Int’l Somali bank sees boom in card usage in Somaliland

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A customer uses Premier Bank's Debit Card to withdraw money from an ATM in Hargeysa, Somaliland

In recent weeks, the bank has issued thousands of new cards to new clients, with people are increasingly ordering the bank’s new services, reflecting the growing popularity of cashless payments as well as the expansion of the network of payment terminals.

By Jamal Ibrahim, jamal@alleastafrica.com

HARGEISA – Somalia’s first international bank, providing world-class banking services had seen a rapid increase in the use of its cards, with the volume of transactions rising by 30.6 in the breakaway northern Somalia republic of Somaliland in a month, officials at the bank reported.

Launched in Hargeysa, Somaliland’s capital last month, Premier Bank, an international Islamic bank which partnered with Visa as part of a wider strategic agreement to strengthen formal banking services in Somalia aims to reconnect Somaliland with the global payment networks.

The agreement signed between the two will enable Visa cardholders in Somalia to use Premier Bank’s ATM network.

In recent weeks, the bank has issued thousands of new cards to new clients, with people are increasingly ordering the bank’s new services, reflecting the growing popularity of cashless payments as well as the expansion of the network of payment terminals.

Premier bank has projected that the bank card market will further increase, thanks to the need for making online transactions and bank-to-bank services, a long-existed barrier which the bank now tries to work out.

Members of Somaliland’s business community pose for a group photo with Premier Bank’s managers during an Iftar meeting in Hargeisa on Saturday, 18 June, 2017. Jamal Ibrahim/Alleastafrica

According to Abdirahman Sheikh Hassan, the bank’s chief executive, Premier Bank operates an interest-free (riba-free) system, in compliance with the Islamic banking and finance policy.

“People in Somaliland should understand that the bank operates under the riba-free Islamic financing system – there’s nothing about a loan with an interest that we’d lend.” he said, speaking at an iftar meeting with members of the business community in Somaliland on Saturday.

He said that people should not get the wrong idea about the bank’s Credit Card, noting that the Debit Card service that the bank’s clients use is ‘totally’ designed in complaint with the sharia law.

Somaliland’s central bank governor Mohamed Abdi Ibrahim echoed Mr. Hassan’s assertion, saying that the central bank does only grant licenses to banks whose services are in complaint with the sharia law, noting that Premier Bank met all necessary requirements to secure license to operate in Somaliland.

“All clients using Premier Bank confirmed it – thus the bank is fully operating along the lines of the Islamic finance system, and that’s why we granted the license to them.” Mr. Ibrahim said at the meeting in Hargeisa.

Customers gather outside the headquarters of Premier Bank in Hargeysa. Photo/Jamal Ibrahim

Since the civil war broke out in Somalia in 1991, Somali citizens found increasingly difficult to use international banking system, and were merely relying on the traditional remittance companies and on which the Somali economy would crumble without remittances from emigrants.

As it expands its operations across Somalia, Premier Bank which has its main headquarter in Mogadishu has a long-term goal which it hopes would help a vast part of the population which relies on financial transfers from the diaspora community, known as remittances, to get by.

With the bank started its operations across Somaliland, cardholders will be able to withdraw cash, check their bank balances and pay for goods and services from merchants who started to accept Visa across the enclave.

In addition, customers will also be able to use their secure payment cards at Points of Sale (POS) across Somaliland as well as Letter of Credit services.

Meanwhile, many in Somaliland have welcomed the bank’s entry into Somaliland market, that many say would herald the beginning of a new move that would help develop infrastructure such as banks and credit systems in Somaliland

“This is a very positive development – now, we can make any type of transaction and banking system with the rest of the world.” says Ahmed Mohamed, a university professor in Hargeysa.

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