Thursday, September 9, 2010

Smoke and Mirrors: Why I Hate Banks

Mom and Dad taught me while I was growing up that hate is a very strong word, and that I should not use it lightly. Well, I have thought seriously about it for ~30 minutes, and I am now convinced that I am not making light of the term. I stand by these statements with somber conviction. This is not a rant.

According to Google's 'define' function, hate means:

"The emotion of intense dislike; a feeling of dislike so strong that it demands action."

Well, the action I have chosen this time is a blog post, hopefully leading to a little more awareness, and some bad PR for the objects of my hate.

As we have blogged before, we have been having considerable trouble getting Dutch bank accounts, as we have been trying to do nearly since we got here. We care so much about accounts because we are required to have a Dutch bank account before we can get a cell phone contract, and we are really hurting without any type of Dutch phone. We were told by the International Office that we would not be able to get a bank account until we had student ID's, or the papers we got the Friday before last, vouching that we will eventually get student ID's. The first thing we did the following Monday was go to Rabobank, chosen arbitrarily because they are the most prominent looking of the large banks on Nijmegen's massive central round-a-bout. We waited in the physically-short 'Student Accounts' line for 10-15 minutes before finally being addressed, told that we would not be able to create an account right now, and scheduled for a 6:00PM Wednesday appointment. So, condemned to wander unconnected a few days longer, we left in good spirits, thinking of Thursday morning, with visions of cell phones dancing in our heads.

So, Wednesday evening rolls around agonizingly slowly, and we make our meet. We have to enter via a small side door, as the bank is closed for regular business. We tell the guy in the suite about our situation and that we wanted to open an account, which he should have heard as:

'I want to give you money so you can invest it in sketchy business models developed by Ph.Ds of Mathematics. You will make about 6-7%, but you only need to give me around 1%. I only do this because I am forced to by my micro-economic system, but thats cool, I just really need an account.'

He politely told us that it would not be possible, basically saying:

'You're only going to be here for a year, and you are students so you don't have much money, so I don't really care about you. Humm, how can I reject you? You have every kind of identification paper I know of, from passports to immunization records, so check the creativity bonus for this one: your official, stamped paper from your University saying that you are a student, residing here, and pending a Visa, and that the University guarantees financially that you will get one is not good enough. You must have an actual Visa, which I know could take up to 3 months. BOOYAH!! Oh yeah, by the way, it's an official policy and my hands are tied, all of the other banks have the same policy.'

I argued our point, told him why we needed an account soon, told him why we are required to have an account by the end of September. But, as always when it comes to banks, you don't have any real power. If you want to live in the modern world, you minimally have to have a savings account. The only substantial choice is which billionaires you want to make richer.

So, we leave again, defeated, but still optimistic. We incorrectly believed that we would be getting our Visas the upcoming Wednesday (we are on this week now) when we meet with the Stadswinkel, the Dutch immigration authority. In reality we are told that it would be anywhere from 2 weeks to 3 months before we would receive our actual Visas. Incidentally, the lady we met with had no idea why the bank wanted a Visa. She had never heard of any bank requiring a Visa, and told us again that our letters from the University would be fine. Two other American students confirmed this, saying they had got bank accounts at ING and Rabobank without a Visa.

Today we marched out again, this time fully informed, to take from the banks what, in a rational, consistent system, they should be pleading with us to accept. First stop was ABN AMRO, another of the large banks in the central round-a-bout. We didn't even make it past the first, seemingly totally untrained, lady. If we had of been in the States, I would have accepted that she had no idea what she was talking about and moved on to someone else. Here, I'm not sure if that is appropriate, so with a massive round-a-bout full of other banks and time in short supply, we decided to try another. A quick search and 30 second bike ride later we found ING, another bank at which we know many international students have successfully gotten accounts. Closed. We had been recommended to try Rabobank again, as they have historically been the most international student friendly, and they where open until 8:00PM, so we gave it another shot.

30 minutes later we were in front of another suit's desk, this time female. She seemed totally cool with our paperwork and lack of Visas, but manged to successfully turn us away again! In her thoughts:

'Its 5:30PM now, and we close at 8:00PM. These two will not require identically the same series of inane data entry I do all day, so I really don't want to deal with them. I'll just give them an appointment and let someone else deal with them.'

In words, she offers no explanation as to why we could not possibly get an account in the next two and half hours. She just takes it as an assumption that she is not going to work with us, and moves on from there with the appointment scheduling.

'No appointments available Friday, how about Saturday at 10:00AM? Going to be in Germany you say? Ok, how about Monday? Don't want to wait that long? Really need one soon? Yes, you can just walk in tomorrow. Yeah, anyone sitting in these seats (motions to her seat and the three around her) will be able to help you setup an account.'

What is her job anyway?! People go through the process to get a bank account, the process she tells people to do, ending in her suit-desk, like she said it would, but if she does not feel like it she just kicks them to rung zero? Is this real!? Dutch students are getting bank accounts at the desks all around us. She has two and a half hours. You would only need a few 100 million monkeys smashing on a few 100 million keyboards to setup a bank account in two and a half hours!! (?) But, because we have truly no other option, we are going to go try once again to give them money in the morning. Banks are not members of a free market!! For a free market to be real, you have to have a real choice. Sure, they definitely offer some random free junk when (Dutch) students sign up, and yes, they sometimes have very small differences in how little of a pittance they give back to you, but those aren't choices, just slightly more clever smoke and mirrors.


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