By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The Bahamas is no longer "a sending country" for international wire transfers, money transmission providers revealed yesterday, with incoming transactions "doubling" due to COVID-19 hardship.
Harvey Morris, Omni Financial Group’s chief executive, told Tribune Business that incoming wire transfers had significantly increased as Bahamians and other nationalities living abroad sent in money to help relatives who have lost jobs and incomes here due to COVID-19.
"While we have seen a decline in overall transfers at this time, we have seen a significant increase in incoming wire transfers," he disclosed. "I can tell you that in recent times our incoming wire transfers have doubled. We've seen a significant jump on the incoming.
"People from everywhere are trying to help their family who are not working. This is always a very good indicator; wherever there is a challenge, an island with a challenge, we always see an increase in transfers to that destination. Everyone who has a little bit sends a little to help out someone not as well off as they are."
A spokesman for Sun Island Transfers, which trades as rival money transmission provider, Sun Cash, confirmed the trends detailed by Mr Morris. "Before the pandemic, the balance was clearly in favour of funds going out," they told Tribune Business of wire transfers involving The Bahamas.
"Now I would say the balance of funds coming and going out has offset. They are about equal. That says a lot. Before, The Bahamas was a sending country. Now it's equally a receiving country because people in-country are hurting."
The Bahamas has never figured prominently in international wire transfer surveys but has always been considered a net remitter of funds. The large expatriate Haitian, Jamaican, Filipino and Mexican/Dominican labour force regularly sends a significant portion of their wages to family living back home.
However, the surge in incoming wire transfers, and the fact they now equal the outgoing variety, further exposes the devastation inflicted by the COVID-19 pandemic on the Bahamian economy through job and income loss, and the descent of many families into poverty and dependence on state benefits. It suggests persons are becoming increasingly reliant on friends and relatives abroad for support.
Mr Morris, meanwhile, hailed the Government's decision to allow money transfer businesses such as Omni to resume operations with effect from last Friday as it allowed numerous clients access to funds critical to keeping themselves and their families from hardship.
Besides placing the sector on 'a level playing field' with the banks and credit unions, Mr Morris added: "The big thing for us is we have a lot of clients who have incoming transfers and had been depending on us for access to those funds."
He said Omni acts as local agent for CAM, a US-based company that handles significant remittance flows to Haiti and other Caribbean nations. "During the shutdown we had been getting lots of calls from persons seeking to access their funds," Mr Morris continued.
"One of the calls I took this week, the client said once they got access to their funds they didn't have to be reliant on government's financial assistance as they would have their own money. I'm particularly happy we can now help those clients.
"We do micro loans, and a lot of clients had been looking to draw down on," he added. "Those micro loans that we were able to facilitate on Friday were for between $500 to $3,000. There are a lot of persons who need that.
"You may have one family member working but no one else, so they have to supplement their earnings from other income. We had quite a few releases of payments, loans that were approved before the shutdown, so we were able to accommodate that. We are also doing loans for the Small Business Development Centre, so we were able to facilitate that. There were lots of payouts, lots of outgoing payments that we had to settle."
The Sun Cash spokesman, meanwhile, said the money transmission sector's re-opening had again provided Bahamians - especially those living in remote Family Island communities - with access to financial services and electronic payments systems that helped sustain commerce throughout the archipelago.
"What has happened over these last five months with the lockdowns and social distancing, and need to limit people-to-people interaction, the market has really come to begin to see the value and the options they have to access their money electronically," they said.