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Number of Exchange Booths Down by 25%

The Central Bank said Monday that the number of foreign exchange points has declined by almost one-fourth over the past six months, as new regulations are being prepared that would cut down on the number of such businesses.

The proposed rules, which would affect 600 exchange booths in Moscow and the Moscow region, would require that the enterprises either operate within a physical bank or be converted into an official branch of a bank.

Central Bank official Mikhail Sukhov on Monday said the Central Bank was “working on” the regulations and was aiming to distribute them to relevant government agencies for review “in the next few months,” Interfax reported.

The Central Bank will get input from anti-corruption experts and share the proposed regulations with state agencies, said Sukhov, director of the Central Bank’s licensing and lending department. The review “is going to happen in the near future, I hope within the next few months,” he said.

Sukhov downplayed the impact of the change on currency exchange businesses. Even “without our decision, in a little less than half a year, the number of [currency] exchangers in Russia fell from 898 to 709 and, really, no one noticed it,” he said.

The effects of eliminating the stand-alone exchange businesses would be mostly confined to the Moscow area. Almost 90 percent, or 615 out of 709 exchange points, are in Moscow and the Moscow region, Sukhov said.

The Central Bank says the regulations are aimed at protecting consumers from fraud. “We have been seeing more complaints about the activities of these exchange places from the client side, as well as from the regulator side,” he said.

Separately, the Federal Anti-Monopoly Service said Monday that exchange booths should be offered an alternative to being shut down.

“The Central Bank’s worries are understandable, but it is necessary when closing down the exchange booths to offer something in return,” Andrei Kashevarov, deputy head of the service, said Monday. “If we just close them, then the decision is unlikely to expand the accessibility of banking service,” he said, Interfax reported.

He added that the service opened cases against several banks last year for fraudulently advertising exchange rates.

The Central Bank is not proposing to close anything, Sukhov said. Any bank that wants to keep its currency exchange operations at their present location will be given a transition period to reregister as an official branch of a bank, he added.

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