Major banks in the country are charging monthly penalties of between $5 and $100 on dollar accounts of customers whose deposits are in excess of the threshold stipulated by the Bank of Ghana (BoG).
Bank sources, who pleaded anonymity, told CITY & BUSINESS GUIDE yesterday in Accra that their outfits were charging the fees because the Central Bank imposes additional charges when they buy dollars for customers, particularly those who want to cash remittances from abroad in dollars.
â€śBoG is deliberately doing that so that people will shy away from trading with the dollar instead of the local currency. BoG gives every bank some amount of dollars so that they can give out to their customers. But when that is exhausted, customers who request for more must pay penalties, since the banks go looking for it,â€ť a source said.
Customers of some major banks, in recent times, have complained about the charges being levied on their dollar accounts by banks since the Central Bank directed that all banks should keep 9 percent of their reserves with it.
Though the sources said the charges were only levied on remittances, the account holders stated otherwise.
According to the account holders, even dollars which they physically deposit with their bankers are subjected to monthly charges without justification.
Another bank official commented: â€śWe support it since it limits the amount of dollars people can hold in their accounts so that the country is able to deal with the issue of dollarisation confronting us as a nation.â€ť
Explaining further, he said every bank which imports any amount of dollars, was being charged 1.5 percent on the amount it imports.
â€śSo in fact, our bank has sent information to every customer who has dollars in excess of certain amounts that they would be charged monthly depending on their balance.
Account holders with a balance of $5,000 and below are made to pay $5. â€śDepending on your dollars, you can even be paying between 15 dollars or even 100. So it is not true that our bank is charging a fixed amount.Â It is an attempt to limit banks as to the amount of foreign currencies they should hold.â€ť
Another source said if a bank keeps dollars for a client, it pays penalty to BoG for keeping the reserves in dollars and not in Ghana cedis.
â€śBank of Ghana did not say any bank should charge dollar account holders but with the charges associated, it stands to reason that banks should charge some commissions in order not to run losses.â€ť
â€śWhen remittances are made to people from outside the country in dollars, (not physical cash), and they come and tell us that they need to withdraw that money, what that means is that though it is a transfer, we have to look for its equivalent in dollars and give it to them.
â€śDepending on whether we have the dollar that has been transferred in physical cash or not, we then have to go to BoG to look for dollars to come and give to you. When we go to BoG, they charge us. So customers will also have to pay for services. If you come to our bank and tell us you want to open a dollar account, we do it for you and keep whatever money you bring.
With inward remittance, if you want physical cash, we used to charge between 2.5 and 3 percent. We donâ€™t even have the dollars now. When you come to us and you want to open foreign exchange account, we will allow you to do that but the Central Bank regulations do not allow you to deposit physical cash into it. You can only get foreign remittance into the account.â€ť
She further explained that â€świth the foreign currency account, if a customer has physical dollars with us, and they want to come for some, that is their own money and so we donâ€™t charge any penalty for that.Â But when they tell us that they need to withdraw, we now have to look for dollars from BoG and that is when we make them pay for the charges we incur in so doing.â€ť
When he appeared before the Appointments Committee of Parliament recently to be vetted for the position of Vice President, then Governor of the Bank of Ghana Paa Kwesi Amissah-Arthur said the central bank had not asked the banks to place additional cost on dollar account holders.
â€śEverybody is pricing in dollars and the banks are finding that there is a large share of the total deposits in dollars. We have not asked the banks to impose on anybody for holding account in dollars.â€ť
He said what BoG did was to change the rules on the reserve requirement (9 per cent) that every bank keeps with the central bank and directed them to value it in Cedis and put it as a Cedi deposit.
â€śThey are saying that by doing this we have imposed certain costs on them and they are asking people who want to take dollars over the counter to contribute a little more to defray the additional costs that the banks have.â€ť
â€śWe have disagreed with the banks when they have tried to impose a charge on the dollar deposit. If people want to come and take dollars over the counter and they have to pay a bit more that is their problem but not people who have a balance and have not checked it.â€ť
By Samuel Boadi