On Friday morning, Mozammel Hossain, a contractor, came to a mobile financial service (MFS) agent at Tejturi Bazar to deposit Tk 47,000 into two accounts of his site managers, who would then use the sum to pay the labourers their daily wages.
But, he was dealt a blow when the vendor informed him that he could deposit at most Tk 30,000 into the accounts; and not only that, his site managers would not be able to take out the entire sum that day.
And it was Friday, a bank holiday, meaning Hossain had no other option but to resign to the new restrictions, which meant after a full day's hard work, his labourers went home with just a fraction of their pay.
Like Hossain's labourers, the country's 1.58 crore active MFS users are left in serious inconvenience after the central bank lowered the ceilings for transactions from February 1.
Previously, users could deposit Tk 25,000 into their mobile wallets each day and take out the same amount, but now they have to make do with Tk 15,000 for cash-in and Tk 10,000 for cash-out.
It is the students, garment workers and small entrepreneurs that were most hit by the new Bangladesh Bank directive, which has already caused a 30-40 percent decline in transaction value, according to the MFS providers.
Take, Shohag Sarkar, a student of Government Science College in the capital's Farmgate area, who relies on MFS to pay his tuition fees that his father sends from Sherpur.
Like every month, he arrived at Dhaka Telecom, an MFS agent beside his college, last week to withdraw his tuition fees and found a long queue outside the store.
He patiently waited in the queue for 30 minutes, only for the vendor to tell him, much to his irritation, that he would not be able to take out the cash without his national ID card.
With a view to curbing terror financing, the BB in its directive also said the recipient must show proper verification -- national identity card or its photocopy -- to the mobile banking agent beforehand to withdraw cash of Tk 5,000 or more.
He had to go back home to fetch his ID card and go through the same drill again to get his hands on his tuition fees. “It was such a big hassle,” said Sarkar. Kamal Quadir, chief executive officer of the country's largest MFS provider, bKash, said the small businesses were badly hit.
For instance, e-commerce entrepreneurs rely on MFS to complete payment for orders by customers from outside the capital and they said their orders have declined 30 percent this month. Muslim Ali, a trader at Mohammadpur Town Hall kitchen market, said he uses the MFS to pay his suppliers all over Bangladesh and after the new restrictions he is facing an extra hassle.
“Every day I have to send more than Tk 20,000 to my suppliers and now I am using two separate wallets,” said Nuruzzaman, a chicken trader in the same market.
The other new restrictions include a maximum of two deposits and withdrawals in a day, down from five deposits and three withdrawals.
From now on, a mobile banking customer can deposit at most Tk 1 lakh in a month, down from Tk 1.50 lakh. The maximum monthly withdrawal limit is Tk 50,000, which was earlier Tk 1.50 lakh.
A senior executive of the central bank said the new restrictions were put in place to shore up the official remittance figures, which have been on the decline in recent times.
In 2016, remittance inflow was at $13.61 billion -- the lowest in five years, according to central bank statistics. The amount is lower than 2015's receipts by 11.13 percent.
The rise in popularity of MFS, which gave birth to the phenomenon of digital hundi, has been blamed for the slide by BB Governor Fazle Kabir.
Digital hundi is an illegal transfer of funds from abroad, in which the remitter deposits the amount to a vendor in his host country, who then instructs his network in Bangladesh to deposit the sum to the requested MFS account.
The transaction costs for sending money home through the process are lower than through Western Union, the standard channel for sending money from abroad.
Furthermore, it takes only half an hour to send money through digital hundi, according to Kabir.
“That's why it is getting popular, much to our concern,” he said earlier at the quarterly luncheon meeting of the Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and Industry at its headquarters in Dhaka.
But Mustafa Jabbar, president of Bangladesh Association of Software and Information Services, said there might be no relation between the declining remittance and MFS.
“It is an immature decision from the banking regulator.”
Jabbar also criticised the central bank for its reluctance to formulate guidelines on digital services.
Last year, a total of Tk 234,691.79 crore was transacted through the MFS channel, of which 42 percent was deposits, 39 percent withdrawals and 14.75 percent person-to-person transactions.
Market operators said the figures would be much lower this year because of the new BB directive.
Asif Ahnaf, president of the youth forum at e-Commerce Association of Bangladesh, said he requested the BB to rethink its position on the directive.
“The central bank should find a new way to regulate the market instead of imposing hurdles -- this is not the way to control the market.”
Pial Islam, managing director of PI Strategy Consulting, a research firm related with this segment, said the new restrictions will not bring any good to the country.
“The central bank might think it will help them increase remittance but at the same time customers here are suffering badly for this.”
There are about 3.96 crore registered mobile banking accounts, according to the BB.
Currently, there are 20 MFS licence holders and 19 of them are offering the service, though two operators, bKash and Rocket, have 99 percent of the market share.