Fintech Preferences from the Unbanked of Cambodia

This is the yard of the tour guide who showed us around Angkor Wat yesterday:

He has 10 siblings. He’s the only one who graduated from high school and he makes by far the most money in his family. He sends money to his family members — most of whom are tuk tuk taxi drivers — when he can. As an English speaking tour guide in Siem Reap, our guide is likely among the top earners in the area. And yet, he still lives in tin roof shack surrounded by rubbish.

Point being: He’s better off than where he started in life but he’s still very poor.

I asked the guide which tour booking platform he prefers for leads — TripAdvisor, Viator, Airbnb Experiences, etc. He said he prefers Airbnb because they are willing to hold his earnings for up to $1,000 USD before transferring the money to him. Other platforms distribute funds to him after each tour, which is a problem because he pays a hefty Western Union fee each transaction. He’d prefer for the booking platform to hold the money as long as possible and transfer it in one lump sum.

Presumably, our guide doesn’t have an interest bearing bank account of his own nor an easy, low fee way of receiving funds electronically. So he’s effectively using Airbnb as a bank account to safely keep his earnings.

Of course, this all goes against the normal logic in fintech, where companies want to keep your money as long as possible and consumers want the money transferred to them as quickly as possible — each side sensitive to the interest-earning time value of money. “Playing the float” is the phrase that explains this dynamic.

Except, in poor areas with a vast unbanked population like in Cambodia, the consumer and company (Airbnb) are aligned. It’s a bit sad but it makes sense once you think about it.

It was a reminder of the lesson that it’s hard to understand certain on-the-ground consumer behaviors from afar. I highly doubt the product managers at Airbnb Experiences ever seriously contemplated that slow money transfer would be seen as a perk for some of their guides.

1 comment on “Fintech Preferences from the Unbanked of Cambodia
  • This reminds me of my experience with Ola Cabs in India

    I remember thinking that they were a ridiculous company and that they could never win against Uber. Except, I was wrong

    Ola Cabs was just a call center with a little bit of automation. You’d call. Then they’d dispatch a taxi. Then the taxi would call you. Then you’d tell the taxi where you were so the taxi could pick you up. And you’d tell the taxi where you wanted to go when they arrived. And you’d pay the taxi cash

    This seemed so stupid. Why can’t you just use an app like Uber? And if not, this isn’t a venture scale opportunity…it’s just a normal taxi company

    It was almost impossible for me – even being on the ground in India – to understand why Ola Cabs would win and become huge

    But Ola Cabs did win and they did become huge

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