, we nicknamed it POP, which stands for Prince Open Platform; it is where we develop and host our API (application programming interface) assets, data-sets and micro-services. POP enables standardization and rapid development, management and scaling of banking services, devices, channels and applications with our API, data-sets and micro-services. Through POP, API integration and consumption can easily be made between existing systems and third-party service or solution providers. That is how Prince Bank has been able to grow its banking services on the various channels so quickly, even when the bank is in only its infancy phase. And the best is yet to come, as POP has huge potential.
The bank’s internal HR portal, which as I understand it is accessible both via the internet and mobile devices, is significantly helping staff with regards to training and development. Given the rapid evolution of digital-banking solutions across much of the world, how do you ensure that this portal stays up to date, so that staff remain informed of the latest trends, solutions and approaches to banking, Sorachna?
Sorachna: We make our Human Resource Information System a living platform with content that is constantly reviewed and updated. Policies and procedures are uploaded by and accessible to staff through the portal. Any amendments are reflected as they are made. Staff use it on a daily basis for their personnel-related matters. The e-training module is updated on an ongoing basis to reflect the current training materials made available by the bank. Therefore, all employees can benefit from the facility as and when they want. During this COVID-19 time, our e-training platform has been innovatively used by our staff to perform their daily health self-assessments so that line managers are aware of who does not feel well and can adapt their workforce utilization accordingly.
Prince Bank was among the first banks to join the central bank’s Bakong payments application and include it in the mobile-banking app. Can you briefly explain the purpose of this Bakong application, Jennifer? And what key benefits does this provide to Prince Bank and its customers?
Jennifer: Prince Bank always provides its full commitment to and support for all National Bank of Cambodia initiatives. Cambodia has a huge population who are unbanked as well as a huge population of mobile-phone users, hence Bakong is an ideal platform to provide financial inclusion to the unbanked market through which users can perform cash in (deposit) and cash out (withdrawal) at any Prince Bank branch or that of any Bakong member bank. Bakong also promotes cashless transactions, which are again perfect for Cambodia to increase the usage of the national currency, Khmer riel, for payments and reduce the handling of physical US dollars. Prince Bank has enabled Bakong in its mobile-banking app to provide convenience for our customers as they can easily perform funds transfers to any Bakong user, merchant or any other member bank account by scanning QR (Quick Response) codes, keying in phone numbers or just selecting from their contact lists. We love the privacy that Bakong has given to our customers, whereby they do not need to reveal their account numbers in order to perform transactions.
Given the bank’s significant digital-banking footprint, Sorachna, what are some of the key qualities you look for in potential candidates when making hiring decisions on the digital side? Are you satisfied with the bank’s existing human-resources capabilities?
Sorachna: As in every business, knowledge, skills and attitude are indispensable. What is more, we look for people who are positive, open and curious. We need people with growth mindsets, who are keen on learning new things and are explorative in the way they work and think. We believe in well-rounded leaders; hence, we look for staff willing to go the extra mile and to multi-task. Given our ambitious goal, we believe in and are committed to further investing in our people. We strive to ensure they continuously develop their capabilities and grow in the hierarchy, contributing more to our growth agenda.
As Chief Digital and Technology Officer, Jennifer, how important is the concept of security (both within the bank and for customers) to you? What are some of the key measures you have put in place recently to ensure that digital-banking solutions are sufficiently secure?
Jennifer: We take security very seriously at Prince Bank. Security is not just a concept but an active 24/7 monitoring and management practice. We receive full support for our security initiative and investment, because effective security governance requires lots of support from our board of directors and senior-management team. In the last 12 months, we have implemented various security solutions strategically to manage and mitigate cyber-risks from all fronts. We perform threat monitoring and analysis proactively. Our security team keeps abreast of threat intelligence released by security researchers globally—threats that target banking and financial institutions (BFIs). A proper Disaster Recovery Plan and Business Continuity Plan have been established and practiced on an ongoing basis to ensure that our team can respond smoothly and efficiently if situations arise. We also perform regular security awareness and training for all staff so that they are aware of the dos and don’ts.
Sorachna, so many of the bank’s projects with regards to corporate social responsibility (CSR) are connected to improving education within Cambodia. Why do you value educational projects so highly?
Sorachna: At Prince Bank, we consider corporate social responsibility part of our business activities, believing in “corporate citizenship” in which giving back to the community helps us to sustain our business. Supporting education is, indeed, a key component in our CSR work that also covers health, culture, environment and sports. As regards our support for educational projects, we strongly believe that in order to build a good and developed society, it all starts from the ground level and the number of well-educated people in that society. In other words, it is the foundation for development and growth for the future. Investing for the future is investing in education. Therefore, we are keen on getting involved in this area.
What do you consider to be the single most important quality or attribute a bank must possess in order to be successful in digital banking, Jennifer?
Jennifer: People! And with a great attitude and clear shared vision. A lot of people view the success of a digital bank through the services made available on its digital channel, such as its mobile-banking app. Whilst that is the result that markets can experience and is important, truly, these digital services can only be realised by people. To be able to successfully build and roll out full-fledged banking products and services, ATMs (automated teller machines), mobile-banking apps and internal applications, which are at par with the much more mature banks in Cambodia, what people do not see is the hard work and efforts put in by our people. Like an iceberg, our people are the rest of the iceberg under the water and the most important attribute to Prince Bank. I can proudly say that our team is amazing; they are focused on meeting our goals, and we are always sharing innovative ideas and promoting good user experience. We understand that we are not only building a digital bank but a legacy, and at the same time, developing industry leaders among our people. All this requires us to come together in unity, focus on our goals, persevere and stay determined—our people get this.
What is the most satisfying aspect of being a banking leader at Prince Bank, Sorachna? And what do you consider to be your biggest challenge over the next 12 to 18 months?
Sorachna: Seeing Prince Bank as a local institution growing well and fast as well as our people developing is very satisfying for me as the Chief Executive Officer. I am proud of Prince Bank becoming the fastest growing digital bank in the country over a short period of time. In particular, I am thrilled by the international recognitions that Prince Bank has earned, including “Asia’s Top 100 Best Employer Brands for 2019”, “Cambodia’s Best Employer Brands for 2020” and “Global Best Employer Brands for 2020” by the Employer Branding Institute, World HRD Congress and Stars of the Industry Group. And now, I am even more excited by the bank winning the “Cambodia’s Best Commercial Bank 2020” award from International Banker. Looking into the next 12 to 18 months, I feel the greatest challenge will be how to resume our growth momentum post-COVID-19. Every business and country has been severely affected by the pandemic. Preparing ourselves for recovery and subsequently growth at the pace we have had is key to leapfrogging ahead of other players. However, this is a big hurdle, which we will have to strategically overcome.
Finally, Jennifer, you are in the process of developing an SME (small and medium-sized enterprise) banking application. Are you able to disclose some of the app’s key features and how it purports to assist your SME clients?
Jennifer: Many of our SME customers are also very inclined towards running their businesses digitally. In fact, many of them are also online business owners. Enabling them with a comprehensive digital-banking platform to run their businesses, regardless of location and time, will definitely help them to focus on building their businesses rather than spending time performing banking services at our branches. The key features that our SME customers can expect are, among others, online loan application and management, bill payments, QR payments for their storefronts (be it online or brick and mortar), staff payroll management, staff credit-card management and insurance purchases.
Prince Bank is certainly scaling new heights in terms of digital innovation and growth, with no end in sight. Thank you again for speaking with us today.