KARACHI: IT professionals working for overseas clients unleashed a barrage of remittance-related complaints on Wednesday at a seminar attended by representatives of the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) and commercial banks.

Organised by the Pakistan Software Export Board (PSEB) and the Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunication in collaboration with the SBP and the Pakistan Software Houses Association (P@SHA), the seminar let IT freelancers confront officials from the banking industry on the perceived effectiveness of the regime governing inward and outward dollar payments.

One of the biggest concerns among IT professionals that dominated the question-and-answer session was excessive documentation requirements and in-person branch visits despite the digital mantra of the SBP and commercial banks.

“Banks made strides in digitising their services during Covid-19, but there seems to be a reversal in their approach in subsequent years,” said one participant. Banks demand letters from PSEB and P@SHA before executing even a simple outward remittance, he added.

Another point raised by an exporter of software related to the variance in the dollar rate that banks offer to different customers on any given day.

IT professionals mentioned the exporters’ special foreign currency account, which lets them retain up to 35 per cent of their dollar earnings that might later be utilised for making different types of payments abroad. They said many branch-based bankers lacked information about such schemes, which resulted in confusion and delays for software exporters. Most responses by representatives of the banking industry centred around the theme of a lack of procedural knowledge among IT professionals. In a roundabout way, bankers blamed freelancers and software exporters for not contacting the two officially designated people in every commercial bank for a quicker resolution of their problems.

Saying his bank had 1,700 branches across the country, one banker said branch staff wasn’t always up to speed on the latest SBP circulars and other regulatory changes that gathered pace in recent years.

In response to a question about the legality of stopping an individual from using (i.e. remitting) their “earned income,” the SBP official said the restrictions on foreign exchange flows existed in view of the dollar shortage. The central bank will extend the scope of incentives to exporters of software once the economic situation improves, he said.

Published in Dawn, September 21st, 2023

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