For years I’ve been coming to Ireland on a cash basis – changing dollars to punts or euros. Now that I’m here for good, I thought it would be nice to have a local bank account. I dealt with a friendly banker, with an efficient banker, and with one who was both friendly and efficient. It took me a while, but I finally found one that’s “just right.”
Fallout from the crash of the Celtic Tiger has swung the pendulum from “if you can breathe we’ll throw money at you” to an autistic fill-in-the blanks approach to things. I’m used to dealing with this in America, where bankers roll their eyeballs when I tell them I’m self-employed and don’t use the tax forms they’re used to seeing. But I’ve never seen it to the extent I’ve seen it here. It reminds me of the post-colonial systems common in third-world countries, where bureaucracy and its navigation has been raised to an art form. Just when you think you’ve jumped through every flaming hoop, you find there are more in front of you. Think of Kafka writing One Hundred Years of Solitude, edited by Stanislaw Lem on acid.
An Irish court recently dropped charges against a woman accused of creating a counterfeit bank statement. The information she used was all accurate, but she couldn’t get a statement from the bank in a timely manner for a deadline she was working on.
Anyway, Bank A’s branch is around the corner. I walked in and a friendly man told me he couldn’t help me because branches no longer have authority to do anything. Now that we’re living in the Celtic Tiger’s litter box, everything’s to be approved in Dublin. Among other things, I’d need very specific proof of residence, the best being a utility bill. Also, everything needed to match: not JP on one form and James P and Jim and James Patrick on others. Every ID I used must be exactly the same – sort of like trying to vote in the US. I even had to re-do my lease to keep things consistent. God knows what women do if they get married and decide to change or hyphenate their name. Anyway, this old-time banker is a wonderful man and we stood there and traded stories until somebody got in line behind me.
While I had a wonderful time with the friendly banker at Bank A, I decided to try Bank B, since their ATM’s have always given me fractionally more on the exchange rate. Got the same story, but in a very businesslike manner. After less than two minutes we realized that I needed to come back with my electric bill. The “welcome” letter from Electric Ireland wasn’t enough for his bank, either.
So I called Electric Ireland, the first of many calls. I’ve done it so many times I don’t need to listen to the “Press 1 for…” recording anymore. I just zip through the menu to get to a real person. She said sure, they’ll send me a bill.
So a few days later I walked back to Bank A and spoke with a woman who had the charm of her coworker and the efficiency of their competitor. She said everything was in order, gave me an account number and said my ATM card would be posted within the week. I went online over the weekend to start setting up auto-debits and got locked out. Monday morning the same woman began muttering as she grimaced at her screen. Dublin told her I needed a second electric bill and to practice jumping through a few more hoops.
I decided Bank B trained their people better.
Called Electric Ireland again. No problem. Take another reading and we’ll send you another bill.
Two days later, two bills in hand, I went in to Bank B. Sitting across a desk from a banker, we traded a couple of stories and got to work. Everything went smoothly, particularly since I now had all my paperwork in place. Oh, and to get a charge card, I’d need to show them six months of charge card and bank statements. No, not the business ones, just the personal ones. So, sitting there in his office I constipated his computer by sending him pdf’s of six months of paperwork for two cards and two bank accounts. Seriously, my email was returned because he didn’t have enough capacity. We cleared that up – and then, in a country renowned for its computer prowess, he began to print out everything I’d just sent him, because his Dublin bean-counters insist on hard copies. This, along with many other misadventures over the two-month process, has led me to envision a huge hall full of Dickensian people working at desks smothered with overflowing in and out baskets. While his printer was cranking away he went to finish things for my account. He returned and told me he couldn’t open an account because the electric bill said past due. I said that I’d only been in town a couple of weeks and couldn’t set up the auto-pay with Electric Ireland until I had a bank account. Electric Ireland’s phone reps had already told me to ignore the past due notices on their invoices, since it appears on bills that don’t have auto-pay. The notice was standard because it included a deposit that nobody ever pays. They never told that to the bankers.
Sitting there in his office I went online and paid everything from my charge card. But his boss said I still needed a formal invoice from them, not just a zero balance online. We rolled our eyes in unison and I said that I’d be back. He said he save all the paperwork.
Electric Ireland – can’t send me another bill because I’ve already had two readings this week. I’ll send another one in a couple of days so they can send me my third bill of the month, showing me fully paid up.
Everyone I spoke with was friendly – all with the “only following orders” approach that allows them to say no, but not yes. Guess that’s the penalty Irish bankers are paying for not knowing how to say no for those few shining years.
But they’re good people, bless their hearts.
Do bankers have hearts? The two with hearts had no support from their corporate heads. The third used his head to tell me things he thought I’d want to hear – and had the sense to laugh along with me at every frustrating step in the two month process of opening an account. I’ve always learned to under-promise and over-deliver. The attitude here is to tell people what you think they want to hear, then go ahead at whatever pace works for you, not them. Reminds me of years of dealing with building tradesmen in America.
Oh well, if I’d just changed my name to [insert big business name here], this could be my song –