Somali expats fear bank curbs on sending money home

By Mirjam Donath

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Each month, 42-year-old Abdirizak Alibos shows up at a money transfer business in the heart of Minneapolis to send $500 to his three children in war-torn Somalia.

I send them money that they can pay for … groceries, school fees, that they can buy health insurance, medication, said Alibos, who escaped to the United States seven years ago and now has a business driving people to medical appointments.

I can say that 50 or 60 percent of my childrens lifeline is remittance, he said.

But he and other Somali expatriates fear that they soon might not be able to give their families any more financial help. It is not money that they are about to run out of but the legal options for sending it home.  

About 40 percent of all Somali families rely on remittances from another country, and the estimated annual total of $1.3 billion is more than all foreign aid and investment in Somalia combined, according to a study published last year by human aid organizations Adeso, Oxfam and the Inter-American Dialogue.  

For more than two decades, the African nation of 10 million people has been a land of chaos because of divisive clan fights during its civil war and more-recent Islamist militant insurgents with links to al Qaeda.

Commercial banking disappeared in the early 1990s, and Western money transfer companies such as Western Union Co and MoneyGram International Inc do not serve most parts of Somalia.

This leaves the significantly cheaper and more informal money service businesses, or MSBs, to serve as intermediaries between the foreign banks that make the wire transfers and the intended recipients of the money.

As these transmitters attracted attention from US regulatory agencies that fear money launderers or militant groups would exploit them, banks around the world have been rapidly closing their accounts.

These de-risking moves affect all transmitters, including the most numerous ones for Latin American countries, but are most devastating for Somalia, where people have no alternative, affordable channel to get remittances.

A decade ago, money transfer business owners could choose from several large banks to do international wire transfers. Today most no longer do so, even in the largest Somali expatriate hubs of Britain, the United States and Canada.

The fewer the banks, the fewer locations get served in Somalia and in the cities of the expatriates, money transfer companies said.

Less competition could also mean higher charges to send money to Africa, which are already twice as much as to South Asia and well above the 7.8 percent global average.

Merchants Bank of California, the last large US bank specializing in check cashing and money transmission, has alerted a dozen of its money transmitter clients that it will close their accounts by July 31 due to the ever-changing regulatory requirements and expenses.

The news prompted Alibos and a few dozen Somali immigrants to protest at the US Treasury building of St. Paul, Minnesota, on Friday. This is the eve of the monthlong Ramadan holiday, when Muslims traditionally give extra money to the needy.

Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison, a Democrat and long-time supporter of money transfer companies, joined the rally. Ellisons Money Remittance Act, aimed at limiting regulatory barriers for MSBs, was approved by the US House of Representatives and is now with the Senate.

Ellison said at the protest that the US war on terrorism is hindering people from sending money home.

Treasury has been so aggressive at that theyve stopped good people from sending money to good people, he said.

COMPLIANCE QUESTIONS

While US regulators do not prohibit banks from doing business with money transfer companies, they require them to have an adequate compliance program, said a spokesman for the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, which supervises banks.

The challenge, bankers say, is that no one knows what an adequate compliance program is.

From a business standpoint, it was cost-prohibitive to continue to monitor these types of high-risk accounts, said Matt Stenehjem, fraud and security officer of North Dakota’s Bell State Bank, which recently closed all of its MSB accounts.

The largest money transfer business in Somalia, Dahabshiil will continue banking with Merchants. It was less fortunate in Britain, one of its most important jurisdictions.

Dahabshiil has arrangements with banks all over the world except in Britain, said interim manager Mike Aynsley, a former chief executive officer of Anglo Irish Bank.

The UK is the second-biggest remittance source for Somalia at about $163 million a year, according to data cited in the human aid groups study. Barclays Plc, one of the last large banks handling MSB accounts there, announced in April that it would no longer do so.

Dahabshiil is talking to other major British banks about opening accounts with them, Aynsley said.

In Canada, the number of MSBs serving Somalia fell to three from 11 during the last decade, said Abdirizak Omar-Godane, an anti-money laundering specialist based in Toronto.

One bank that still offers wire transfer for them is the Royal Bank of Canada.

The bank does not disclose specific information about its approach to MSBs, a spokesman said, adding that it complies with the laws and regulations in the markets where it operates.

