S'pore money changers in dire straits as Covid-19 causes plunge in global travel

Mr Anwardeen, owner of Central Exchange Money Changer, said his business fell by 95 per cent during the pandemic.
Mr Anwardeen, owner of Central Exchange Money Changer, said his business fell by 95 per cent during the pandemic.ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

SINGAPORE - Mr Anwardeen, 60, owner of Central Exchange Money Changer at Suntec City, used to run his business daily with six employees before Covid-19 hit.

Now, he operates the shop with only two employees and closes his shop on Sundays and public holidays.

Mr Anwardeen, who is also senior adviser to the Money Changers Association, said his business fell by 95 per cent during the pandemic, and dropped by 98 per cent during phase two (heightened alert), when dine-ins were not allowed.

He said: "Without travel and without the world moving, we can't do much about our situation."

This reflects the plight of money changer businesses in Singapore, which rely on tourism to thrive. Last year, 12 money changers closed permanently due to the pandemic.

A spokesman for the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) said: "Money-changing licensees can apply to MAS for a temporary cessation of their business, for a duration of up to six months.

"Currently, there are 297 money changers in Singapore, 41 of which have temporarily ceased their business."

The Sunday Times called four money changers who said they are barely getting by, and are hopeful for travel to resume.

Mr Anwardeen, who goes by one name, now sees only about five customers each day, and even has days when there are no customers.

He said: "Most of the customers come to sell their leftover currencies, but we occasionally have some who buy US dollars and Malaysian ringgit."

Mr Anwardeen said several money changers have had up to 50 per cent waivers in rental fees for between six months and a year. But landlords can still evict them.

He said: "If there is a new tenant who is able to afford the full rent, then the landlords are at liberty to ask us to leave within a month."

Mr Anwardeen said that he had hoped for things to turn around towards the end of the year, but he now thinks that might not happen.

He said: "The association predicts that if the situation remains the same for another year, only 20 to 30 per cent of money changers will survive.

"We will become a sunset industry in Singapore."