Remittance offices “a lifeline” for the Lebanese from bank restrictions |  Gulf newspaper

Remittance offices “a lifeline” for the Lebanese from bank restrictions | Gulf newspaper

Beirut – AFP
After the Lebanese banks and their strict restrictions were exhausted, the money transfer companies entered the market with all their weight, and their work was no longer limited to transfers from abroad, but rather now provide services ranging from “Visa” cards and a list of wedding gifts, and even the payment of salaries.
In front of the OMT company, which is affiliated with the Western Union International Remittance Company, Elias Skaf (50 years old) is waiting for his turn to receive a sum of money in US dollars sent to him by his family members abroad, which has become his main source of livelihood.
Remittance companies, he says, “make our affairs easier, and things are done quickly. In the bank, you die a hundred times before you get a transfer that reaches your account.”
In the wake of the economic collapse that has continued since the fall of 2019, Lebanese banks have imposed, since the first weeks, strict restrictions on dollar withdrawals and prevented transfers abroad. This made depositors unable to dispose of their money, especially in dollars, while deposits in pounds lost their value with the collapse of the local currency rate on the black market.
The waiting halls of banks witnessed frequent arguments between angry citizens wanting to get their deposits and employees abiding by the instructions of their administrations, the most recent of which was in August, when a young man broke into a bank branch and took hostages inside, only to collect a small part of his money held for three years.
As a result of the gradual distrust of the banking sector, which witnessed the layoffs of thousands of employees, the closure of dozens of branches and the cancellation of many services, money transfer offices flourished.
Instead of resorting to his usual bank to open an account for the newlyweds’ list of gifts, Eli chose the Whish Money company to save his friends the hassle of visiting the bank.
“Instead of waiting for hours, they saved time and fees, unlike the bank,” he says, adding, “One of them even sent me a sum of money through the application directly without having to go to the bank.”
Eli chose the company simply because it is the same company he receives his salary from.
And a sportswear store chose to stop paying salaries through banks to save effort, time and fees for its employees, preferring to resort to “Wish Money”, which does not impose fees on withdrawals in Lebanese pounds.
“At the beginning of the crisis, we were forced to pay salaries in cash, which was not consuming a lot of time,” says Rachel Bou Nader, the store’s human resources officer. “Now, employees can withdraw their pensions easily, in installments if they want, and without fees.” .
In addition to restrictions on financial operations, Lebanese banks have also raised the value of their fees for services, including those imposed on remittances coming from abroad, as these fees “have become their only source of income,” according to Sami Nader, director of the Mashreq Center for Strategic Affairs.
During the first six months of 2022, about 250,000 Lebanese received remittances from abroad through OMT, which controls 80% of the remittance market outside the banking sector.
A member of the company’s administrative board, Naji Abu Zeid, explains that remittances have increased by eight percent compared to the same period in 2021, and adds: “There are 1,200 offices affiliated with us in Lebanon.”
And the matter is not limited to remittances only, as the company is now providing other services, including “Visa” cards for withdrawals and online payment, money exchange service, and wedding gift lists.
Subscribers to TV stations’ websites can pay subscription fees via OMT instead of using bank cards. It is also possible to pay for airline tickets.
With the expansion of the remittance market, in 2020 Ria opened its offices in Lebanon.
“The trends have changed after the crisis, and the majority of transfers are made through money transfer companies,” said a company official in Lebanon, who preferred not to reveal her name.
The prosperity of these companies is mainly due, according to Sami Nader, to the money that Lebanese expatriates send to their families in Lebanon.
“A young Lebanese expatriate today does not hesitate to send even if it is only $100 to his family, it is enough to make a difference” in her daily life, he says.
Remittances from expatriates reached $6.6 billion in 2021, according to World Bank statistics, with Lebanon making it among the first three countries in the Middle East that depend on remittances from its citizens abroad, and the proportion of these remittances reached 53.8 percent of GDP.

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