Remittances to Cuba: Get Ready for a Long Wait

“It’s really something unheard of,” complains Ernesta, resident of the Lawton neighbourhood, who has come to the Fincimex agency in Miramar to ask about her money.

Ernesta tells us that she has been to the agency several times this week, awaiting a confirmation of the arrival of money sent by her brother living in Switzerland.

Fincimex Headquarters. Photo by Yunia Figueredo
Fincimex Headquarters. Photo by Yunia Figueredo

“The damned transaction still hasn’t come. I have no idea how long I’ll have to wait. He sent me the money on September 12 and it seems that it has been lost somewhere in the cyberspace, as if swallowed by a black hole.”

Fincimex is a Cuban agency issuing debit cards, which has been widely used both by Cubans living abroad as well as by foreigners when sending remittances to friends and relatives in Cuba. Yet, it has not lived up to its best in recent weeks.

“This place is usually full of people, but now it’s not so busy as new cards are not being issued due to lack of supplies,” says an office worker serving the public as a substitute of the assigned official receptionist.

“What kind of supplies?” asks an elderly woman who has just come to the office to get a card.

The office worker explains what she means by “supplies”: raw material to manufacture the cards. The elderly woman still doesn’t understand. “My daughter, who lives in Germany, gave me this address to obtain a card here and I had to take two crowded buses and walk half a kilometre to get here. All for nothing.”

To calm the old lady down, the office worker writes down the agency’s phone number and hands it to her so that she doesn’t have to come all the way to the office again. Then she starts to explain that money transfers can be made from any place around the world via the Internet, using websites like aisremesascuba.com, barrigroup.com or transferzero.com and others, but her explanation is interrupted by a phone call from Israel.

“It was one of our clients asking for the reason for the delay of a remittance he made to his daughter last week,” clarifies the officer, courteously filling me up with details of why Fincimex is not to blame for the delay.

“When the money arrives in Cuba, we immediately transfer it to the client’s card,” she says.

Another client she deals with over the phone also calls to complain about a delay, this time regarding his American International Service (AIS) remittance card. She gives him the same response, but this time, the client seems not to accept it. The office worker explains:

“The thing is that Sendvalu now has a local intermediary that receives the money and sends it to Fincimex. Before, the delivery was direct and fast. Now it can take up to 10 business days, but I can’t explain why.”

The Fincimex office is empty again. The officer/receptionist is bored, fiddles with a pencil and doodles on a sheet of paper until another client enters, busy and sweaty, and asks for a card enabling him to draw money that his relative sent him from Italy. We can hear the office worker repeating:

“Cards are not being issued due to lack of supplies. Take the phone number of the agency, so that you don’t have to come in vain again. Write down the websites through which your family can send you the money.”

The newcomer asks the officer what’s the reason for the lack of supplies, and she responds like an automaton:

“The country is going through difficult times and we have to wait until the conditions of a few months ago are restored. We would like to be able to issue cards to everyone, so that everyone could get their money, but there are economic problems now. We can’t do anything but wait.”

When asked how long the service will be affected, she gives him an expected response:

“I can’t give you the exact date. Call this number in the next few days and we will inform you if there is any news.”

Once again, the phone rings and this time it’s a call from France, from a Cuban who has sent money to his mom, which has not yet arrived in Cuba. The explanation she gives him (that the new local intermediary is to blame) reveals that the agency is no longer completely safe and reliable as it used to be.

To top it all, the slogan of the agency reads: “Not even the best services will make us satisfied.”