The situation is about as serious as it can get, said Jorge Guerrero, co-founder of the Great Neck, New York-based National Money Transmitters Association and CEO of the Compass anti-money laundering compliance consultancy.

Closing MSB accounts actually exacerbates the risk of money laundering, Guerrero said, because expatriates may then try to send money to relatives through illegal channels, which are much more difficult to control.  

That money is a lifeline, and if it’s lost, the ramifications are tremendous, Guerrero said. (It is) not just one company going down and its employees have to look ultimately for work, but it is what people are willing to do when desperation hits.

Alibos said his biggest fear was that without his support, his children might get recruited by militant groups.

If the lifeline is closed, there could be more violence, he said. There could be a lot of moral problems.

(Additional reporting by David Bailey and Todd Melby in Minneapolis; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)

Notts & Derbys: County Councils get extra Government millions for pothole repairs

Notts and Derbyshire County Councils have both been given extra money by the Government to help boost their road pothole repair schemes.

Notts will receive an extra £2.7 million while Derbyshire will get an extra £2.48 million.

Notts’ funding comes on the top of an earlier grant of £1.5 million they received to repair roads damaged by floods and extreme weather over the past year.

It is estimated the extra funding will enable them to repair around 52,000 potholes.

“This is welcome news, coming as it does against a backdrop of £154 million of savings that we as an authority are having to make as a result of Government funding cuts,” said Coun Alan Rhodes, leader of Notts Council.

Coun Rhodes’ views were echoed by Coun Dean Collins, Derbyshire council’s deputy cabinet member for jobs, economy and transport.

“Potholes are a nuisance for all those who use the roads, and we’ve had our workers and contractors fixing them throughout the year,” he said.

“But although this cash is welcome it just won’t be enough to fix all the potholes that have appeared on our roads since the severe wet weather.”

“Hundreds of new potholes appear on our roads each week.”

“But we will step up our efforts to fix as many postholes as possible with this money from the Government, and by spending the money that we have set aside from our budgets.”

Party-pit patrons pay extra for proximity to the stars

MANHATTAN — As Thomas Rhett closed out his set Thursday night, fans began lining up at 9 pm for Easton Corbins party pit.

Approximately 15 fans arrived early for the pit in front of the main stage, a new addition to the Country Stampede in which fans purchase a pass for a set amount per performer, so they could be up close and personal with their favorite country singer. Party pit passes ranged from $25 for the performers who played earlier in the day all the way to $100 for Luke Bryan and Eric Church.

Fans in the party pit are directly in front of the stage, close enough to reach out and grab the ankles of the performers, if they are tall enough. Some had to crane their necks and stand on their toes to be able to see, since the main stage was so tall.

As the lights went out, signaling Corbin was to take the stage, a loud roar of cheers came from the large audience. The party pit fans stretched out their arms, hoping to get a handshake or high five from the singer.

For Alison Zacker, spending the extra money to get her wristband for the pit was worth it.

I love Easton Corbin, Zacker said. Id get up on stage with him, for sure.

Trish Frank, however, didnt have to spend a dime for her two passes. She won hers Thursday afternoon in a contest from 94.5 Country. She said prior to the show she wasnt sure what to expect down in the pit, but was excited nonetheless.

I signed up last night at the banding party, and they pulled my name, Frank said.

Frank said it was exciting, especially since this was her seventh year in a row attending the Stampede.

Its my yearly vacation, Frank said when asked why she keeps coming back to the festival. Its a big party.

Frank brought along her friend Ashley Zolman to Corbins party pit.

I did the driving (to the festival), Zolman joked. She woke me up from my nap to tell me we won Easton Corbin tickets. We like his music.

The pit was placed on each side of the stage, divided by a green-felt walkway that allowed the performers to leave the stage and walk into the crowd.

While most people just hoped for a high-five, one woman held a piece of paper and pen in her hands for Corbin to sign. He slung his guitar around on his back and gave her his autograph, all without missing a beat of his opening song.

The music thumped throughout the campgrounds, allowing people all the way in the back of the crowd, even stretching back to the parking lot, to hear everything perfectly. Two large screens on each side of the stage displayed Corbin, allowing everyone to see him.

The pit attendees stood shoulder-to-shoulder, all singing and swaying along with the music. It was only night one for the Stampede, and everyone became a family while the musicians crooned away.

