Exchange rates and currency buyer: an experience at BoB, Thimphu

I had an interesting experience yesterday while I was at the main office of the Bank of Bhutan in Thimphu. I was there to buy USD800. After getting the necessary approvals from the Royal Monetary Authority, I took my turn at the counter where the bank officials did their routine processings. The next stop was with a gentleman who then actually handed over to the clients the actual foreign currency to complete the transaction.

Here’s the interesting part, he pulls out USD300 travellers cheques and another USD500 and sums up my total to $800 accurately. As I re-count the money I realize that four bills of USD50 denominations in addition to three USD100 bills had also been thrown in to make the total of USD800. On enquiring, not only does he tell me that the exchange rate for the USD100 bill and USD50 bill were equal but he kindly reminded me that I was lucky to be in a position to have even that. That statement particularly became the high light of my own personal experience of the customer service at the Bank of Bhutan, Thimphu. I did try and clarify with the General Manager about the differences in the exchange rates of these two bills of different denominations, but he explained to me that the Royal Monetary Authority had not supplied the Bank with enough bills and instead had been asked to distribute these assorted bills to the customers in a mixed fashion. I could not really get a clear picture as to what a good mix was talking to the general manager but it occurs to me that perhaps, it’s not right for the customers to have to pay the equivalent exchange rate for USD100 bills when one is provided with bills of other denominations whose value is below what has been paid for. The general manager also referred to earlier complaints by customers and that since then they had stopped issuing USD bills of smaller denominations but USD 50s still remained acceptable.

Being able to acquire foreign exchange in Bhutan is a right conferred to each Bhutanese although some people may like to refer to it as luck (an astounding feat) but more critical here is the flaw in the system where one pays for product A and is supplied with product B which values less than the former, in a simple logic of transaction.

My experience yesterday has certainly brought this anamoly in the system to my notice and I hope this avid effort from my side helps bring it to the notice of others as well as I will be writing to all concerned.

This piece of writing is intended only to high light something that could be considered as “improvable” for the benefit of all and not to try and tarnish anyone or any organization.


About Sangay Khandu

Elected to Parliament of Bhutan twice. Previously worked with the Central Bank, the largest SoE (power utility) and international organization.
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