“This issue is all over now so I’m not looking back,” Kay Lot, Mobitel’s Chief Operating Officer, said yesterday after the central bank last week finally licensed Cellcard Cash to accept remittances.
But after eight months of testing the patience of the National Bank of Cambodia, the funders of the programme The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and indeed the rest of the sector, why did Mobitel feel it was above the law in the first place?
Following the NBC’s edict on August 27 that it must regulate credit admittances – which clearly include mobile money transfers – Mobitel has continually tried to take short cuts that have only served to undermine the authority of the central bank and call into question its ability to regulate the industry.
To be fair to the NBC, it has largely passed the test, but Mobitel’s actions have only served to again remind investors in Cambodia that detailed, comprehensive legislation in many industries is still lacking, and enforcement even more so.
After launching Cellcard Cash in September, despite being made aware it was non-compliant with NBC licensing regulations, the operator continued to seek out customers with adverts in the local press in December and January calling on Cambodians to “activate your Cellcard Cash service now!”
This campaign also included text messages to Mobitel users advertising its new money transfer product along with billboards in Phnom Penh.
This again tested the central bank, which on February 24 ordered Mobitel to stop advertising and accepting new customers, NBC Director General Nguon Sokha told The Post on Thursday.
“We try to bring everyone under the same roof,” she said.
The problem for Mobitel was, of course, that while it was effectively banned from operating, WING and ACLEDA were busy accumulating customers with their own similar, licensed products. Herein lay the key point of tension.
Although the central bank needed to regulate the industry, it was also in a position where it had to avoid essentially killing a service that would offer competition in an industry that provides a valuable service to the Cambodian public. And one that has proven immensely profitable in many areas of Africa and Pakistan in particular – mobile money has become big business.
“Everything cannot be 100-percent perfect,” said Ngoun Sokha of the Cellcard Cash debacle. “Sometimes we have to be flexible.”
Although Kay Lot said he did not know whether Mobitel had been in full compliance with the directive on February 24, calling it an order to “reduce advertising activities”, Ngoun Sokha said the NBC was “satisfied with their reaction”. Certainly Cellcard Cash adverts in Cambodia’s English-language press stopped after February 24.
For Cambodia’s central bank, the Cellcard Cash farce has at least provided a test case and precedent with which to build and continue improved oversight and there is no doubt the NBC has built up its capacity to act as a regulator in recent years.
For Mobitel it’s back to business. But after taking a host of debilitating short cuts, can it compete in Cambodia’s electronic cash transfer market?