SINGAPORE - Foreign domestic workers (FDWs) and other customers who want to send money overseas through agencies at Lucky Plaza, City Plaza and Peninsula Plaza must now make appointments over the phone or online with remittance agencies beforehand.
The rule, which kicked in on Saturday (June 13), applies on Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays, said the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS).
A Ministry of Manpower (MOM) advisory to employers on Saturday said they should inform their helpers of the new rule.
"Customers, including FDWs, who wish to remit money should obtain an appointment before leaving the residence to travel to these hot spots," it said.
The MAS said on Saturday that it has worked with all licensed remittance agents at City Plaza, Lucky Plaza and Peninsula Plaza to get them to serve customers by an appointment made online or by phone. This is to reduce crowding, it said.
"FDWs who are unable to get an appointment to remit money in person at these locations are encouraged to use e-remittance options or visit a remittance agent at another location," it had said in its advisory.
But the new rule has also caused some confusion on the ground, as some remittance agents are not yet equipped to take appointments on their website.
The Remittance Association Singapore is scrambling to roll out by Monday a web-based software that allows its 61 members to take appointments online, its chairman Barakath Ali told The Straits Times.
He said it would take some time to fine-tune the appointment system. In the meantime, he has proposed to the malls to allow appointment kiosks to be installed so that FDWs can make appointments for the following weekend.
Last Sunday, Lucky Plaza, City Plaza and Peninsula Plaza - malls popular with FDWs and which provide services that they often use - were overwhelmed by helpers looking to send money home. It was the first weekend since the circuit breaker measures were eased.
Under phase one of the post-circuit breaker period, FDWs must continue to stay at home during their rest days. While they may go out to run errands and buy meals, they should return home immediately, said the MOM.
At City Plaza, popular with Indonesian and Malaysian workers, the scene last Sunday was like the "eve of a public holiday", said Ms Ice Bai, director of remittance agency Allbest Exchange. "We will advise customers to maintain their safe distances, but we definitely need help from security guards to keep the crowd in order."
She said her company is now developing a mobile phone application - expected to be ready by Wednesday - so that customers can reserve a queue slot remotely.
Ms Chie Alejandro, managing director of Brunphil Express at Lucky Plaza, said that while most remittance companies faced slower business during the circuit breaker period, they saw a healthy spike in business last Sunday.
"We had 400 transactions last Sunday (more than during the circuit breaker), although this is compared with 1,000 transactions on a regular Sunday before the outbreak."
Snaking lines at remittance agencies may also have been caused by the reduced number of staff serving customers, as well as agents who input data manually, said Mr Barakath.
The long queues can be avoided if more FDWs use mobile apps or e-remittance. But the take-up is low as many FDWs are not familiar with technology, said Ms Alejandro.
Indonesian FDW Puji, 35, who goes by one name, said she preferred the personal touch. "I'm not a fan of mobile apps or online banking because I fear making a mistake and losing all my money. By talking to an agent, I know my instructions will be clear," she said.
Filipina Aireen Rozario, 31, said she is able to transfer money "instantly" to her sister's bank account in the Philippines by using a mobile phone app from her bank.
Still, there are also other reasons people go to Lucky Plaza.
"People come to Lucky Plaza because it's like going 'home'," said Ms Alejandro. "You meet friends and buy things from the Philippines which you cannot get anywhere else in Singapore."