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Germany moves to ease banking access for people granted asylum

[FRANKFURT] Germany plans to ease the path for hundreds of thousands of people granted asylum in the country to set up bank accounts, while ensuring anti-money laundering measures remain in place, the head of financial watchdog Bafin said on Wednesday.

Bafin and the German finance ministry have worked to draw up draft changes to banking laws covering the documentation and procedures necessary for refugees, some 800,000 of whom are expected to seek asylum in Germany this year.

"We're going to allow banks to accept a broader spectrum of documents to open bank accounts," Felix Hufeld told Reuters on the sidelines of a banking conference.

"Banks need to have legal certainty about how they should work in achieving this balance between preventing money laundering and giving access to bank accounts," Mr Hufeld said.

Bafin issued temporary guidelines in August facilitating account openings by refugees, many who arrive without documentation such as passports and birth certificates. That has made it difficult for banks to comply with anti-money laundering measures that require them to verify account-holders'identities.

The savings bank sector, which is publicly owned or controlled, has been the first port of call for most new arrivals, partly because such lenders already provide services to recipients of social services, said Alexander von Schmettow, spokesman for the savings bank lobby group DSGV.

"They are our clients and our fellow citizens," Mr von Schmettow said. "It's not only an economic question, it's our moral duty. Sparkassen are not profit oriented and we would do this even if it was a loss-making proposition, but I can hardly imagine that to be the case."

Europe is struggling as its worst refugee crisis since World War Two polarises the 28-member EU, which has no effective system to cope with the arrival of hundreds of migrants.

In the community of Fulda in south-central Germany, the pace of account openings by refugees has risen rapidly in recent months, stretching some savings banks to their limits, said Wolfgang Goeb, head of the Fulda branch network.

"It's really hit us hard," Mr Goeb said on the sidelines of the conference. "These may not represent the most lucrative clients for a bank but I'm totally convinced that it is necessary to make this happen with the right policies."