Dormant Money Accounts: Unlocking Wealth For Dev’t

People keep their money at home or in banking institutions. If money is kept in a bank, it is managed through an account. Such an account is active when it constantly takes money in or gives money out. Otherwise, if a bank account has no movement like transferring, cashing in or cashing out money, it becomes inactive. The inactivity progresses to become dormant, inoperative or abandoned after a period of time differently stipulated by law. In Cameroon, the prescription period is about three years. And this is when it becomes problematic. What do communities or States do with such abandoned accounts?
In many settings, the suspicion of inactivity looms after 12 to 24 months. But banking account dormancy or abandonment is established many more years after. The advent of dead or dormant accounts is crystal and financial experts have reported that every year, governments take what they call “temporary custody” of billions of dollars’ worth abandoned or unclaimed assets including dormant accounts. In such situations, the State applies existing laws and regulations to protect the account, use it or reunite owners or their heirs with their assets when found.  
To go by the 2020 Investment Climate Statement, “the financial sector in Cameroon boasts of 15 banks, 26 insurance companies, a State pension fund, and a State mortgaged bank. In addition, the country has some 400 micro-finance institutions, a State-owned postal bank and a budding stock market based in Douala.” All of those money houses harbour thousands of dormant accounts with a mountain of cash.
Flowing from the Government’s announced intention in 2018 to close dormant accounts, a clear act in that direction has surfaced recently when the Allianz Cameroun insurance company transferred 3,523 dormant funds to the State through its “Caisse des Depots et Consignations” (CDEC), in other words; Deposits and Consignment Fund, amounting to FCFA 1,5 billion. Olivier Malatre, Allianz Cameroun’s General Manager, signed out the funds to Richard Evina Obam for CDEC. If the State evolves in that procedure, it would be unlocking the hidden potential of dormant bank accounts for public utility. Unclaimed bank accounts, also known as abandoned or inactive accounts, represent a significant untapped resource that has the potential to fuel development initiatives badly needed by the people. These accounts, typically characterised by extended periods of inactivity, hold idle funds that can be redirected towards supplying water, investing to improve electricity supply as well as completing visible and varied developmental projects across the country.
The move by Government seeks to explore strategies for accessing and mobilising the fallow-funds from banks to promote development and bring about positive change in society. Equally eye opening is the fact that the banks holding such dead accounts joyously loan the content out on interest rates and enrich their institutions while the State starves of cash to develop the nation. It seems now that things will not be the same again as banks have an enforceable duty this time to declare such wasting assets. It is understood that dormant bank accounts are money accounts that have remained unexploited for an extended period, often ranging from one to three years, depending on local laws. In many developed countries, an account suffers from such dormancy only after 10 or 15 years. Such accounts belong to individuals or groups whose owners have either forgotten about their existence, migrated to greener pastures or died without leaving behind any heirs or clear instructions for their use. While the funds in these accounts remain unclaimed, such can be used for productive purposes rather than being allowed to lie fallow.
Accessing dormant bank accounts for developmental purposes, however, requires a robust legal framework to protect the rights of the trio namely the account owner, the banking institution and the society at large. Public authorities and financial institutions should beneficially establish clear policies and ways to ensure transparency in identifying such accounts, accountability for their use, and the protection of privacy over money dealings. Ethical considerations should also be given due importance, with a focus on striking a balance between unlocking dormant funds for development and respecting the owners’ wishes over such money. 
To effectively identify dormant accounts and streamline the process of mobilising the funds, experts advise the establishment of a centralised database as key. The database should assemble information from all financial institutions, enabling authorities to trace and locate dormant...



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