Tuesday, December 20, 2011

I kind of imagine it as a 10 year old’s idea of a bank.

Banks here are very different from the US.

 If you don’t know what an American bank is, let me explain it to you:

 It is a place that you give your money to, so they can keep it safe and sound until you need to take out small amounts. But they won’t do that simple service for free. It’s actually kind of complicated. Quite often, as with my bank in the states, they like to charge you for things.

 They charge you if you don’t keep ENOUGH money in the bank. Like, they want you to keep a ton-o-cash in that account. You better keep that number above $5000 or else they will start taking out money. Just to say “hey we see you are poor with only $3000 to your name, but GUESS WHAT? We´re gonna just start skimming off ten dollars here and there as we please to make you feel even more poor!”

 Or they will charge you for too many withdrawals. Or too few. Or because they just want to see if you are even looking at your bank statements for random $10 service charges (Citibank, I am looking at YOU). 

However, banks in the US are good for a couple things:
1. Although they have “banker´s hours” they are open usually until 6pm and sometimes on Saturday mornings. Also, the tellers at the Chase bank branches in grocery stores tend to be open pretty late into the evening.
 2. They are all interconnected. You have an account at Bank of America? Well, you could go to a Bank of America in California and open a savings account. Or, while vacationing in Texas, tell a Bank of America teller to give you all of your cash from your account just because you want a huge stack of cash to spend. Or you could fly on over to New York and go into a Bank of America and be like “I want to get a Bank of America credit card because I like the idea of fees and debt!” You would (most likely) have no issues doing any of the above tasks.

 But banks here in Spain (or at least the one I encountered) don’t run like that at all. I’ll be more specific since I don’t want to generalize all of Spain’s banks here: opening an account to use with a debit card at Barclay’s bank is fairly simple.

 I kind of imagine it as a 10 year old’s idea of a bank. You put money in it, and when you want to take money out, you can. Until you run out, of course. But you can put money back in it so you don´t run out.

 That´s it.

 Nothing complicated. No minimum balance. I could open an account with ten dollars. And just keep it like that if I wanted. Then I could come back and be like “can you give me two dollars from my account?” and they would be like “here!” and give it to me. Then I could keep my remaining 8 dollars in my account until I feel bored, and then close the account because I want to buy a couple magazines.

Seriously. I asked the teller about a hundred times about minimum balances to avoid fees and she was like “seriously stop asking me the answer is there are no fees.” And no, you don’t have to set up a direct deposit into your account because you can’t avoid fees because THERE ARE NO FEES.

 Strange, I know. I was very confused. The drawbacks of banks here are the just what you would suspect from the aforementioned “benefits” of American banks:

 1. They aren’t open at convenient times. Do you work? That´s when the bank is open. Oh, you are on lunch break? They are too. You got the day off work? So did they. You’re free to run errands on a Saturday morning? So are they. Literally, any time you want to go to the bank, they are closed.

2. They aren´t interconnected. And no, I´m not talking about local banks here. I am talking about chains. There are chains of banks all throughout Spain, including Santander bank, La Caixa, BBVA, Barclay´s, etc. But if I open an account at La Caixa in Madrid, I can´t go over to Barcelona and be like “Oh hey, can you give me a credit card?” If you were to move in Spain, you would have to close your account with that bank and take out all your money and re-open an account in your new home city. Even if it were THE SAME EXACT BANK. Maybe that´s why Spaniards tend to stay in the same town for their whole lives: bank inconvenience.

 But one of the good things is that you can have a debit card at Barclays but draw out cash from any bank in the ServiRed network, which includes Santander, La Caixa, and others, for no additional fee. So you could walk down the street to buy some ingredients for your dinner and draw out cash at some random ATM that doesn´t belong to your bank but does belong to ServiRed and you´d have no problem at all.

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