Sim Chankiriroth FCCA, founder and CEO of the Cambodian-based fintech startup BanhJi, used his accounting background to create one of the top fintech startups in Asia. In an interview, he describes the challenges of entrepreneurship in Cambodia.
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In 2012, Sim Chankiriroth founded a financial consulting firm in Cambodia with five other ACCA graduates. Coming from diverse backgrounds, including one partner at a Big Four accounting
firm and another in banking, Chankiriroth himself had a consulting and finance director background. In 2013, he discussed with his partners about creating a startup to compete in the Cambodian market. It wasn’t until 2016 that the project became a reality, known as BanhJi, a fintech startup focused on ensuring financial inclusion among micro, small, and medium-size enterprises (MSMEs). In 2016, BanhJi received recognition as one of the top 10 fintech startups in Asia by Startupbootcamp FinTech Singapore from over 350 applicants. Currently, BanhJi has more than 4,000 signups with combined assets worth over US$250m, with 30% of BanhJi’s clients coming from the wholesale and retail trading sectors, the largest group by industry.
Chankiriroth admits that the creation of BanhJi wasn’t a natural progression. He states that while he is an accountant by profession, he only learned the word “fintech” in 2015; he saw an opportunity to use their skills and technology to have a better impact in Cambodia as the unmet financing demand for MSMEs in Cambodia was estimated at US$3.7bn. The initial focus and current focus of BanhJi are concentrated on addressing that particular market.
As per the article by Mekong Strategic Partners and the Cambodian government’s national strategy, Cambodia’s fintech sector is considered crucial to the country’s development with projections of significant growth. However, it poses challenges for businesses such as BanhJi due to Cambodia’s small population of 16 million and undeveloped economy. Kiriroth stated that customer acquisition and growth have been challenging due to the difficulty in recruiting staff who can understand how to grow the company fast and develop the infrastructure since it is very hard to raise money in Cambodia compared to Vietnam.
While internet penetration in Cambodia has reached 76%, many Cambodians still prefer dealing in cash, particularly the US dollar. As a result, Cambodia has a large unbanked population, including many small businesses that show reluctance to go digital, even though they have access to better loans and services. Digital adoption is a key challenge for BanhJi, and it is trying to overcome this difficulty.
Chankiriroth credits ACCA for his background as he studied financial consultancy for NGOs. The ACCA qualification also enabled him to network with key people and obtain the necessary skills for the corporate world. He explains that the fintech industry is competitive, but the ACCA qualification gives him credibility because it covers financial technology. Additionally, a world-class qualification makes a difference when he presents to potential investors or strategic partners as they can see he understands what he’s talking about.
Despite these challenges, Chankiriroth remains optimistic and is operationally expanding BanhJi in Cambodia and exploring its viability to expand into Myanmar. BanhJi is crucial in helping Cambodia become part of the digital financial system, and Chankiriroth aims to contribute meaningfully to Cambodia’s development through his knowledge and understanding of the market.