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Mahfuzur Rahman
Mahfuzur Rahman
Former Executive Director of Bangladesh Bank
20 Apr 2020 23:32:02

Banking services during coronavirus outbreak

Banking services during coronavirus outbreak

Money is a peculiar thing that life seems to be centred around, and its necessityis much. If we run out of money, our heads get heated. We keep money in a bank to earn some profits and secure our future; when we need cash, we withdraw it.

To ensure continued services, banks, although not all, with curtailed banking hours, have been kept operational amid the Coronavirus pandemic, enabling clients to make necessary transactions, without much trouble. We thank Bangladesh Bank and officials who have been running banking operations during this crisis.

A banker said their transaction volumes have come down to 10 per cent, with most clients’ encashing cheques to meet urgent necessities. A section of businessmen, however, isdoing transactions but the amounts are quite low. While all offices, courts, and other institutions are shut, during this catastrophe, banks are open and that we can carry out emergency transactions. A big reality, now!

A banker’s statement on social media surprised me. He wrote a client comes to the bank either to deposit money or to withdraw it. If he deposits Taka 500 one day, he withdraws Taka 400 the next day, though the client’s total deposit is more than Tk 5.5lakh. Why then, is he so anxious to come to the bank and deposit only Taka 500? The banker had posed the question to the client. The response was that he does not like staying indoors, and uses going to the bank as an excuse in case he is questioned by any of the law-enforcers.

Another client acts similarly, I understood. His transaction amount is more than the former gentleman. He depositsaround Tk 20,000 to 25,000. He maintains accounts with two banks at Motijheel. If the encashment is done from one of his banks today, he deposits the money to the other, the next day, and vice versa. This may be amusing to him, but because of such activity, banks are unable to maintain social distancing, and those around him face increased risks of contacting the virus.

The ongoing extremely high level of publicity to maintain social distancing has not stopped some people from behaving nonchalantly, ignoring infection chances by the deadly Coronavirus. They make close physical contact with us in bazaars, sip tea at tea shops, visit friends at their apartments; motives that cannot be comprehended.

What exactly do these people want? When citizens of the developed West are perplexed at the procession of deaths amid the improved treatment system, how come some people of our country are hanging around casually? If death is what these people want to brace, should the government or police letthem live? Committing suicide or even an attempt to commit suicide counts as a crime in our country. Those risking being contaminated by Coronavirus are committing two crimes. Firstly, the person is pushing himself towards death, which could be considered an offence, and, secondly, risking the lives of other people, especially family members, of the virus transmission. This is a big offence, too.

Coming back to the bank story – once, an applicant aspiring to become a banker, had to attach a pay-order with his/her application worth Tk 200 to 500. Bangladesh Bank later waived this application fee, considering that it gets tough for an unemployed person to pay the amount when he submits several applications. Erstwhile Governor of Bangladesh Bank, Atiur Rahman had encouraged commercial banks to take this initiative to help the unemployed.

Then poured in many online applications for banks jobs, unnecessarily. Some had forwarded their applications attaching photographs of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other famous Bangladeshis. Many prominent people, such as political leaders, artistes, actors, and actresses applied for jobs in Bangladesh!

Interestingly, an applicant had used a photo of the famous film actress, SuchitraSen with her application. What followed then, was that less than 30 percent applicants showed up for the examination! To overcome such awkwardness, many banks have re-introduced the application fees, resulting in the suffering of the unemployed.

Banks are facing similar problems in running operations amid the Coronavirus outbreak. These dare-devils, who consider a trip to the bank as amusement, do not maintain the simple social distancing rule of three feet.I heard a man one day tell another: "Bhai, since shaking hands is prohibited, let us hug, then."

Bangladesh Bank can contemplate introducing some rules during this 'war on Corona’ period to respond to clients' demand for banking services and reduce the health risks of bankers. This will keep away 'amusement-seekers' and serve bona fide clients.

The rules could be like these:

  • Those who maintain a savings account will be able to transact twice a month.
  • No cheques below Tk 10,000 would be honoured.
  • Customers having less than Tk 10,000, could withdraw their money keeping the statutory balance in their accounts.
  • Large bank branches could operate twice a week while smaller ones once a week.

It is not necessary to keep a bank branch open five days as online banking facilities entails account holders of any branch to withdraw from other branches. Most clients now carry debit cards, giving them the chance to withdraw money from ATMs on a 24/7 basis. Therefore, a client cannot run out of cash.

It is normal that those who hold current accounts, need to make frequent transactions as warranted by their businesses. They can have uninterrupted transactions. But the current system of paying salaries and wages to workers and employees through bank accounts could be modified. Instead of all employees rushing to the bank, one officer could just withdraw the entire amount and pay the workers from the respective offices, as had been done before.

The rural branches, located at Upazila headquarters, could run once a week. A branch situated at a village or a union may not operate at all, because, clients of such branches can visit the nearest Upazila branch for any transactions. Banks that do not have anUpazila branch, may operate their union or village branch once a week.

At present, all villages have agent banking facilities, where people deposit their money. Many account holders receive remittancesfrom abroad. At present, 60 percent of the agent banking facilities are open. There are no Bangladesh Bank guidelines for such banks - to stay open or closed. Agent bank owners are sole decision-makers. The other 40 percent of the agent banking services may face problems as they are unable to withdraw money from their accounts, nor receive remittances. Abalance here would be for agent banking facilities to operate at least once a week.

The arrangements proposed here are temporary and meant to face the lockdown amid Coronavirus outbreak, thus helping to lower the health risk of the bankers and fulfill peoples' demand for money.


Mahfuzur Rahman, Former Executive Director of Bangladesh Bank