Reflections on a Wandering Life.....

Saturday, March 09, 2013

Banking in China 

Oh, China! Sometimes you can be so inconvenient!

I went to the Bank of China today. I have a Great Wall credit card. It's a U.S. dollar credit card. My bill has my Chinese name at the top, but it gives me the amount in U.S. dollars. If I hand carry the bill to the bank, I can pay with RMB. Actually, I have to carry the bill to the bank, because there's no other way to pay it. There are no checking accounts in China so I can't write a check, and even if I could, I would be hesitant to do so because of the unreliability of the mail system in China. But there's another reason. Most of the time they don't send me a bill. Maybe two or three times a year I will get a bill in the mail. The rest of the time, I have to have them fax the bill to me. Sometimes I will get the bill very late after I have already paid it. Most of the time I never see it. What I usually do is to go to the bank and call them from there and then have them fax it to the bank's fax machine. It's a cumbersome process, but really the only option I have since post mail is so unreliable in China. Occasionally, they have told me they can't fax it to me, but I tell them there is no other option, since the mail system clearly does not work. So they always comply. It's a cumbersome, annoying system, but I have managed to live with it. Except this time. They told me they absolutely could not fax me the bill, but told they they had an "automatic" system. Their "automatic" system turned out to be a nightmare. It just didn't work. And the people trying to tell me how do use it didn't know anymore about it than I did. I went through it so many times with them, that in the end I was correcting them when they missed a step. This is not a complaint about poor training. I am talking about non-existent training. It was obvious that none of the head office staff in Shanghai that I talked to had ever once tried the procedure they were carelessly rattling off to me.

Fortunately, the lady at the Haidian branch was very helpful. She called the head office and actually worked through the automatic process with them. Not surprisingly, it didn't work. If she hadn't gone to bat for me, I am not sure what I would have done, but she stuck with the problem until she got my bill for me. What she finally ended up doing was to go upstairs and have them print one for me. I don't know why I can't just do that every time.

Several years ago, there was much talk about international banks being able to compete locally in China. But the day came and went without much fanfare. It may be technically legal now for foreign banks to compete, but there are still many obstacles. In one sense, there would have to be. There's just no way a non-citizen would put up with the exasperating inconvenience of a Chinese bank if there were any other option. It's strange too, because the local people at the bank I go to are always very helpful. They don't speak English, but that part doesn't bother me. This is China. If you need English, you need to go to the branch over by Tsinghua University where they have English speaking staff. I used to do that, but I hated it. Such an insufferably long wait. The Haidian Branch is much more efficient. And the language part is my responsibility, not theirs. Interestingly, when I call the head office in Shanghai to ask for my bill, they always ask me to wait for an English speaker. So language is not the issue at all. It's just that they don't like to be troubled with having to fax my bill to me. But what can I do? Is there anything more contradictory than a bank that insists that you pay your bill, but refuses to give it to you? It seems to me that they need to completely remodel their online banking system (which is essentially nonfunctional--I have never been able to get it to work) or clean up the postal system. Or get rid of the bosses in the head office who don't want to be bothered with the needs of customers. The contrast between them and the staff at the local bank couldn't be more extreme. I'm not sure why. My theory is that the local staff ore ordinary Chinese people hired from the public, because they're really nice, and the big shots in the central office are relatives of Party members. I don't know if that's true or not, but it sure seems like it.

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