Banks Drop Cash-Delivery Used by Somali Immigrants

AP, November 28, 2008

Every month, Sagal Warsme sends $400 to her mother and younger brother, Somali refugees who live in Kenya.

Warsme, 35, gives a check to a money-transfer company in Columbus that deposits it with other clients’ money at a bank. Then someone in Kenya contacts her mother and pays her a corresponding amount.

Without the bank account, the money transfer is illegal. But without the money, Warsme’s family would find themselves in trouble.

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Thousands of Somali immigrants in central Ohio rely on money-transfer companies to help support their relatives living in refugee camps and war-stricken areas overseas, the Columbus Dispatch reported on Thursday.

But as more banks close their accounts, these companies are struggling to stay afloat.

The Somali American Chamber of Commerce estimates that 45,000 Somali-Americans in central Ohio rely on 11 such companies.

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Banks have been closing such accounts for years, but the last banks that support money transfers in central Ohio are currently leaving the business, said David Landsman, executive director of the National Money Transmitters Association.

National City terminated money-transferring accounts, and Huntington National Bank has given agencies until the end of the year to leave, according to the Somali chamber.

The last thing a bank wants is its name in a newspaper next to that of a money launderer or terrorist financier, Landsman said.

Huntington executives decided to close remittance-agency accounts because it costs too much to monitor them, spokeswoman Jeri Grier said.

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