Although there were no lights, air conditioning or even computerized services, the Agriculture and Commercial Bank on Monday was able to pay back dozens of depositors left in limbo after the bank closed in December.
The first day of advance repayments for depositors at the bank began with no major trouble, as more than 50 customers appeared at the bank’s Phnom Penh headquarters in the morning, holding passbooks and ID cards in their hands.
The depositors waited patiently—some for as long as two hours—under the sun for their turn outside the compound, as only few customers were allowed to come in at a time under the watch of three private guards and two armed police officers.
“It went very well,” said Jean-Jacques Brutschi, an auditor from the Paris-based consulting firm Donat Branger, which was appointed by the National Bank of Cambodia late last month. He said by the end of the day about 150 depositors showed up at the bank to claim their money.
“People were very pleased to have money back, especially small depositors,” he said.
The bank is one of 11 commercial banks that failed to get relicensed under the new banking law and are now being liquidated. When it closed in December, the management of the Agriculture and Commercial disappeared and abandoned customers without notice or payments. Since then, depositors—many of whom are NGOs and squatter families—flocked to the National Bank to seek help recovering their money.
Central bank officials and private auditors predicted at that time that it would not be easy for any professional liquidator to clean up the mess at Agriculture and Commercial.
Agriculture and Commercial started the advance repayments of deposits up to $500 in order for local customers to celebrate the Khmer New Year, which starts April 13. The liquidator said he needs at least another month to finish evaluating the bank’s assets and liabilities.
“It’s better than nothing,” a representative of the Cambodian Christian Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses said as he walked out of the bank after receiving the first repayment. He said his church has deposited offerings from its followers since 1994. The savings now amount to about $1,500, he said. “I will tell people at a meeting our money started [coming] back.”
Other customers who received their money all appeared to be happy with what the liquidator called emergency repayments.
“It’s a small amount of money, but it’s good to have at least some money back before the new year,” said a middle-aged man who had put about $6,000 from his retirement payment into the bank.
He said the liquidator assured him the bank will repay the rest of his money step by step. It will announce another schedule for further repayments after the new year.
“After all these troubles, it is extremely difficult for me to trust the banking system,” said the man, who asked not to be named. “I would like to know how much assets the bank has and how much money the bank owes its depositors in total. It should be made public.”
The advance repayment will continue until April 12.