The majority of the inhabitants of Ratanakkiri province’s most remote districts are indigenous people who support themselves through the cultivation of cashews, soybeans, mung beans, upland rice and cassava.
The growing of such cash crops has served as an additional source of income to their traditional practices of accessing forest resources, swidden cultivation and animal husbandry, and provided for everyday living – until recently.
Things changed when many began aspiring to the consumerist way of life found in urban areas, spending their income on modern possessions such as the latest model smartphone, new motorbikes and cars, and fashionable clothes.
And when money became short, they began borrowing from private money lenders and the financial institutions in their area to support such a lifestyle.
While access to capital this way can prove relatively easy, the associated issues – such as high-interest rates and high financial leverage – are far from straightforward.
As the economy in these remote areas is traditionally subsistence, with little need for money, the communities therein have minimal experience of using cash and limited understanding of financial management.
As a result, many accrued significant levels of debt and were unable to manage their monthly interest payments.
For some, a lack of financial literacy, aptitude for long-term planning and household budgeting skills led to over-indebtedness, and the necessity to sell land and other collateral to keep up with
Resonates with ABA values
To address this, ABA Bank and Canadian company Angkor Resources Corp – a partner of ABA Bank in corporate social responsibility (CSR) – designed and implemented the Empowering Remote Communities Through Financial Literacy Program.
This aims to develop the knowledge and skills of remote communities to grow their economies and finances in a wise and healthy manner, and demonstrates ABA’s unceasing commitment to caring for the future of the Cambodian people and the country.
The bank has always taken the approach of providing only productive loans and supporting real sectors of the economy, while caring about the financial health of its borrowers.
The issue of over-indebtedness, among others, resonated with the values held by ABA and motivated the bank to implement the programme.
The financial literacy programme began with Training of Trainers (ToT) sessions for 14 community teachers with the support of ABA’s Credit Training team.
The first training session was conducted in September last year, with nine classes covering four indigenous language groups – Kreung, Brao, Tampuen and Jarai.
With 204 participants, 50 per cent of whom were female, it received maximum participation and understanding, especially from women and less-literate community members.
The training has had a positive impact on the people. Rather than relying solely on loans for fast cash, they are finding alternative ways to earn income and manage their daily expenses.
Villagers are now looking for ways to increase their income instead of just waiting for the seasonal cassava or cashew harvests.
Some families have temporarily moved locations to do shared farming and access extra employment opportunities.
Some are looking at alternative crops such as cacao and durian.
With the enthusiasm high and to keep the momentum going, ABA Bank and Angkor Resources are preparing for the next phase of financial literacy classes after the busy harvest season.
Gordon Paterson – an independent project development manager in Ratanakkiri who helps run the programme – spoke of the excitement the course had generated.
“At the beginning, many people did not realise the importance of the course. But later they told the trainer that the content was filtering through the village and everyone was excited.
“Now recognising the future for their community, they encourage the trainers to continue the course to its completion, while spreading the message to other communities so they can hold their heads high,” he said.
Forty-three-year-old Thaeh Bo expressed his gratitude at having attended the training.
“I would like to thank the ABA Bank trainers for training us in financial literacy, which is such an important subject, and for providing these materials.
“Before the training, the other villagers and I didn’t know much about managing our income and daily expenditure.
“But now we do, and we are looking for ways to increase our incomes to plan for the future of our families. Once again, I deeply thank ABA for coming here for us,” he said after the training.
Building on the positive results of the initial phase, ABA Bank and Angkor Resources are to expand the programme across more districts, and to conduct further ToT sessions in remote villages.
One major indicator of the important impact the programme has already had is the speed and spontaneity with which it has snowballed.
After completing the first round of classes, the trainee teachers were promoting it to local authorities and voluntarily starting new classes in neighbouring villages.
Alongside the implementation of the Empowering Remote Communities Through Financial Literacy Program, ABA regularly supports a range of initiatives on financial literacy and inclusion.
In 2022, it partnered with the National Bank of Cambodia to implement the Financial Literacy for Kids Project by printing 5,000 financial comic books for primary school students.
ABA financed the Khmer Enterprise Investment Readiness Program and the Women Entrepreneurship Challenge to support start-ups and women entrepreneurs in developing their business ideas.
The bank also sponsors regional finance-related events such as ASEAN Savings Day 2022 and the FinTech stage at the 40th and 41st ASEAN Summits.