‘We Are Private Institutions’—Banks and MFIs Heed Prime Minister

More commercial banks and microfinance institutions (MFIs) were working hastily on Thursday to replace logos that could be confused with those of national agencies and comply with a government directive to publicly declare that they are private institutions, not state-owned.

The Commerce Ministry announced on Wednesday that private banks and MFIs using logos similar in appearance to the branding of the Finance Ministry or the National Bank of Cambodia (NBC) would be required to change their logos by March 10.

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The new logo for Acleda Bank is seen at the bank’s headquarters on Monivong Boulevard on Sunday. (Hannah Hawkins/The Cambodia Daily)

Camma Microfinance Limited is changing its logo, which includes a golden mythical bird similar to the Finance Ministry’s insignia.

“We started removing our logo with the mythical bird,” said Yos Socheat, administration officer at Camma, on Thursday. Ms. Socheat added that she was unsure how much the changes would cost.

Camma posted a statement on its Facebook page on Thursday stating that it was a private institution, following Prime Minister Hun Sen’s instruction to media outlets and mobile phone companies to publicize the message: “All microfinance institutions are private, not state-owned.”

Many mobile phone users would have heard the message read out over the past two days as standard ringtones were replaced with a public service message about MFIs being private. At least 10 other commercial financial institutions had announcements on their websites or Facebook pages on Thursday stating that they were private.

Earlier this month, the premier said all MFIs had to begin displaying banners stating that they are not government-owned or risk being closed. Private institutions are falling in line, broadcasting the premier’s talking point and spending money to rebrand nationwide.

Say Sony, senior vice president and chief marketing officer at Prasac, one of the nation’s largest MFIs, said it had begun removing or covering physical signage and other communications materials with their old logo immediately after receiving a notice from the NBC and Commerce Ministry on Tuesday.

“We recognize that our logo is a little bit similar to the NBC logo,” Mr. Sony said.

The rapid rebranding at the company’s 181 offices across all 25 provinces and on customers’ ATM cards and passbooks, communications materials, social media and website would cost about $1 million, Mr. Sony said, adding that they hoped to finish replacing their branding by March 2.

Prime Minister Hun Sen speaks at a graduation ceremony in Phnom Penh on Wednesday, in a photograph posted to his Facebook page.

The country’s largest bank, Acleda, has already started changing its logo—a golden bird in a blue circle—because it resembled the Finance Ministry’s own, at a cost of at least $3.5 million, it said.

Stephen Higgins, a managing partner of investment and consulting firm Mekong Strategic Partners who was previously the CEO of ANZ Royal Bank, said profitable private institutions like Acleda and Prasac should be able to absorb the costs of rebranding.

“However, it is still a substantial amount, and could clearly be put to better use,” Mr. Higgins said on Thursday. “If you’re going to require someone to change their logo, it would seem reasonable to give them sufficient time to develop an attractive new logo, rather than a rushed job in just a matter of days.”

Commerce Ministry spokeswoman Seung Sophari, however, said the government was moving quickly to have private banks and MFIs clarify their status as nongovernment institutions in order to avoid potential “chaos.”

Earlier this month, Mr. Hun Sen again made calls for the arrest of politicians who claim they can cancel people’s microfinance debts if elected. He said the claims gave the false impression that private loans were under the auspices of the state.

“Some political parties and politicians have said that they will cancel the debts if they win the election,” Mr. Hun Sen said. “Do not expect that.”

Ms. Sophari repeated on Thursday that unidentified politicians were misleading the public to think that the government could cancel their private loan debt. Believing that the government will pay their debt, people might take loans they cannot afford to pay off or stop working altogether, she said.

“The whole society would face chaos,” she added. “They believe that one vote could cancel their debt.”

The Grassroots Democracy Party said they were disappointed by Mr. Hun Sen’s raising of the issue of logos rather than trying to address people’s financial problems through policy measures.

The party said the government could support people who are in debt by lowering interest rates through tax reduction and encouraging savings.

“The Grassroots Democracy Party would like to appeal to top Cambodian political leaders to use their ideas to solve problems on the suffering of people rather than pay attention to disputes with each other and try to defeat each other,” the statement said.

(Additional reporting by Kuch Naren and Phan Soumy)


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