Chandra Dhakal: The man who introduced ‘money transfer’ in Nepal

Cremating his deceased father on the banks of the Kaligandaki, 16-year-old Chandra Prasad Dhakal felt his dream of a bright future burn to ashes. With his father gone, new responsibilities awaited. In the absence of the family’s breadwinner, he had to take care of his mother and younger siblings.

“Life does not move as you wish,” Dhakal, one of the leading businesspersons in the country, shares the lesson of his life. “But, if you can double up your planning with hard work and courage, you can achieve the unimaginable.”

Dhakal’s brainchild IME Group, which has been running one of the biggest money transfer businesses in Nepal for over two decades, has proven to be a lifeline for thousands of Nepali families that rely on the money sent by their relatives working abroad. The Vice-President of the Federation of Nepalese Chambers of Commerce and Industry, Dhakal never forgets that his arduous past is the foundation of his success today. “The foundation stone to my success is in Amalachaur,” he remembers his birthplace in Baglung, a hilly district in Gandaki province.

The ‘happiness’ mission

Dhakal was born to a lower-middle-class family. His childhood was not different from that of other children in the countryside. He had to spend hours to collect fodder for cattle and firewood for the kitchen. His trouble had multiplied with the father’s death.

Dhakal did not have anything except hard work to overcome the challenges. But, it was not enough for him to pass the final secondary (SLC) examinations; he failed to get through the ‘iron gate’. However, he did not deviate from his duty because he had to make sure that his ageing mom and the younger siblings would not suffer the ordeal of life. “During those years, I was not concerned about the success I have now achieved. I was focused on educating my siblings, and protect the family from any kind of unhappiness,” he says, “The only aim of my life was to make them happy. I left the village for Kathmandu with that mission.”

The urban struggle

But, life is Kathmandu was also not easy either. Dhakal was studying and working at the same time, and striking a balance was challenging. He had only one weapon to defeat that challenge: hard work. In Kathmandu, Dhakal worked for Swastik Heritage, a distributor of Pepsi. Besides covering his daily expenses, he also had to send a sum to his home in Baglung every month.

Later Dhakal passed the SLC exam and applied for the position of assistant accountant at Rastriya Banijya Bank. After working there for four years, he decided to launch his own business. In the early 1990s, he established a cold store before trying his hands in the cargo business. By then, Dhakal had already brought his younger brother, Ramu, to Kathmandu to support him. The Dhakal brothers fell short of around 1.2 million rupees to extend their business. Therefore, Chandra submitted a loan application to the bank that he was working for. He was sure that the bank’s policy would not create obstacles, but his boss said the bank could not invest in the business of its own staff. After the deal failed, an angry Dhakal wrote his resignation letter in front of the hostile boss immediately and quit his job.

The current chairman of Global IME Bank Limited, Dhakal thinks that his decision was right. “It involved so many risks, but I never regretted making that decision.”

One Friday afternoon in 1990s, the Dhakal brothers were heading towards the Kathmandu airport on a motorcycle. After they crossed the Bagmati at Tilganga, their motorbike hit a herd of chyangras, which the traders had brought to Kathmandu for the upcoming Dashain festival. Both the brothers sustained injuries in the accident, but instead of going to a nearby hospital, they got back to the bike and headed towards the airport, because they had a few minutes left before the customs office would close the business. Only in the late evening, they went to the hospital. This incident shows why the Dhakal brothers have attained the peak of the commercial success in a short span of time.

A foreign employment returnee

While Dhakal was doing good in the cargo business here, the market of Nepali carpets and garments was expanding in the United States. He also developed a desire to go to the US to expand his cargo business there. Later, one of his neighbours in Baglung advised him to go to Japan before the US. Dhakal obeyed him and worked at a Japanese publication for 10 months.

Dhakal earned some money in Japan as his brother oversaw their businesses in Nepal. After 10 months, the two brothers decided to switch the roles. Chandra ditched his US dream, came back to Nepal and expanded the service of International Money Exchange that the two brothers had established a few months ago. Before that time, Nepali overseas workers did not have any formal medium to send their earning to the family. Many workers had been cheated by illegal hundi operators. Therefore, while working in Japan, Dhakal had vowed to solve this problem.

Synonym for remittance transfer

In 2001, the government decided to allow Nepalis to go to Malaysia for work. In the first year since opening, thousands of Nepalis joined various Malaysian companies. Consequently, the number of workers falling victim to the hundi trap increased and it had left Nepal Rastra Bank concerned.

A strategic Dhakal then thought that it could be an opportunity to expand his business further. Therefore, he submitted a proposal to the central bank, suggesting his company International Money Exchange (IME) be allowed to facilitate the remittance transfer process for overseas Nepali workers. The bank under the leadership of then-governor Tilak Rawal easily accepted the proposal.

“We also obtained a permit from the Malaysian central bank and established our centre at four to five places there,” he says, “We made sure that our customers in Kathmandu, Pokhara and other major cities receive the money sent by their families within 24 hours.” Dhakal remembers that he had to struggle to make the workers aware of the money transfer process. However, IME soon became a brand due to its quality service.

In the following years, the number of Nepalis migrating to Malaysia for work grew. So did the IME.

“The Malaysian government trusted us so much that it did not give a permit to any other company to transfer the remittance for next five years,” he says, “It compelled us to expand our business throughout Malaysia.”

Currently, IME is operational in all the countries that host Nepali workers. It has become a synonym for the ‘money transfer’ business in Nepal as many people use ‘IME’ as a verb [Workers ‘IME’ the money, and money transfer businesses need to obtain an ‘IME’ licence from the central bank!].

With the rise of IME and its successors, the illegal transfer of money has almost ended in the country. The IME had begun its operation with around Rs 50,000, currently, it handles 25 to 30 per cent of the country’s remittance.

Towards a new journey

With the success of the IME, Dhakal brothers established a finance company. Soon they realised its limitations, hence merged the company with a commercial bank. Now, he is the chair of the merged Global IME Bank. Soon, Janata Bank Limited is also entering into a merger with Global IME. Dhakal’s group has also invested in tourism, energy and automobile sectors. “We lie between two big markets of India and China,” he says, “We are now planning to expand our investment in productive industries.”

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