Monday, May 26, 2008

The Perils of International Banking

Lots of people would believe that in this age of globalization, it would be easy for capital to move around. After all, with wire transfers, international networks, IBANs and SWIFT codes, one should be able to get access to his or her monies anywhere in the world, right?

If I had any illusions about that, they have all been shattered now. Over a month ago, I set up a bank account with Deutsche Bank. Now my co-workers had warned me that this was like asking for a permit to transfer nuclear weapons, and just as difficult. The process itself however, went smoothly for me, so I thought I'd skirted that particular bomb. At that time, I wanted to fund my bank account by writing a check. Oh no, said the bank representative. You don't want to do that. It's slow and would take forever. Better to use a wire transfer.

OK, my status with Vanguard was such that wire transfers were free anyway. So I worked through the details, including writing a paper letter, signing it, and getting it air-couriered to Vanguard. (Yes, there's a lot of safeguards in the process, so I wasn't worried about security) A few days later, the money was deducted from my Vanguard account.

2 weeks later, the money still had not showed up, so I asked Vanguard for a wire trace. Just 2 days ago, I got e-mail from Vanguard saying the Deutsche Bank had told them that my account did not exist. And get this --- at the same time I'd communicated with my Deutsche Bank representative, and they never got back to me. Not once! I went to the bank today in person to write a check to fund it. Again, I got that warning about speed. I told the representative: if I had written a check a month ago, I would have the money NOW.

And for all this lack of service, Deutsche Bank, like almost all other banks in Germany, charges 5 Euros a month, for an account that pays no interest. There's no consumer bank in the US that could survive doing business like that. (The bank that charges no fees is the Post Bank, but they don't have an English web-site, and when dealing with money, I want to be able to read every freaking word on the web page)

Now, in case you think I'm being an idiot, and am an out-lier, I checked with the office --- every prior transfer has had massive difficulties with the German financial system. 100%. No exceptions.

All this has taught me one thing: the USA still has the best financial infrastructure on the planet. It's no wonder the Chinese desperately want to give us their money, and it's no wonder everywhere else in the world wants to invest in the US. I take it for granted too often, but thank you Vanguard, Capital One, Wells Fargo, etc., etc. You guys work hard for my business, and I didn't know how good I had it until I had to deal with your foreign counter-parts.
Post a Comment