Like many in crisis-hit Lebanon, Elias Skaff waited hours at his bank to withdraw cash, but now has lost confidence in his lenders and has decided to use a money transfer company. I like

Anyone who relies on traditional banks to receive money “will die 100 times before cashing,” Skaff, 50, said. He survived Lebanon’s three-year economic depression with the help of US dollar payments from relatives abroad.

The banking sector, once the flagship of the Lebanese economy, was widely despised after banks barred depositors from accessing their savings, stopped providing loans, closed hundreds of branches and cut thousands of jobs. and avoided.

Last month, a local man raided a bank in Beirut with a rifle, holding employees and customers hostage for hours, demanding part of his $200,000 frozen savings to pay his sick father’s hospital bills.

As Lebanon’s deep crisis shows no signs of abating, more and more remittance providers are filling the gap, offering currency exchange, credit card and tax payment services, and even registering wedding gifts.

Skaff said he now receives the money through the Beirut branch of Western Union’s Lebanese agent OMT. OMT says he operates more than 1,200 branches across the country and handles 80% of Lebanon’s non-banking sector remittances.

OMT spokesperson Naji Abou Zeid said:

Lebanon is facing its worst economic crisis since the collapse of its financial sector in 2019. As poverty and unemployment soared, the local currency lost more than 90% of its value on the black market.

Angry protesters often targeted banks, destroying ATM machines with stones and spray cans.

“I can’t withdraw a cent” from the bank, said 45-year-old Alaa Sheikhani, a customer waiting in line at an OMT branch.

“How should we trust them with our money?”

– Survive by remittance –

The recently married 36-year-old Ellie said she used Lebanese money transfer company Whish Money to create a registry of wedding gifts. He said this saved his wedding guests time, hassle and fees.

“You can hand the money over to the agent instead of waiting hours at a bank, which is often crowded,” said the man, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “The time and money saved is unmatched.”

Dina Daher, Marketing Director of Whish Money, said the company wins customers by charging “zero fees” for transferring Lebanese pounds.

Some companies pay salaries through money transfer companies instead of banks.

“When the crisis started, we were forced to pay our salaries in cash. Bow Nader said.

But now her company, the sporting goods retailer Mike Sports, pays its employees through Wish, which allows employees to “withdraw their payroll easily, in installments, and for free,” Boo said. Mr Nader said.

Sami Nader, director of the Levant Institute for Strategic Studies, said remittances from the Lebanese diaspora have become essential for families to survive the devastating economic crisis.

“Today, young Lebanese employees living abroad do not hesitate to transfer $100 to their parents because this amount now makes a difference,” he said.

Lebanese banks have sharply increased fees for the few services they still offer, including foreign currency remittances, which are now their only significant source of income, but this has led to an outflow to remittance companies. , Nader added.

About 250,000 Lebanese residents will receive remittances in the first half of 2022, an increase of 8% from the same period last year, according to OMT.

The World Bank reported that Lebanon will receive $6.6 billion in remittances in 2021. This is his one of the highest level in the Middle East and North Africa.

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