Buying And Selling A Home In A Rising Real Estate Market

Its no secret that until recently the real estate market has been bleak. There are a number of factors that contributed to the real estate decline, including: much stricter lending regulations that made qualifying for a mortgage very difficult, high levels of unemployment, and a struggling and unstable economy. Home and property values plummeted causing a chain reaction of problems. Many Wilmington homeowners found themselves underwater, owing more for their homes than the sinking appraised values. More and more, older and sometimes grown children, who were unable to afford housing remained at home. And families and couples who would typically be in the market for a home, simply couldnt afford one and were forced to rent.

However, there seems to be some good news and long-awaited optimism. As the economy continues to stabilize and unemployment rates decrease, the tide of the housing market seems to be shifting in a positive direction. In fact, this summer is showing some signs of being a sellers market, perhaps the result of pent-up demand accumulated over the past few years.

Many houses coming on the market are not staying on the market as long as they have in recent years. Sellers are frequently receiving multiple offers and buyers are even sometimes paying more than the list price to secure the home they want. With the steady appreciation of real estate, people are beginning to believe in the value of their homes and once again perceive homeownership as a good investment strategy.

Another piece of good news is that, at least for now, mortgage rates are still pretty low. Were actually in sort of a sweet spot where buyers and sellers can both experience a win-win. So, given this promising trend, if youve wanted to or had good reason to buy or sell a home, but have been putting it off due to all of the obstacles mentioned previously, it may be time to make your move.

For growing families who need more space, its a good time to look for a bigger home. For empty nesters whose kids have flown the coop, its a great time to consider selling a large family home and simplifying your life with the purchase of a smaller home. For homeowners who have been underwater, its a good time to check with a real estate agent and find out if the value of your home has increased significantly. If it has, you may be able to get out of that property and make a change without a loss, or even make a profit.

If you are thinking about buying or selling a home or both here are some things to consider:

For Sellers

  • Sellers should start by consulting a real estate agent and do your due diligence to determine your homes current value and a reasonable asking price.
  • If you put your house up for sale, be prepared for it to sell quickly. You dont want to have to scramble to find another place to live if your house sells before you expected. That kind of pressure often leads to settling for a home that you dont really want, or paying more than you wanted.

For Buyers

  • Meet with a mortgage professional and get prequalified for lending so you know what you can afford. Limit your search to the homes within your established budget.
  • Know what you are willing to pay and go in with an informed price strategy. You probably dont want to low ball in this market because its likely that multiple offers will be coming on the house you want.
  • Understand whether you have to sell your current home before you can afford to buy another one. If you do have to sell first, you can put a contingency in the buying contract that stipulates that you will only close on the purchase after you have sold your home.
  • Remember that if you offer more than the appraised value of the home, you will have to cover the overage out of your pocket; it will not be accounted for as part of the loan.

As improvements in the housing market open doors of opportunity, the smartest way to ensure that you make the most of your opportunity is to be informed and prepared. If you need help looking at your finances, deciding what you can afford through prequalification, and leveraging this favorable market to your advantage, Id be happy to help.

Patrick Stoy has 15 years of mortgage lending experience. Patrick is CEO of Wilmington-based Market Consulting Mortgage, which he started in 2005 with a mission to build lifelong customer relationships by providing real value. To learn more about Marketing Consulting Mortgage, visit www.macmtg.com. Patrick can be reached at Patrick@macmtg.com or 910-509-7105.

Android May Outsell iPhone, But Developers Make More Money On iOS Apps

Android phones may outsell the iPhone worldwide, but iPhone developers make more money.

According to data released during its I/O Developers Conference, Google paid developers $5 billion in the last 12 months, and just $2 billion the 12 months before that. However, according to Benedict Evans, who works for venture capitalist firm Andreessen Horowitz, Apple paid out $7 billion to developers in the same 12 months.

Evans believes that this is due to two different, and possibly self-fulfilling reasons. First, Evans says that iPhone owners are more likely to spend money on apps, rather than skirt paid content for free ad-supported apps.

“Android phones average $250-$300 where iPhones average $600,” Evans points out. “People who choose to spend the extra money are sending a signal about their intents.”

The iPhone 5s and the Samsung Galaxy S5 are comparable smartphones and probably have a similar average revenue per user (ARPU), says Evans, “but Galaxy S5 users are a small minority of Android users.”

The second reason is that that developers see lower revenue from the Google Play Store, they instill that mindset and automatically develop apps with ad-supported revenue streams in lieu of paid apps.

