If I hadn’t experienced the Somali ‘banking system’ when living in Somaliland earlier this year, I would have described the banking system in Liberia as “basic.” In comparison to Somaliland, Liberia might as well be a financial center. But, compared to the western world, and indeed compared to many African countries that are more developed than Liberia, the banking system here is indeed basic.
While global banks like Barclays such can be found in many countries throughout Africa (e.g. Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, Tanzania), there are no truly global banks with a presence in Liberia. There are some international African banks, like the Nigerian banks Ecobank and Guaranty Trust Bank. But most of the banks here are Liberian banks that are “international” in name only, such as Global Bank Liberia, International Bank of Liberia, and First International Bank of Liberia (with a confusingly similar name).
I bank with FIBL, which basically means I go there once a month to withdraw my salary by filling out an Account Withdrawal Slip in a little paper book and processing it with a clerk in the bank office. I don’t have a bank card, and I definitely don’t have online banking. But it works.
Of course, with bigger banks like Ecobank it is possible to get a debit card and in theory use it to withdraw money from your account at an automated teller machine. There aren’t too many ATMs in Monrovia (and even fewer outside the capital), but there are several you can use to withdraw money from your US, UK, or other foreign accounts.
It is just a question of finding an ATM that works… one of the ATMs has been known to electrocute people on several occasions, some ATMs are prone to swallow up your bank card, and yet others are accused of stealing your card details. My favorite ATM is the one pictured above with the message on it: “Kindly pull out your card immediately when it comes out to avoid it getting stuck” and “Ecobank numbers to call in case of problem.”