The ongoing month-long countrywide shutdown is hurting both mobile financial services providers and receivers in one way or another.
In the major places of the capital including Karwanbazar, Mogbazar and Motijheel, a few agents of the country's top mobile financial services providers, bKash and Rocket, were seen keeping their services open. But they did not have electronic money or e-money that the distributors provide at retail outlets.
The mobile financial services providers said they are now unable to reach out to all of their agents as the distributors cannot move around in the shutdown.
Shamsuddin Haider Dalim, head of corporate communications at bKash, told The Business Standard, "Our distributors cannot collect cash from all the agents and recharge e-money everywhere, all the time. This is because most of the agent points are shutting down by 2pm or 6pm. Also, our distributors cannot move around freely as law enforcers stop them from doing so."
"The government said emergency service providers will be allowed to move around without interruption, but our distributors are being stopped from moving around."
In a circular issued on Sunday, the Bangladesh Bank asked the mobile financial services providers to keep their own systems, distribution and agent channels functional, while ensuring enough cash supply at all agent points.
The central bank also requested the home ministry, finance ministry and police headquarters to help facilitate countrywide mobile banking and movement of people involved with the services during the shutdown.
According to bKash, its customers make 65 lakh to 70 lakh transactions every day, in the last two weeks, the average transaction value being Tk700 to Tk900 crore (per day).
In the pre-pandemic time, bKash had 70 lakh plus daily transactions on average, the transaction value being Tk1,000 crore (per day), said a bKash official.
Dutch-Bangla Bank Managing Director Abul Kashem Md Shirin said that they are trying to keep the distribution channel of Rocket running so that clients can get services amid the shutdown.
"In the first 10 days of this month, a large amount of salary was disbursed through Rocket. More than 1.5 million garment worker clients received salary through it."
Tanvir A Mishuk, the managing director of the country's state-owned mobile financial services provider Nagad, told The Business Standard that due to service point shutdowns, the overall transaction of the industry has declined by around 35 percent.
"On average, the industry's daily transaction value is Tk1,000 crore to Tk1,200 crore. Amid the shutdown, it has come down to around Tk750 crore.
"People with low-income, who are the major customers of mobile financial services, are out of work now.
"And around 40 percent of garment workers have a national identity card and about 20 percent of them have a birth certificate. So it will be difficult for the mobile financial services providers to cater to this section's demand immediately. Policymakers should think of a simpler verification system to reach out to the workers faster."
Now 15 banks provide mobile financial services, and they have 2.70 crore active client accounts. In February, the average daily transaction through mobile banking was Tk1,425 crore.