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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Rubles Return to City Cash Machines




When the ruble began to slide and banks to crash last month, Russians and expatriates holding credit cards or debit cards found themselves suddenly unable to get their money. Now, as Russia plods through the seventh week of economic crisis, rubles are again easy to come by at many Moscow banks and some ATMs.


U.S. dollars and other hard currencies, however f which are more reliable holders of value, and so popular for paying apartment rents and making other large purchases f remain much more difficult to get hold of. And bankomaty, or automatic teller machines, remain fickle: Though most now offer rubles, they are often stocked with miserly amounts that quickly run out, particularly on weekends.


There are no known automatic teller machines in Moscow that will dispense U.S. dollars f although a handful of banks will provide dollar advances at a teller's window for holders of credit or debit cards. The teller's window, however, will be of no help to those who prefer to use simple ATM cards tied to an account in a foreign bank f such cash card holders remain very much at the mercy of the machines.


Holders of American Express cards can use the ATM at American Express' office at 21A Sadovaya Kudrinskaya.


For others, one place where dollars can be found is DialogBank, which offers hard- currency cash advances on foreign-issued credit cards at a commission rate of 5 percent. The daily limit is $1,000. DialogBank's six cash machines stock only rubles, however.


Another source of dollar advances is Russky Mezhdunarodny, located at 24 Kutuzovsky Prospekt. The bank gives hard currency advances of up to $2,000 at a rate of 3 percent.


Sovinbank, which operates a small currency exchange booth in the lobby of the Radisson Slavjanskaya Hotel, is also prepared to extend currency advances on credit cards f for those desperate enough to pay their hefty 20 percent commission.


Those places are generally exceptions, however. Most Russian banks do not want to part with their greenbacks and instead offer rubles only. Some major banks still offer no cash advances at all f neither rubles nor dollars f including Bank of Moscow and MOST-Bank. Bank of Moscow limits cash withdrawals from its ATMs to its own customers. Others, such as SBS-Agro, apparently offer rubles at cash machines f although SBS-Agro officials could not be reached for comment Friday, and their machines are as quick to run out of rubles as any.


Alfa-Bank appears to be one of the most reliable places in town for ruble advances: Its branches always have enough rubles on hand and the commission is only 1 percent. The bank also has 35 ATMs in Moscow, which do not charge a commission but offer only rubles.


Vladimir Izutin, who works in Alfa-Bank's retail operations department, expects the bank may soon be able to again handle hard-currency operations as well.


"The situation with hard currency is improving each week," he said.


Menatep offers both ruble and dollar advances at 1 percent f but one can never be certain if a given branch on a given day will possess sufficient cash.


"These operations haven't been annulled," said Pavel Yerasov, a spokesman for the bank, "but it depends upon whether the branch has the money." The only way to be sure, Yerasov said, is to call the branch in advance.


State-owned Sberbank, which has long dominated the retail banking business in Russia and now has a virtual monopoly, can be found in every neighborhood and will advance rubles on foreign-issued plastic at a rate of 3 percent. Since January, however, Sberbank has halted hard currency advances.


A Russian bank that offers a ruble advance against a foreign credit card bills a credit card processing center, such as Europay International, which services MasterCard and Eurocard in Russia. It can take up to five days for Europay to pay out on that order for money. If the ruble drops against the dollar in that time, the winnings are passed on to the card-holder; if the ruble strengthens, the losses are passed on.


But banks that handle ruble advances do not win or lose at all: They get back exactly as many rubles as they pay out.


Instead, go-between agencies that link Russian banks to European processing centers f such as Uneximbank-owned United Card Service f shoulder the risks and rewards of playing the exchange rates, said Vera Lobanova, financial director at United Card Service. In other words, if the card-holder wins on an exchange rate conversion, it is at the expense of United Card Service.