Monday, November 24, 2008

Courier companies in Cambodia

As you know, Bloom sells bags all over the world, and we have to send our bags overseas frequently.

This is my experience with courier companies in Cambodia.

The first one I used was a big one, with the usual three letter name (why is it so many courier companies have three letter names?). Because it is so large and established, I almost accepted the quoted prices without question. I assumed that multinationals have standard rates and procedures.

But of course, having lived here long enough, I decided to ask for a discount. Incredibly, they said ok, and reduced prices by about 30% (!)

This delivery cost me over USD2000 and was delayed. First, it was Pchum Ben so Cambodian customs did not work, and customs said there was a backlog when they *did* return from their holiday. The boxes finally left Cambodia but took more than a week, instead of the three days I was promised, before my customer, Amnesty International, received the package. The explanation given was that the bags were held at customs at the other end.

Finally, 14 bags were missing when the customer counted the bags. I checked with the courier company which said they did an investigation and found no wrongdoing. They believed the mistake was on our part, that we had counted the bags wrongly.

The courier company only provides you with empty boxes, and you have to do all the packing yourself. In our case, this meant there were no witnesses as to how many bags were in the boxes. The result is that the company could disclaim responsibility, even though the package is supposed to be insured.

So, if you are sending packages overseas, make sure there is someone from the courier company who counts the items with you and signs off on the number of items in the packages.

Finally, when it came to paying the bill, I was asked to go to Phnom Penh to make the payment, even though there is a Siem Reap branch. When I asked why, I was told the Siem Reap branch is just a sales office, but all payment has to be made personally at the head office. I found it ridiculous.

After 2 weeks, when I did not go to Phnom Penh, an employee personally delivered the invoice to me at the Bloom shop here in Siem Reap, asking me to pay up--"urgent" was written on the invoice. And guess what? I would be able to pay in Siem Reap after all.

This employee then asked me if I would be doing a bank transfer, which he said would involve bank fees (not true if you transfer within the same bank, in our case, ANZ) or pay cash. When I told him I would deposit the cash into his company's bank account, he told me I could just pass him the cash, "more convenient for you", he said (yeah, rrrright). I bet he would have absconded with the money. My friends have had their driver disappear over $30.

Anyhow, because of the problems with courier company number one, I switched to a second, Cambodian run company which I had used previously with no problems. It too, has a three letter name.

This time, something happened when I was trying to pay the bill.

I went to the bank with the details provided by the employee of this courier company--the sales person in charge of the Bloom account, whom we shall call X. The ANZ bank teller told me X had given me a 6 digit number instead of an 8 digit one. Six digit numbers are for personal accounts and 8 digit ones for companies. So X had given me his personal bank details, expecting me to deposit the money into his personal bank account.

I called X up on his mobile and handed the phone over to the ANZ bank employee. The bank employee then asked X for his company's name and the company's bank account details, saying I had forgotten to bring the account information. He also asked X for the company's phone number.

He then called up the company and spoke with the boss who then proceeded to provide the company's bank account information. So I deposited the money into this account.

The bank employee told me such scams are very common and that is why the bank is alert to such things. If I simply filled in the deposit form without first explaining that it was payment to a company, the bank would have proceeded to process the deposit. Because I had used another company previously, I noticed the invoice provided by X on behalf this second company was very bare, lacking details such as the SWIFT code and bank account name, which is why I made sure I told the bank it was for a company, not for an individual.

You have to be on your guard all the time in Cambodia. Honestly, even with MNCs, you have to realise nothing is for certain and nothing is straightforward.

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