“This can become circular,” Evans said, “if developers believe that Android users do not pay, then their behavior will be affected — they may offer a free ad-supported app instead of a paid app, or have a lower price. And if they decide not to support Android or support it second, then their users will gravitate to iPhone first, which becomes self-fulfilling.”

Evans insights mirror those of IBM. In late December, IBM put out ecommerce numbers that they saw during Christmas.

“As a percentage of total online sales, iOS was more than five times higher than Android, driving 23 percent vs. 4.6 percent for Android,” stated an IBM press release. “On average, iOS users spent $93.94 per order, nearly twice that of Android users, who spent $48.10 per order.”

Business Insider reported at the time, “the debate around iOS and Android market share matters because historically, developers have gravitated to one platform and prioritized their efforts for that platform. The platform that typically wins has the most users.”

But while the Google’s revenue may be less than Apple’s, it’s not by much, which may indicate Apple’s power over developers is waning. Ultimately, both Google and Apple have successful app stores, but Android does outsell in handsets. Whether Google can close the gap in app revenue has yet to be determined.

Three Judge Panel of the DC Circuit Court of Appeals Shields Evidence of KBR …

Home > Corporate Whistleblowers > Three Judge Panel of the DC Circuit Court of Appeals Shields Evidence of KBR Contracting Fraud In Iraq War Under Attorney-Client Privilege

Three Judge Panel of the DC Circuit Court of Appeals Shields Evidence of KBR Contracting Fraud In Iraq War Under Attorney-Client Privilege
By Mary Jane Wilmoth on Posted in Corporate Whistleblowers, False Claims / Qui Tam, News, Uncategorized

Washington, DC  June 27, 2014. Today the DC Circuit court issued a decision in the case of In re: Kellogg Brown amp; Root, Inc., et al., finding certain reports produced during internal corporate investigations were covered under the attorney-client privilege even though the documents show employees believed there was contracting fraud taking place during the Iraq War.  The Court granted a “writ of mandamus” and reversed the lower court’s ruling that had ordered KBR’s internal review of the fraud allegations to be produced in a False Claims Act case.

The underlying case concerns a whistleblower complaint filed by a former KBR employee,  Mr. Harry Barko, on behalf of US taxpayers seeking damages for KBR falsely charging the government for illegal contracting practices during the War in Iraq.  The documents in question concerned an in-house review of allegations raised by employees who observed improper contracting practices and reported fraud to KBR’s investigators.  The lower court, which had ordered the release of the documents, also ruled that these documents in question were “eye openers” and supported Mr. Barko’s claims that taxpayers were overcharged by KBR.

Mr. Stephen M. Kohn, one of Mr. Barko’s attorneys, issued the following statement:

Mr. Barko will file an appeal of this decision. The court incorrectly issued a writ of mandamus upholding KBR’s claim of privilege.  The documents at issue demonstrate illegal contracting practices and should not be kept secret from the public.  KBR obtained billions of dollars in government contracts to support the Iraq War effort.  The lower court, which reviewed the documents prior to issuing its decision, correctly held that these materials were not covered under the attorney client privilege.

We are confident that upon further appeal the position argued by KBR will be reversed.

Links:

The lower court’s decision authorizing the release of the documents, and explaining how the documents demonstrated KBR contracting violations is linked here.

The Court of Appeals ruling is linked here.

The briefs and pleadings in this case are available online here.

Previous blog post:

Court Holds Arguments on Whether Documents Created by Non-Attorneys Are Protected by Attorney-Client Privilege

KBR’s Confidentiality Agreements Draw Congressional Scrutiny  

Washington Post Reports SEC Investigating KBR

Washington Post Reports Federal Contractor Gagged Employees

Auto-Insurance Satisfaction Reaches New High

Auto insurance customer satisfaction has reached its highest level since JD Power launched its study on the sector in 2000, with satisfaction rising the most in the areas of price, and billing and payment.

In JD Powers 2014 US Auto Insurance Study, the firm says overall satisfaction among auto insurance consumers climbed 16 points to 810 on a 1,000-point scale. The study measures customer satisfaction in five areas: interaction, price, policy offerings, billing and payment and claims.

Interestingly, JD Power notes the rise in satisfaction comes amid several years of price increases. However, while the number of customers receiving insurer-initiated rate hikes this year was about the same as last year, the amount of the increase was lower$86 in 2014 compared to $153 in 2013.

