Iraq could be one of the richest countries in the world. Yet over three quarters of Iraqis do not have bank accounts. So where do they keep that wealth, asks this article from NIQASH, and can the Iraqi banking system be dragged into the 21st century?
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The banking sector in Iraq reflects the economic mess that the country is in. Basic modern banking practices – like electronic funds transfers for payroll or other banking needs – are almost non-existent and credit facilities are hard to come by. Automatic teller machines remain a novelty while mortgages and loans are a rarity.
Iraq has only a few banks with the ability to transfer funds electronically and the number of branches able to undertake this sits at around 240. Transferring funds directly to Iraqi banks remains a patchy process and it is more often done through other banks in the region, such as more reliable sister bank in Jordan or the United Arab Emirates.
Latest research estimates that around 80 percent of Iraqis do not have a bank account or even access to one. The public’s trust in the Iraqi banking sector remains low. Which is why most banks in Iraq simply act as a glorified safety deposit box.
Meanwhile Iraq is on track to become one of the wealthiest countries in the world, with the fourth largest oil reserves in the world and the potential to be one of the globe’s leading oil exporters, eventually matching, or even surpassing, Saudi Arabia, currently one of the largest oil exporters in the world. But despite incoming revenue and the potential for growth, economic progress remains slow – and this is partly due to dysfunctional banking sector. There is talk of sector reform and new electronic banking systems – yet this vital sector is still underdeveloped.