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New National Bank’s Initiative: Money Transfers’ Protection or Market Redistribution?

What are the reasons for the new initiative of the National Bank of Tajikistan (NBT) on reforming the money transfer system?

Ба саҳифаи мо дар Фейсбук обуна шавед!

Angry and nervous customers and bank employees not knowing what to reply to people. This situation arose in most banks of Tajikistan last week. Customers, mainly migrants’ relatives, came to pick up money transfers, but the banks could not give money out.

All these problems appeared after the National Bank of Tajikistan launched a new money transfer system on December 3.

Notification at the branch of Eskhata Bank in Dushanbe. Photo: CABAR.asia
Notification at the branch of Eskhata Bank in Dushanbe. Photo: CABAR.asia

Within the reform, the National Processing Center was created under the NBT. The financial regulator demanded all money transfer systems in Tajikistan to connect to this center and accept all its conditions.

Previously, money transfer systems signed contracts with commercial banks of Tajikistan directly, without intermediaries. Tajik banks cashed the money transfers sent by migrants from Russia and then refunded the money spent from the respective Russian banks.

However, on December 3, all money transfer systems were obliged to open accounts in the NBT and allocate certain funds to them.

The NBT claims that several money transfer systems in Russia turned bankrupt earlier, causing damage to Tajik banks. As an example, the NBT recalled the bankruptcy of the “Migom” and “Leader” systems, which owed 20 million rubles (about $315 thousand) to Tajik banks. The NBT assures that banks were forced to pay these funds to customers at their own expense.

Thus, the funds of the money transfer systems that are collected on the NBT account should become a kind of safety net and ensure Tajik banks’ stability.

KoronaPay (“Zolotaya Korona”) Has Not Joined the NBT Initiative

According to the NBT representatives, only three money transfer systems connected to the Processing Center: Unistream, Contact and Wester Union.

KoronaPay (“Zolotaya Korona”) system, which is popular among migrants and processes over 82% of money transfers to Tajikistan, has not connected to this Center yet.

Meanwhile, the Russian National Payment Association believes that if money transfer systems join the new system of the National Bank of Tajikistan, they can be accused of violating Russian law.

The Federal Law of Russian Federation “On the National Payment System” contains a norm according to which the settlement center for providers can be either the Central Bank, VEB.RF, or another Russian credit institution. Foreign organizations cannot function as such.

Maria Mikhaylova, Executive Director of the Russian National Payment Association, told Radio Ozodi that mentioned Russian services, Unistream and Contact, took the risks.

“So far, the Central Bank of Russia has not made a statement, and the connected services take all possible risks. They do not know how this might end for them,” Mikhaylova said.

Social Networks Reaction: “Our Children Are Hungry”

The NBT initiative provoked negative reactions in the Tajik segment of social networks. According to the Russian Federal Migration Service, more than a million of Tajik citizens are in labor migration and every fourth household lives off money transfers.

A branch of Amonatbonk in Istaravshan. Photo: ozodi.org
A branch of Amonatbonk in Istaravshan. Photo: ozodi.org

A week before the reform, the Tajik migrant Umar Rahmatov sent 65 thousand Russian rubles (about $1,000) from Russia to Tajikistan via the KoronaPay system. However, the bank’s branch located in his native Vanj district refuses to give money out. Bank employees told Rahmatov’s relatives that the KoronaPay system was not connected to the National Processing Center of the NBT. Therefore, money transferred via this system will not be given out.

In addition to Umed Rahmatov, dozens of people on social networks complain that they cannot send money to Tajikistan. In particular, Buzurgmehr Guseinov, Facebook user, asked President Emomali Rahmon to revoke the NBT’s decision on creation of a new money transfer system or at least postpone its implementation.

Not only migrants encountered the problem of transferring money. Tajik citizens from Europe and the United States also say that they have not been able to send money to Tajikistan for a week. Nuri Nasr, a Tajik journalist residing in the United States, posted on Facebook a statement to the Chairman of the National Bank of Tajikistan, Jamshed Nurmahmadzoda, asking him to send $300 to his family.

