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Zimbabwe Banks Find Transition to Foreign Currency Difficult


Since January, Zimbabwe has exclusively used foreign currency after abandoning the worthless Zimbabwe dollar. However this has created big problems for the banking sector.

In January the Zimbabwe government conceded that the Zimbabwe dollar was worthless and approved the use of hard currency such as the U.S. dollar and the South African rand.

A bank manager who spoke to VOA on condition of anonymity says the transition from the Zimbabwe dollar to hard currency has not been easy. One of the problems caused by the change is that banks are now very quiet.

"What's happening now is unlike the previous situation where a person would come to the bank every day. Now we are having people coming to the bank once a month because, one, the salary is not that much and secondly, the charges that are in the banking sector now, the guy would rather take his money out once," the manager said.

A few months ago, bank employees could not cope with demand as endless lines developed outside the banks each day. While not having to line up daily for their money is great news for ordinary Zimbabweans, times are not so good for bank employees as there isn't enough work to keep them busy in the banks.

"What most of the banks have done is they have put staff on various forms of leave some unpaid, some half paid, some three quarter paid. My bank we have probably been operating on half the staff now, that's basically how we have managed to work around it," the bank manager said.

The banker said banks are relying more on company rather than private accounts but that is also a problem as the governor of the central bank has used peoples' money without consulting them. Some of that money has yet to be returned to its rightful owners.

"One of the biggest issues we are having to deal with as banks is the confidence in the system. Last year the central bank said to the banks, all forex balances are going to be operating under the reserve bank. So they opened what they call mirror accounts in the reserve bank and what we did as banks is transfer all funds to the reserve bank. Those accounts are still there, those balances are still growing," the banker said.

The banker added that some companies, rather than deposit their money in the banks, will as far as possible, deal in cash or keep their money in offshore accounts where they know it is safe.

For private account holders though, the banker said, the banks are working on making it possible to withdraw money from automatic teller machines and making cards available to their clients. He also said at the moment only big international banks can offer loans while smaller banks have to wait until more money is deposited in the banks.

As for the Zimbabwe dollar, the government has announced that it won't be back for at least another year. The banker told VOA that his bank has not had any transactions in local currency since the end of January this year.



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