Buying even small amounts of US$ a tough task at some city banks

Some commercial banks in the city are still finding it difficult to meet even modest requests by customers seeking to buy US dollars and of six banks that were visited by this newspaper yesterday, only two had US currency for sale.

A Stabroek News reporter visited several banks operating in the city to find out how easy—or not—it would be to purchase US$150.

At around 11.15 am, a teller at Republic Bank on Camp and Robb Streets, told the reporter that the bank had no US currency and was uncertain when it would have. The teller suggested that checks could be made at other Republic Bank branches.

Over at the Guyana Bank of Trade and Industry (GBTI), on Regent Street, when asked whether US$150 could be purchased, the teller said yes but after speaking with her supervisors she informed that the transaction would have to be cancelled since the bank did not have any US currency to retail.

Asked when it would be likely that they can facilitate such a transaction, she explained, “It has been like this for over a month now.”

At the headquarters of Citizens Bank on Camp Street, the teller told the reporter that if he had an account with the bank, they would have placed him on a list and informed him when the bank has currency to retail. The teller explained the bank only put the system in place to facilitate customers. “Before the shortage, you could have come and we would have sold you [the currency],” the teller explained.

Inside the Robb Street branch of Scotiabank, there was a similar experience as the teller indicated that since the shortage they have implemented a system like the one used by Citizens Bank.

While the four banks did not have the US currency to sell, their displays indicated that they were selling at a rate of $210 to US$1.

Meanwhile, at Demerara Bank, on Camp Street and South Road, the teller informed that the bank was buying at a rate of $212 and selling at $215.

In the end, the purchase of the US$150 was made from the Bank of Baroda at Avenue of the Republic at a rate of $212 for US$1.

Finance Minister Winston Jordan recently said that with export earnings down from most of the country’s financial sectors, the supply of foreign currency has decreased. He said too that banks have suggested that there are more demanders in the market and that some gold dealers are hoarding. “Some have foreign retention accounts and are not supplying the market from them,” Jordan explained, even as he acknowledged that there is “some mismatch between supply and demand at the level of certain banks.”

He did not name the “new demanders’ within the market or state how much is being “hoarded” in these accounts.

He also noted that the exchange rate for the US dollar had remained a constant $210 due to the collective action of the commercial banks until a spike late last year. He explained that this spike has resolved into a continuous increase in the rate due to the competitiveness of the banks, who have been offering different buying rates. He expressed the hope that the banks could collectively trust each other to fix the rate rather than attempting to break that agreement. “They have met before and tried to settle the rate before but since December they have been working individually and the tacit agreement that it remain $210 has suffered. We are asking for banks to trust each other so they’ll all hold one head,” Jordan said.

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