Saturday, 15 March 2008

International Banking

As the owners of property in two countries and residing in a third, we have bank accounts in three countries with three different currencies. This may sound frightfully glamorous and jetsetting, but what it actually gives you is a recipe for frying your brain. I'm sure it would be fine if we were rich enough to not have to worry about the cost of anything, but as it is, our meagre supply of cash never seems to be in the country we want to spend it. The internet has helped a lot of course, so we can go online and view our accounts to our hearts content, and even shuffle money around within countries. But transferring funds internationally is still an expensive and head spinning palaver. In order to reduce the expense, we use a currency exchange company.

To transfer money I telephone the currency exchange company, agree a rate and verbally agree a contract for them to purchase the desired currency. I then have three days to cough up the dough in the 'unwanted' currency. If it is coming from Australia, this involves faxing the bank with the request. They then ring me at 6am(!!!) my time the next morning and chirrup in a relaxed Aussie way at me while we establish my bona fides and agree that the transfer is to go ahead. Then the money is transferred to the currency exchange company, who in due course deposit it in with either our UK or French bank, in the appropriate currency.The whole process takes about a week, and the description above is a somewhat idealised précis of the experience and doesn't give any idea of the frustrations involved. Trying to work out what pounds are worth in euros is bad enough, but trying to remember the AUD equivalent as well is just too much. All I really know for sure is we don't have enough, and I don't know where it goes!

Each of the institutions I deal with has a different set of procedures and a different style of customer service, which all adds to the brain scrambling at my end. For one I have a 6 digit password that can be any conformation I like, for another, an 8 digit password that must contain both numbers and letters, for one I have a 14!! digit password. For two of the banks I need more than one password to do certain transactions...and I am expected to keep all these passwords a deadly secret and not write them down anywhere!

If I ring my UK bank I get to speak to someone in India. They are excruciatingly polite, but incapable of diverging from their script, so often do not help as much as they could. The staff at my Australian bank are based in the Head Office of an institution that until recently I would have compared to Northern Rock in the UK. They are locals and have the confidence of the well trained. I am generally thoroughly charmed and impressed by their manner and helpfulness, even when they tell me that what I want to do will take more time and cost more than I think is strictly necessary. The UK based currency exchange has similarly well trained staff in the main. In France, the staff are charming also, but my lack of French is very apparent on the telephone, and visiting the bank in person is usually the only option. Here they are friendly, pleasant, amused by my French, but we sort things out in the end. Plus, we then exchange friendly greetings when we run into each other at lunchtime in l'Image.


My method of dealing with exchange rates is more relaxed:

There are 1½ Australian Dollars to the Euro.
There are 2½ Australian Dollars to the Pound.
There are 1½ Euro to the Pound.

These figures are, of course, really rough. The real exchange rates change every day, but as you never get the exchange rate quoted in a newspaper or online they give you a figure you can work out guesstimates with. At the moment the Australian dollar is quite strong, so when we bring money over we get a little bonus. Assuming we have some Australian money............

And, of course, if all else fails, Susan is really good at sorting stuff out :¬)



wcs said...

Ken and I have, unfortunately at the moment, our funds in US dollars.

We, too, do the currency exchange shuffle a couple times a year and every time the exchange rate is worse.

Of late, we've been using the kind of third party exchange company that you described - and they're located in the UK! They're very polite, as are the folks at the French bank (ours is the same one you pictured, in fact).

Susan said...

Hi Walt

Welcome to our little home away from home.

I don't envy anyone with US dollars at the moment. Having lived with an Australian dollar that wasn't worth two flat rocks in the past I know exactly how it feels.

The Aussie dollar is doing well at the moment - but running true to form we haven't got any to exchange!!


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