Screenshot from Facebook
Screenshot from Facebook

“To the Chairman of the National Bank of Tajikistan!!! Please send $300 to my home, my boys are starving. For several days now, I cannot send money from the USA. There is no Unistream or Contact here. I swear, without exaggeration, they do not have money at my home. As soon as your money transfer problems are resolved, I will personally refund you money!” Nuri Nasr wrote.

However, despite the criticism, the NBT states there is a need for a Processing Center for the stability of the country’s banking system.

“The goal of creating the National Processing Center is to prevent the processes of money structuring, terrorism financing and to protect the rights of customers,” the NBT states.

According to the financial regulator, the new money transfer system is unique.

Jamoliddin Nuraliev, First Deputy Chairman of the NBT, who is considered the author of this innovation, said this in an interview to the Tajik state TV stations:

“The National Bank of Tajikistan has established the National Processing Center to ensure the security of the banking system as one of the reforms that is unique.”

“It Was Necessary to Prepare the Society”

Jamoliddin Nuraliev, First Deputy Chairman of the NBT. Screenshot from the NBT page on Facebook
Jamoliddin Nuraliev, First Deputy Chairman of the NBT. Screenshot from the NBT page on Facebook

Tajik expert Ismoil Azizov, who has more than 15 years of experience in the banking sector, believes that the NBT should have worked with the public opinion and then launched the Processing Center.

“Decisions affecting the life of the majority in Tajikistan should not be made promptly. Currently, money transfers have become one of the main problems in society. One person sent money from Russia, but his relatives cannot receive money here. Money transfers are stuck between Russia and Tajikistan. People do not know where to apply,” the analyst said.

Ismoil Azizov believes that the Processing Center launch can be useful in terms of security, since this Center can prevent suspicious cash transfers.

According to the data of the Central Bank of Russia, migrants send home more than $2.5 billion per year, or about $13 million per day. Azizov suggests that in only seven days, when the money transfer system actually ceased to function in Tajikistan, at least approximately $80 million was stuck in the Russian banks’ accounts.

“This happens while the Tajik economy is highly dependent on money transfers,” Azizov said.

However, the biggest fears of migrants are related to the possibility of price increase for money transfer services due to the creation of a new body.

Nevertheless, the NBT states that it will independently cover the costs of the Processing Center, and the prices will not increase in this regard.

Expert: The Goal of the Initiative Is the Redistribution of the Money Transfers Market

According to Tajik economist Nur Safarov, the main goal of the Processing Center launch is the redistribution of the money transfers market.

“Otherwise, why did they not provide the possibility to connect to the new Center for the KoronaPay? In the situation when over 82% of money transfers to Tajikistan are transferred through this particular service,” Safarov said.

Safarov suggested that the participants in this market would change in the near future.

Russian Sberbank is actively promoting the money transfers via cards. Photo: asiaplustj
Russian Sberbank is actively promoting the money transfers via cards. Photo: asiaplustj

“Russian Sberbank has now entered the market, and it actively promotes the money transfers via cards. Of course, this is a new format, but the problem is that not all migrants have plastic cards and not everyone has the opportunity to purchase them,” Safarov said.

CABAR.asia’s source believes that references to “the possibility of violating Russian legislation by joining the National Bank’s new system” are nothing but an “excuse”.

“The main problem is not the legislation, but the way the market will be distributed. So far, the parties have not reached an agreement on the market distribution. A market through which more than $3 billion are transferred, is of $3 million net profit,” Safarov emphasized.

The expert also suggested that Unistream and Contact services could not replace KoronaPay.

“Problems with the money transfers can be solved only when the National Bank of Tajikistan reaches an agreement with the KoronaPay and other services,” Safarov said.

The creation of a National Processing Center is not the first attempt by the Tajik authorities to take control of the profitable sector of the economy. In February 2018, the Communication Service of Tajikistan forced all Internet providers to purchase Internet from a state-owned company.

This article was prepared as part of the Giving Voice, Driving Change – from the Borderland to the Steppes Project

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