People remain unhappy with banking system
After the liberation of Iraq in 2003, many international banks began opening branches throughout the country, especially in the Kurdistan Region which is regarded as the safest part of Iraq. Banks started gaining trust as people began opening accounts to save their money.
Today, there are hundreds of banks in the Region. Since most of the international companies and NGOs use banks to pay their employees, opening of such bank accounts is increasing dramatically.
However, despite the great number of the banks, people remain unhappy with the banking system and with the way they are treated by the banking staff.
Dashti Kamala, who works for an American company as a translator in Erbil, said that the banking system in Kurdistan is considerably different from that of developing countries in terms of punctuality and problem solving.
In order for Kamala to receive his monthly salary, he opened an account at the Byblos bank in Erbil a few months ago. His pay was supposed to go to a New York based bank then to Byblos Bank in Lebanon before being transferred to the Byblos branch in Erbil.
"Everyday I was checking my account which was zero. The company I work for confirmed that it had sent the money but my account balance did not change. I talked to the bank manager who said the money was withheld in Lebanon because the final destination address, which is Byblos bank in Erbil, was not referred to properly."
Kamala along with seven of his coworkers closed their accounts and opened another account with a different bank.
Kamala, who previously lived in England, criticized the staff workers at most of the banks in Kurdistan, especially in Erbil, for neglecting their clients. "In England customers are treated like kings especially by the banks. But unfortunately here in Erbil clients aren't paid much attention; their problems remain unresolved most of the time."
Insufficient office opening hours is another key issue hampering most of the banks. Some banks are only open for less than five hours. Although the civilian banks are not required to shut their doors during the holidays, most of them are not working.
"My company sent my salary 15 days ago, but they tell me here that there is no money in my account. This the third time I have come here," said Aram Muhammad, while queuing to check his account, at Baghdad Bank branch in Erbil.
Muhammad works at an American Company as an interpreter. Due to security reasons, they refused to inform him over the phone if his pay has been transferred to his account or not.
"I have to drive half an hour to come up here just to check my account. I can't check it online or through the phone. This system is really frustrating," said Muhammad.
Many people in Erbil are living in poor economic conditions and rely on a solitary source of income to feed their families and pay their rent. Therefore, they are negatively affected if they are not paid on time. Thousands of people like Muhammad suffer from receiving credits to their accounts late due to the slow running nature of the banking systems in the Kurdistan region. Muhammad wonders as to why some of his coworkers have received their pay in the same bank but some others are still waiting for their salary to be transferred.
Concerning these issues, Ranj Ghazi, manager of Erbil's branch of Bagdad Bank said "people who aren't acquainted with the bank’s system can't understand some issues related to the bank’s operations. Because of the New Year and the holidays, the banks were closed. These holidays delayed the transfers."
According to Ghazi there is no benefit of operating as normal if the head bank in a place is closed but the branches are open. "We opened our bank here and were working normally, but the head bank in Baghdad was closed due to Arbaeen Holiday. If someone sends money from U.S. to Erbil for example, the money isn't transferred to Erbil directly but it goes to Baghdad first before it comes to the Erbil branch. We have no connection to the source if there is no transaction in the head bank in Baghdad," explained Ghazi.
Many people have witnessed great developments in the Kurdistan Region but the bank system is one that is yet to see notable improvements. Many international banking services such as Master Card and Visa Card etc, which are designed to make people's lives easier, are not utilized as much in Kurdistan.
Muhammad noted that he quit using his Master Card since most of the ATM machines in Erbil Banks were either broken or not working properly.
A view of Erbil Branch of Baghdad Bank.