Bakong digital payment app uptake proving slower than hoped


While the Coronavirus outbreak has helped to increase the use of digital payments in general, the uptake of the Bakong digital payment platform app is less than hoped for, according to National Bank of Cambodia (NBC) Director-General, Chea Serey.

Ahead of her participation in a virtual international seminar she told Khmer Times that the volume and value of overall digital transactions have increased rapidly during the pandemic.

“The shift mainly comes from fear of the infection, that is, the reluctance to hold banknotes and visit bank branches, Yet, limited digital literacy as well as transaction costs remain a challenge. Although Bakong provides free services, uptake remains slower than we would wish, she added.

“So far, there are 100,000 registered Bakong wallets with 5 million users reached [indirectly through member bank mobile apps]. More is needed to raise awareness of Bakong to the public at large, as well as to companies and government agencies. This is not the work of NBC alone, but also the banking and payment industry,” she said.

Bakong, Cambodia’s first integrated payment system, was launched last year. It was designed to allow customers to perform a number of functions, such as using an e-wallet and making mobile payments, online transactions and financial applications all from a single app.

The NBC has been pushing customers and retailers to make use of e-wallets and payment apps, including Bakong, to help prevent the spread of Covid-19. The World Health Organization has been advising people to people to wash their hands thoroughly after handling money particularly before eating food.

Chea Serey joined a global seminar on the challenges and benefits of digital payments, alongside the Hungarian central bank governor, a senior adviser to Abu Dhabi Global Market and the chief fintech officer of the Monetary Authority of Singapore yesterday.

The NBC director-general says greater adoption of digital transactions will help wean Cambodia off its reliance on US dollars.

She noted: “Payment in USD [has become] a habit that is hard to change. However, for lower-income segments of the market whose main revenues are in KHR [riels], spending is normally done in KHR.”

“More conscious spenders are also switching to KHR wherever they can,” she noted, adding, “Through a digital payment platform, we would be able to make KHR payments easier and more convenient such that we can avoid carrying too many banknotes. Currently, Bakong is not providing cross-currency transaction between Bakong wallets, but NBC is working on upgrading our system and soon it will be available. This would allow USD holders to pay in KHR easily at the best market exchange rate.”

The central bank is pushing local lenders to offer customers incentives to ditch cash for digital payments. More than 59 percent of Cambodians pay online, according to the NBC, while 90 percent of the population has mobile internet access, offering the potential to expand online payments apps to the majority of Cambodians.

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