The impact of the military coup on the imminent economic collapse can be seen at the ATMs where people are queuing up since four in the morning, waiting for their turn to withdraw money in cash.
Since February, private banks have been closed and their services have been limited to ATMs and online banking, as many bankers have stopped working to join the civil disobedience movement against the coup. Little cash is left in ATMs. No matter how much money you have in the bank, people can withdraw cash in a limited amount in one go.
Every private bank has its daily limit for withdrawals. For instance, KBZ bank allows a daily withdrawal of 200,000 Kyat (around $121) while Yoma Bank limits a withdrawal of 300,000 Kyat (around $182), CB Bank is 200,000 Kyat and AYA is 150,000 Kyat (around $91). Although customers can withdraw directly from banks, appointments and much higher limits for direct manual withdrawal remain in place. The instances show that customers are not allowed to cash out the requested sum in one go and they are required to book another appointment for the remaining amount.
A person who tried to withdraw cash from the ATM of Inwa Bank in South Dagon Township, Yangon said, “ I queued at an ATM to withdraw my money. But I had to return without money because the machine ran out of money before my turn.”
People are deeply concerned that private banks may go bankrupt, and gone will be their money that is locked up as savings in the banks.
A business owner from Seik Kan Thar Street in Kyauktada Township said, “I had no choice. I have no faith in private banks. Sure, it is a different time from the past, but there is a historical precedent for private banks to go bankrupt or almost getting to that point. I’d rather just take my losses and cash it all out so that at the very least, I will have a good portion of my family’s savings secure as cash in our hands.”
There are people across many age groups in the queue. Some brought stools and plastic chairs for rest while queuing up. They do not care about the extremely hot weather and the threat of Covid-19 infection as well. Some people need cash to buy goods since they no longer have money in their hands.
A man who is in the queue said, “It is scary. People are eyeing each other. Forget about Covid-19. People queuing up do not dare to leave any space between them for fear of someone cutting in. This is the situation that the military put us all in.”
Meanwhile, a black market has emerged where a required amount of cash is given on commission. Some people are not willing to line up for long at ATMs and cannot spend time. So they take cash from others having cash in hand by giving a certain percent commission.
A man who works in the F&B industry said, “There are people who are willing to queue up and sell their spots for some amount of cash, depending on their place in the queue. Since my bank’s daily limit is one of the highest, I actually save money by either queuing myself or by asking a family member to withdraw it by paying someone else for their spot. For customers of banks such as AYA Bank, they are in a tough spot. It only allows half my limit (150,000 Kyats) and scalpers know this, so they charge even more to cash a large amount at one go.”
A black market expands in profiteering by handing out cash and charging 2% to 10% as service fees depending on the volume of cash.
A person who withdrew 7 million Kyats said, “I had no choice. I had to pay 7 percent. 7,000 for 100,000 Kyats.”
The difficulty has fallen into some businesses, which rely on commercial transactions for wage payments. Many companies across the country are now delaying the payment of salaries to employees. Employers, on one hand, were unable to make payments while some employees whose payrolls go through the banking system, on the other hand, find it difficult to withdraw.
This story is reflected by the manager of a Japanese sewing factory who said, “I couldn’t sleep in early March because I was worried whether I could pay wages to the employees. I managed to gather cash for the salary payments, but I don’t know if I can do it again next month.”
One of the employees, who also brought a small foldable chair to queue, also echoed, “Some people are lucky to have their employers pay them in cash but, for most of us, where the payrolls go through the banking system, we have to take it out for our accounts for use in daily life.”
Waiting in line at ATMs for their turns to come, people are facing a lot of problems. Facilitating online banking services that would ease the difficulty in online payment systems and the availability of money at ATMs, which allows as much money withdrawal as people want when they need to, would help solve such problems.