a fool’s tale of international banking

March 10th, 2009 Comments Off on a fool’s tale of international banking

first task on my recent move to NYC was finding an apartment, which me and my girlfriend performed really well at – three days to fly-in, search, decide, move. it was a complex multi-variant decision process that involved a lot of walking and interacting. I don’t think we could have done it faster.
next task was paying the rent. sounds trivial, specially in this digital age and in this most-advanced country in the world, right?
well, the landlady wanted me to pay with a ‘certified cheque‘, which for us, being from Euprope where we banned bank cheques decades ago, was (a) unknown concept and (b) obsolete concept. but the affirmative nodding that accompanied the instruction scared us, and we really only wanted to cook a homey dinner.

Image by Getty Images via Daylife

so, since I own a HSBC.UK account, i figured: they claim to be the world’s local bank, for sure they’ve solved this problem. and I went to ask what this cheque thing is.

  • they said no problem, you give us cash, we give you piece of paper, and we’re done.
  • but I don’t want to carry thousands of dollars around, can you take it of my hsbc.uk account?
  • no.
  • mhm. so what now?
  • can’t do it, sorry, goodbye.

… felt strange. there must be more to international banking than this. so I walked half the town again, to another branch. their answer was different:

  • sure, you open US bank account with us, order money transfer, when it lands we can give you all the cheques you want. oh, and would you consider paying extra for our premium account?
  • mhm, wait, what do you mean ‘when’ it lands?
  • well, we are just the receiving end, it’s up to your UK branch to send it.
  • ok, ok, let’s open this account and i’ll call my branch to check.

… so we did, and in that 1 hour that it took to fill out all the papers i’ve learned that it can take up to 4 business days to wire the money. and i was ordering it on friday afternoon, which meant my landlady could be waiting for the cheque 6 days, because i had money transfered from hsbc to hsbc!
well, it couldn’t be helped, i emptied out ATMs and collected everything we had on us to at least pay the security. we moved in, cooked a tea and chilled. and then it hit me:
why haven’t I simply wired the money to her directly?

I could simply print out a confirmation of transaction and save us both the trip to the bank. well, to be honest, it is because she wanted it so, and that’s simply due to an obsolete custom of banking with pieces of paper.
the moral of the story: never listen to instructions, they are usualy not optimal. think outside other people’s boxes.

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