People walk through Canary Wharf, London's financial district, November 11, 2008.
Kieran Doherty / Courtesy Reuters

Last summer, the British banking giant Barclays sent account closure notices to some 250 clients in the United Kingdom, giving them 60 days to find a new home for their cash. Most of the customers were small remittance companies -- so-called money services businesses -- that served the country’s large diaspora communities. Since big international banks don’t typically have branches in Somalia and Bangladesh, such money transfer firms are the main pipeline through which immigrants send money to family members back home. Increasingly concerned about complying with government regulations to combat terrorist financing, however, the banks wanted to clear their books of any excess risk. 

Condemnation came swiftly, and a coalition of nonprofits, politicians, and sports stars mobilized to fight the Barclays decision. The account closures, they said, constituted the severing of a “financial lifeline” for fragile, poverty-stricken states. Somalia, for example, receives more money from remittances than it does

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  • TOM KEATINGE is a former investment banker at J.P. Morgan and an associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute. Follow him on Twitter @keatingetom.
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