Will linking Real Estate and Commercial banks’ payment systems solve Syria’s ATM crisis?

ATM machine owned by the Real Estate Bank (Al-Watan newspaper)

ATM machine owned by the Real Estate Bank (Al-Watan newspaper)


Both the Commercial Bank of Syria and the Real Estate Bank of Syria have completed the process of linking their payment systems, making the service available between the ATMs of both parties, which are spread in areas under the regime’s control.

The Commercial Bank of Syria stated on its Facebook page, on Wednesday, March 20, that after the two banks were interconnected, clients can now withdraw cash from the ATMs and Point of Sale (POS) devices that belong to both the Real Estate and Commercial banks efficiently and securely.

The Commercial Bank of Syria mentioned that this operation enables the clients of both banks to benefit from the services of nearly 600 ATMs, in addition to hundreds of POS devices located in the branches of both banks, other public banks, and the General Establishment of Post branches in all provinces.

In turn, the Director of Electronic Payment at the Commercial Bank of Syria, Waseem al-Ali, told the local al-Watan newspaper, that the integration with the Real Estate Bank’s ATMs has been finalized, and all issues noticed during the testing period were resolved. Accordingly, clients of one bank can now withdraw from the other’s ATMs. He explained that the cash volume replenished in the ATMs monthly exceeds 100 billion Syrian pounds.

“Dead won’t carry the dead”

The announcement of activating the integration between Real Estate and Commercial banks received mixed reactions from citizens. Yasmin, a resident of Al-Zahira neighborhood in Damascus, downplayed the importance of linking the Real Estate and Commercial banks, saying, “What’s the use of this step? Most ATMs are out of service due to electrical and internet cutoffs, or lack of maintenance due to technical malfunction.”

Yasmin added to Enab Baladi, “There is a popular saying, ‘Dead won’t carry the dead,’ meaning that the Real Estate and Commercial ATMs are equally bad. Besides, talk about the integration process is just something we’ve been hearing in the media for several months, and so far, it has not been implemented on the ground. The proof is that I tried yesterday to withdraw from a commercial ATM with a Real Estate bank card, and the ATM rejected it.”

Ayham shares Yasmin’s opinion, considering this step unimportant and worthless, as most ATMs are out of order, in addition to the large crowd and lack of organization, coupled with the dominance of armed thugs, where a thug comes to yell at the people in line, cuts the queue to withdraw money from the ATM, while the rest of the citizens wait all day to receive their salary.

Ayham, a high school teacher in al-Sabil neighborhood of Aleppo, spoke to Enab Baladi about another problem they face during the ATM withdrawals, saying, “Sometimes the ATM suddenly captures the bank card, and consequently, the employee will have to visit the bank the next day to reclaim their card, after traveling a long distance in addition to transportation expenses and time wasted.”

On the other hand, a government employee in the city of Damascus said, “The step is good and may relieve some of the pressure on ATMs during salary withdrawals. In the past, I had to travel to al-Thawra Street to withdraw my salary from the Real Estate Bank there, although there is a Commercial Bank ATM next to my house. But now, I can withdraw my salary from any nearby bank, which means saving on transportation costs and time.”

The quest for an ATM

Syrians also complain about ATMs running out of money. They often wait for several hours in line and then return to their homes without receiving their salary. This happens to many for several consecutive days before they manage to get their wages.

The ATMs belonging to the Real Estate and Commercial banks are the oldest and most frequently malfunctioning. Plus, the functioning ones are slow to process cash transactions.

Ayham, the teacher in Aleppo, said, “In all countries of the world, street ATMs are considered an essential service for the citizens of any country. But in Syria, these ATMs are a burden on citizens. Every month we have a tiresome journey to withdraw the salary.”

Employees and retirees lose part of their salaries every month searching for a functioning ATM or one that has money. Therefore, some employees divide themselves into groups touring the city looking for an operational ATM to save themselves effort, time, and money.

Citizens are also faced with another problem, where the ATM does not allow the withdrawal of the full amount according to the set limit. Consequently, they have to withdraw the amount in two installments on the same day, which is in itself a major problem for the employees who hardly find a functioning ATM and can barely reach it amid long queues that may take hours to clear.

In April 2023, the Commercial Bank of Syria raised the weekly withdrawal limit to one million Syrian pounds, allowing citizens to withdraw once in a single day or over several installments within one week. In October 2023, the Real Estate Bank raised the withdrawal limit to half a million Syrian pounds.

Electric shocks

The problems with ATMs do not stop there. Several individuals in Daraa governorate experienced mild electric shocks when withdrawing their salaries from the ATMs of the Real Estate Bank, according to the local Athr Press news website.

The site reported that customers have resorted to various tricks to avoid shocks, some using paper tissues as an insulating measure, and some pressing the buttons quickly and fleetingly to avoid electric effects.

It is likely that the ATM does not have a proper insulation system, causing the delivery of electric charges to the metal bodies in the number keypad and from there to any body that touches it, increasing during rainy conditions.

According to previous official statements, officials in the regime’s government said that the whole country only has 270 functioning ATMs, out of 700 devices for the Commercial and Real Estate banks spread throughout Syria.


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