Can Facebook Spur a Revolution in Financial Consumer Awareness in Cambodia?

Disruption and breakthrough innovation often comes from huge need, unmet latent demand, and not enough resources for traditional solutions to work!

The financial inclusion space is changing rapidly in Cambodia. Competition is intense, with 36 commercial banks, 11 specialized banks, 38 microfinance institutions, and over 400 NGOs currently applying for financing licenses. As this congested sector moves forward, catering to an increasingly digitally connected and aspirational market, the population is offered a sprawling range of new money management and credit options.

As consumer credit and digital financial products become more accessible in Cambodia, there is increasing risk that Cambodia’s youth (who represent newer and less experienced consumers) and the very poor (who are more vulnerable to economic shocks) can be harmed through becoming over-indebted, falling victim to scams, predatory pricing or poorly suited financial products.

For services perceived to be ‘essential,’ such is the case with financial services, the potential for consumer dissatisfaction is great if there is a gap between what consumers expect and what they experience or observe.

This dissatisfaction can arise when consumers feel under pressure to take a financial product that is inconvenient or doesn’t adequately meet their needs or when they are required to leapfrog to the latest technology without yet building their confidence in its use. These tensions can often result in a stressful, technically difficult and frustrating experience that can escalate over the medium term to complaints or disengagement with the formal financial sector, in favor of more flexible informal products and channels.

Even if dissatisfaction is the result of unrealistic expectations on the consumer’s part – who should shoulder the failure? Is this situation the fault of the marketing, of unreasonable or unrealizable demands, or of both? Has there been a failure to deliver what was promised, or a misunderstanding of the social or financial contract between provider and consumer?

As financial markets develop and grow, key issues arise in relation to the existence of fair, open, efficient and healthy markets for consumers. With a crowded financial sector and Cambodia entering the ASEAN Economic Community in 2015, a focus on building financial consumer awareness and empowerment could not be timelier.

Consider these statistics: Cambodia’s population is estimated at nearly 16 million, 65 percent of whom are under the age of 30. Nearly half (49.2 percent) live on less than $2.50 per day; and while the number of people living in poverty halved during a period of economic growth between 2004 and 2011, these advances remain fragile. A net loss of just $0.30 in daily income would tip 3 million near-poor Cambodians back into poverty, doubling the country’s 2013 poverty rate!

Against this backdrop, Good Return and the National Bank of Cambodia (NBC) formed a partnership to design a Consumer Financial Awareness Campaign to launch early 2016. The goal of the campaign is “Activating financial behavior change through a national consumer campaign, to strengthen the economic empowerment of low income households and vulnerable consumers.

Good Return and NBC set about creating an integrated social media campaign based on the data that Cambodia’s youth have near universal access to a mobile phone (98 percent) and that the penetration of Facebook now equals or outperforms that of the country’s top-rated TV stations. Facebook has doubled each of the past three years and there are now over 2.8 million active users. What’s more, this growth shows no signs of abating, with 100,000 new users signing up in Cambodia each month. Whilst this statistic is not lost on business, it has been largely overlooked by financial inclusion efforts, yet it offers educators and advocacy specialists the chance to reach and engage with a targeted, educated mobile audience for a fraction of the cost.

The National Consumer Financial Awareness Campaign has a dual focus on both raising Social Awareness and strengthening Consumer Empowerment. The campaign combines consequence messages with empowerment messages to motivate consumers to adopt resilient, responsible financial behaviors and build the required self-efficacy to exercise them individually, within the household and when engaged with the formal financial sector. Campaign content focuses on issues such as the benefits to consumer of engaging with the formal financial sector, effective ways to use credit to strengthen financial well-being, and shared responsibilities of consumers and financial service providers to work together for consumer satisfaction and protection of consumer rights (even the rights of the over-indebted)!

To reach the most vulnerable, rural, hard to reach, and in certain contexts still excluded Cambodian households, the Campaign will encourage inter-generational dialogue, by engaging social media connected youth as a channel for dissemination of campaign messages. Each campaign element will feature a call to action to ‘share,’ ‘call,’ ‘txt,’ and ‘send’ these messages back home.

Inclusive financial sector sustainability and success can be strengthened not only through building consumer awareness through alternative social media and digital delivery channels, but also through a ‘call to action’ for young people to cascade their increasing awareness and financial capability through traditional social networks as well.

The campaign will also provide financial service providers, MFIs, and NGOs with resources geared to expanding the delivery of consistent quality consumer experiences that support the campaign’s message that the formal system can indeed provide reliable, responsive financial products reinforced by consumer protection principles.

There are still 1.2 billion reasons globally why we must work in partnership to create trusted financial ecosystems that actively alert consumers, prevent market collapses, and, as far as possible, protect consumers from debt distress.

Right now it couldn’t be more important that financial service providers and consumers take a forward and hope-filled look at what ‘Business as Usual?’ could become and to view each other as collaborators rather than contenders, with a common interest to solve the financial inclusion challenges ahead.

End Note:

Facebook as the primary campaign delivery channel, offers something that no other media platform in the world has – access to billions of people’s data. A Facebook-based advertising campaign can target our audience by country, province, city, gender, age, relationship status and thousands of other factors. When you advertise on a popular medium like television, you may reach millions of people but only a certain percentage will be relevant to your product, whereas with Facebook we can automatically exclude non-relevant audiences before even launching a campaign. Even more useful is that we also have access to post-campaign data that allows us to specifically measure the results and many types of metrics to evaluate the success, or areas for improvement, of each campaign.

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