It seems the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe has every intention to keep its promise that they would from now on surprise the illegal foreign currency market with drastic measures. Yesterday they dropped another shocker that is likely to have severe ramifications on the entire economy. Internal bank transfers are now limited to two per day.
The full text of the measure
4 June 2020
Measures to prevent abuse of internal bank transfers for illegal foreign currency transactions
Further to our circular to banks dated 26th of May 2020, titled “Enhanced Scrutiny of Transactions”, we have noted the increasing abuse of the internal bank transfers facility for purposes of parallel market dealings.
We have noted a trend where entities are using their bank accounts to buy foreign currency, using a network of “runners”, some of whom have been advertising their services on social media. These illicit transactions manifest in the form of daily multiple payments from one account to beneficiaries who hold accounts in the same bank.
In order to curb this practice, banks are directed to implement the following measures, with immediate effect:
1. Each bank customer shall make not more than two transactions per day by way of internal transfer, regardless of the values involved. There is no restriction on RTGS transfers, but banks should exercise necessary due diligence.
2. Where a customer has genuine and proven need to conduct more than two transactions in a day by way of internal transfers, the customer shall obtain approval from bank management (whether at head office or branch level). Banks shall submit daily returns to the FIU giving details of such transactions and the underlying business purpose.
Individual banks may implement any additional controls on internal and/or inter-bank transfers as they see fit.
Banks shall continue to submit STRs and other regulatory returns as necessary.
This FIU is now adopting strict enforcement measures against banks that are found to be complicit in allowing their clients to conduct illicit transactions.
Financial Intelligence Unit
All Carrot and no stick
During the last Monetary presentation the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe recognised the fact that low volumes were being traded at the interbank rate. They rightly accepted that this was probably due to the fact that the rate was lower than parallel markets, thus dissuading those with USD to sell to the formal market. The governor all but conceded that the Reserve Bank had a large role in setting the interbank rate of the day.
They then promised to unshackle the rate and let it trade at pure market rates. Such a move would have severely curtailed the operations of the illegal foreign currency market. Understandably everyone was happy with this announcement. Such a policy change never materialised.
Those days of such lucidity, candour and rationality appear long gone. For some reason it seems the Financial Intelligence Unit operating under the guise of fighting illegal forex trade has essentially assumed the mantle of crafting policy at the central bank. And now with little thought and zero consultations, another broken promise here, is unleashing hell and furry onto the business world.
No one seems to be working to resurrect the dead formal market which is stuck with a fixed rate of $25 ZWL per 1 USD. No one seems to be asking what will become of businesses once they can no longer access foreign currency on the black market. As fists fly between the Financial Intelligence Unit and illegal foreign currency traders no one is thinking about the wider transacting public or companies – the grass is suffering and dying as it keeps getting trampled on.
It’s de ja vu all over again
What is sad is that nothing coming out of the RBZ is new really. This is a well travelled path that we are on and it leads to further economic doom, we should know, we have all been down this path before back in 2008.
On 2 October 2008 the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe issued a ban on RTGS transfers, something not too different from the limits we are seeing. They wanted to stop burning and save the Zimbabwean dollar. The result was a wholesale rejection of the old Zimbabwean dollar as limited mobility made it a useless currency that required bureaucratic government approval before you could use it.
It didn’t stop the rate from going up. In fact it was quite the opposite, the rates accelerated. Why? The majority of people were loath to keep money they had zero control over, money they could not save, money that businesses were not willing to accept and money that kept losing its value by the second. Fewer suckers wanted that money.
Already in a survey conducted by zimpricecheck.com yesterday more and more businesses seem to be now rejecting the RTGS dollar as it offers few opportunities to converting it to foreign currency. It’s a trend that even the state run Herald confirms.
Eventually we will get to a point where no one wants it. In that case the Financial Intelligence Unit will be faced with two options. Force businesses to accept it and watch them sink and close like they did in 2008 or let them be and watch the Zimbabwean dollar sink into oblivion.
Which will they choose?