There are two, relatively convenient ways to withdraw US Dollars from a bank in Monrovia: writing a check to yourself or wiring money to a local account from a bank in the US. This afternoon, I chose the former of the two and found myself carrying an uncomfortable amount of cash as I exited International Bank onto Broad Street.
One of four commercial banks in Liberia, IB was located within an UNMIL held area during the war, and has been active throughout the past 15 years of turmoil. This was also the case with the other four, commercial banks in Liberia, as well as the state owned Central Bank. International Bank sits across from the Executive Compound and Palm Hotel (and Chinese Restaurant). It is an American owned bank that acts as an intermediary for those wiring funds from abroad and cashes personal checks. At the teller wind charged me $18 for an “import tax,” which he explained was necessary because International Bank must import American Dollars. Though I hesitated at this explanation, the local accountant I was with assured me this was commonplace – and, more importantly, a lesser fee than I would have paid to wire the money.
My experience, on whole, was perfectly smooth. For most locals, however, this is generally not the case. In a recent conversation I learned that applying for a loan is a prohibitively complicated process. Take for instance, the process of property appraisal at the Liberian Bank of Development and Investment.
The Liberian Bank of Development and Investment (LBDI) is the largest Liberian run bank in the country. According to one Liberian friend, to have his property valued as leverage to take out a loan, the speculation process would take (“easily”) over a year. Furthermore, the bank would take the property at face value – meaning they would value an acre at the current price of an acre, rather than granting the owner a loan that would enable them to build on that acre. I am, admittedly, unfamiliar with the speculation process, and therefore unsure as to how common of a practice this is. I’ll do a bit of research on the topic, but I’m more than interested to hear any comments on this subject from anyone reading. Regardless, my friend attested to the fact that the process would be far easier and more lucrative for a Lebanese businessman or other international.
It will be interesting to follow LBDI transactions over the course of the year – or perhaps open an account to get a more intimate perspective.