In addition, insurers appear to be doing a better job communicated the reasons behind the increases. A premium increase often triggers shopping behavior, but were seeing fewer people shopping, says Jeremy Bowler, senior director of JD Powers insurance practice in a statement. This indicates that insurers are more effectively communicating with their customers, making them aware of the premium increases when they occur and why theyre necessary, and demonstrating the value of their coverage.

This communication could be a reason why customer satisfaction in the interaction categorythe biggest driver of overall satisfactionclimbed 13 points for auto insurers.

The largest increases in satisfaction, though, were in the areas of price, up by 20 points, and billing and payment, up by 19 points.

Smaller insurers made bigger gains than larger ones, says JD Power. The 20 largest insurers saw a 10-point improvement in 2014 while the smallest insurersthose outside the largest 30improved by 41 points.

JD Power says customer loyalty and advocacy are on the rise, with 51% of customers stating they definitely will renew their auto-insurance policy with their current provider, compared to 49% last year. Forty-nine percent say they definitely will recommend their insurer to family and friends, compared to 48% last year.

Who ranks highest?

JD Power breaks its satisfaction survey down by region. See charts for each region on the following pages.

NOTE: All charts are from the JD Power 2014 Auto Insurance Study. For all charts USAA is excluded from the rankings as it is open only to US military personnel and their families. Included in the study but not ranked due to small sample size is Automobile Club Group.

Make money sharing your home with strangers

(DWYM) – Have some unused bedrooms in your home or apartment?

More and more, home owners are renting out those rooms to make some extra money.

Its a hot new trend known as house sharing, or couch surfing. But is it safe? And legal?

Sleep in a Mansion

It looks like a British manor house, perhaps even James Bonds Skyfall estate.

But this seven bedroom mansion called Bella Note is just the latest place where you can stay for a night in the growing trend of home sharing.

Weve had people from all over the world: Italy, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Canada, said homeowner Michael Caporale.

Caporale is a film director with some extra time and a lot of extra space. So hes turned his home into a bed and breakfast thanks to the home sharing site Airbnb.

As he cooks up a gourmet spinach and egg breakfast, his cell phone is receiving text alerts about his next guest. who made a reservation through Airbnb.

Website Handles all Details

Airbnb takes care of booking, payment and provides protection against fraud. Guests have to pay up front to prevent them from bailing out but the owner is not paid until after they spend a night.  

They protect the host, they protect the guest, they have insurance for me, a million dollars in insurance, he said.

Each bedroom has its own theme, an old fashioned key and full bath. Some are extra-luxurious.

I call this the old timey rich mans shower, he explained, because its got seven shower heads.

You get the private room, bath and hot breakfast for less than $90 a night.

Controversy Growing Over Legality

But brewing along with the coffee is controversy. Cities from New York to New Orleans to Malibu and even Grand Rapids are cracking down on Airbnb, and what the hotel industry calls unlicensed hotels.

Hotel owners want home sharers to pay hotel taxes and be subject to inspection, licensing and regulation.

What s Caporales thoughts on that?

I understand. But I think theres a place for everybody, hotels have things I cant offer, he said.

Caporale said if you want the Hyatt, thats great. He says he is not trying to be a hotel. But he also says if you want good company, a great breakfast and a quiet room in someones house, you should have that option too.

The Bottom Line

For now, home sharing is legal in most areas outside New York City (where it is illegal to list rooms on Airbnb), but new communities are imposing laws and taxes every month.

One other issue: Your neighbors, who may not want a BB next door. Some of them are going to city hall, demanding regulations.

So check the rules in your area, before you start renting out your bedrooms, so you dont get in trouble, and you dont waste your money.

Dont Waste Your Money is a registered trademark of the EW Scripps Co.

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Tulsa City Council Set Priorities For New Money, Parks Low On Th – NewsOn6 …

Last year the council spent a lot of time cutting the budget, and as usual, parks took a big hit. Thats upsetting to several councilors, but still its not one of the top priorities if theres extra money this year.

Ben Cherington talks buying and selling: ‘We’ve got to stay in it’

June 10, 2014 07:57 PM EDT
June 10, 2014 08:10 PM EDT
Ben Cherington talks buying and selling: ‘We’ve got to stay in it’