Oct 18, 2021
Amret executive director Estelle Darie speaks to The Post about empowering Cambodian women in business
Congratulations to Amret for being recognized with the "2020 Leading Financial Institution for Empowering Women in Business in Cambodia " award from Global Finance Magazine.
1. Can you explain more about this segment and why empowering women in business in Cambodia is so important?
ED: Thank you. It is indeed an honour for Amret to be recognised as the "Leading Financial Institution for Empowering Women in Business in Cambodia". Amret, since its early years has always recognized the importance of women playing a pivotal role in the economic and social development of families in Cambodia. More than 90% of our clients during our formative years in the early 1990s were women as we were offering only small group loans in villages and women trusted us first. Today, 68% of our borrowers are women across all segments and in all types of business.
As we know, women are the cornerstone of families across the global, and it is no different for women here in Cambodian. Not only do they contribute strongly to household income with their work – in business, farming or industry – but they are usually the ones in charge of their children’s education and well-being.
2. Why is access to finance critical for women in the Kingdom?
ED: In Cambodia, as in most countries around the globe, gender inequality in terms of access to finance is still fairly wide. The UN Capital Development Fund reported in 2018 that the average loan for women was $825, while it was $1,500 for men. Despite this gap, women are more loyal borrowers, and the report showed that women were staying longer with the same financial institution, hence enhancing the capacity for them to save long term and improve their situation.
This gender inequity has to be addressed, and Amret wants to play a significant role in that.
Amret will continue to provide affordable financial solutions to empower the women, which will eventually not only help creating jobs, but also benefit communities. This will in turn help to lift the living standards of communities and promote women entrepreneurship.
3. How does Amret concretely support women, and how is it different from other financial institutions?
ED: Amret is a strong believer in promoting women's enterprises by equipping them with business training in areas such as financial literacy and agricultural productivity. In 2019, 90% of the participants in our financial literacy training were women. 44% of the 2,000 farmers who undertook vocational training, which is run in collaboration with experts from the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, also were women.
In 2020, as we strongly believe that women must be given the opportunity to excel in business, we took the stand to offer our training mostly only to women –with a focus on digital as well as financial literacy.
Regarding digital, we have on top of training also developed products leveraging on technology and data that are specifically aimed at meeting women’s needs. For instance, we have field saving officers who offer off-premises deposit services to small business women selling in markets who have the possibility of saving a few dollars every day without moving from their stall. Our staff are equipped with tablets to immediately register the transactions in a fully secure manner. Our clients will then receive an immediate SMS notification that their account has been credited.
Witnessing how well this service was appreciated – with more than 20,000 micro depositors using it – we decided last year to go beyond just off-premises deposit collections by offering the "Fast Emergency Loan" to women who have shown regular disciplined saving. Loans applications, approval and disbursement can be concluded within 24 hours, with no collateral, should they have a family emergency or a small business opportunity.
I was talking to a client who has benefited from this loan the other day; she mentioned that not only has she managed to save much more than previously when she took back all her money home made from daily sales, but also a great advantage she saw was her ability ‘’to get a loan on her own without her husband having to approve or guarantee for it!‘’ I reckon this is the financial independence that all women are looking for.
Women of today want to know what a product is going to do for them, and how it will help them and make their lives easier – for as we all know, a woman’s work is never done!
So it is important to note that that changes to be made must involve committed leadership by financial institutions to offer products that meet the needs of women in business.
4. Will Covid-19 disrupt Amret’s plan to support women entrepreneurship in the Kingdom?
ED: We expect women to be among the most severely affected segments by the economic crisis resulting from the Covid-19 outbreak. However, Covid-19 will not disrupt Amret’s plans to support and promote women entrepreneurship in Cambodia. In the current environment, Amret’s "Empowering Women in Business" programme is needed more than ever.
In the post-Covid-19 phase, women in business will represent opportunity for the wider community. Communities and society as a whole will acknowledge the importance of the role of women in the business world. With more women involved in supplementing household income, they will become successful across micro, small, medium and large businesses.
US consulting firm McKinsey measures the Asia Pacific region in its Gender Parity Score at 0.58 – with 1 being perfect gender equality – while North America and Europe each stand at 0.76. So, there is much to do and plenty of room for improvement to close the gap.
Amret will play a strong role empowering women in that new context, as we believe that with additional and more adequate access to finance, women can contribute much more to the Cambodian economic growth and community well-being.
Amret is one of the leading financial institutions in Cambodia. A full subsidiary of the Advans Group, its reputable international shareholders include FMO Entrepreneurial Development Bank, La Fayette Participations and International Financial Corporation (IFC), a member of the World Bank.
As well as catering to the Kingdom's micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs), Amret MFI also offers a wide range of financial products and services to Cambodia's unbanked and underbanked. A leading microfinance institution in Cambodia, Amret provides both lending and deposit products to more than 500,000 clients, who range from low-income farmers to MSMEs. With 158 branches nationwide, it employs more than 4,500 people. Amret has assets of more than $1 billion and deposits exceeding $500 million.