Remittance has been increasing steadily in the last decade. However, even before the pandemic there were concerns about the future of remittances as the volume of labour migration has been falling since 2014. The coronavirus crisis has further heightened these concerns.
Nepal Rastra Bank’s Gunakar Bhatta acknowledges that the extraordinary measures need to be taken to deal with the unprecedented crisis which has affected the financial sector. The Central Bank has issued a circular asking remittance companies to continue their services, and some have been given passes to travel to work.
“We have requested banks to provide minimum services at least for a few hours a day while also taking high precautionary measures to ensure that customers and staff are safe,” Bhatta said.
Remittance companies and the private sector have tried to adapt to the crisis. Branches are providing service for limited hours a few times a week on a rotational basis. Their websites list contact information of bank representatives, with hotline services.
Diwakar Thapa, former president of the Nepal Remittance Association, acknowledges there are practical challenges for the smooth operation of this agent-based model during the crisis, especially outside the capital. The proliferation of thousands of money transfer agents across the country had helped migrant families to receive money through formal channels.
But after the lockdown, most agents are closed, and only a few have figured out ways to operate from their homes or to coordinate with the local governments to allow operations for limited hours.
“Our normal services are disrupted, but if enough customers call us, we adjust our hours or days of operation,” says a Bhairawa-based bank representative.