‘Dominant’ ABA Online Banking App, ATMs Suffer Outage

3 min read
An ABA ATM in Phnom Penh photographed on November 25, 2021. (Matt Surrusco/VOD)

Rith Rong, working at a Khmer roast duck restaurant in Boeng Keng Kang I, said the majority of his delivery customers now pay by ABA.

“It’s just easier,” he said. “It helps the customer avoid confusion. Sometimes if they pay by cash, they get confused and pay more or less. But through the app it’s accurate.”

On Thursday, however, it was the customers of ABA Bank — which has become “dominant” in the country for mobile payments — facing confusion as a botched overnight system upgrade took down services for the best part of the working day, with some reporting that they were not able to see the money in their accounts.

Services began to be gradually restored around 2:30 p.m.

“We started with the most critical service, which is our mobile banking application. And it is working normal for payments and transfers now,” said chief marketing officer Igor Zimarev.

Other services were relaunched one by one: at 3 p.m., branch operations were restored; by 3:45 p.m., ATMs were back online; and by 4:30 p.m., the company’s IBB, or “iBanking​ for​ Business​,” was back. Branch operations were extended by an hour to 5 p.m.

“The cause is the overnight upgrade of the banking platform that didn’t go as planned and took much more time to complete. There was an error in the upgrade package, and we took extra time to make sure the error was eliminated and all our systems are working properly after the upgrade,” Zimarev said. “The Bank brings its sincere apologies to all those customers who got affected by this upgrade, which took more time than planned and slowed down our operations.”

ABA would investigate the incident further to prevent future issues, he added.

Stephen Higgins, founder and managing partner of Mekong Strategic Partners, said it was impossible to know the value of transactions affected, as some would be queued up until the system restarted, while others would never go through.

“This is exceptionally unusual, and anything that takes your customer-facing channels offline for the best part of a day is significant,” Higgins said.

He added that ABA’s mobile app had become “the dominant payments app” in Cambodia due to its “very good product,” a situation that raised the possibility of widespread problems.

“However, what we saw today was the risk involved in having one bank have that level of dominance, which is why I think it is really important for Cambodia that the NBC’s Bakong app continues to grow and gain acceptance,” he said.

The National Bank has its own payments app, Bakong, whose website lists 28 participating banks.

According to its latest quarterly report, ABA has 1.8 million accounts and around $6 billion in deposits.

Pov Bunlong, a food delivery driver in Phnom Penh, said he spent the morning fearing that he was losing money on his deliveries.

“I couldn’t see the money in my account. I was scared that the money would not go through to the account, or that I lost money from the customers. So I would owe [money] to the company,” Bunlong said.

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