It’s crass to talk about money.
Which I find a bit foolish, because what takes up so much of our thoughts and worries? I’m sure if our thoughts and worries were presented in pie chart form, it’d average to look something like this:
With adjustments for individual variations, of course. Some of you might have so much money you don’t give it any thought. Some of you may work a job or attend a school that consumes significantly less of a percentage of your thinking time than getting laid. Whatever, this is not a scientific measurement, it is pure conjecture of mental priorities.
Anyway. In this entry, I shall be crass and American and talk about funds.
Believe it or not, I’m actually quite good with money. I was reflecting on this recently, wondering how the hell that happened considering how blatantly I ignored my father’s attempts to force me to save my childhood allowance. Up until recently, I’ve only over withdrawn my account once and that was because a shop charged me twice by accident when I used my debit card to pay for something. After that, I started using my credit card for just about everything and paying it off every month. One bill, one account to actually worry about and no interest rate because I paid it off every month. Plus, this system racked up awards rather nicely, not to mention doing wonders for my credit score.
But it doesn’t work in the UK.
Banking is one of the places where I notice the cultural difference the most. It’s also where I find it the most frustrating, because it can potentially be the most detrimental.
Here, credit cards are rare and the system for accepting charge is different. Most people use debit cards with a chip in them – a chip that none of the US accounts I know of use. If you’re at a pub or a shop, you’ll input the card into the machine, then input your PIN number. If you are using a US card without a chip, if you’re lucky they will know how to handle “swipey cards.”
(Bartender: “I don’t know how to do swipey cards.”)
Then they swipe it and they will actually check your signature, which is not inherently a bad thing. It is irritating, however, when they don’t believe you’re you because you sign it “[First, Middle Initials] [Last name]” instead of your full legal name. This was, for the record, after they had already carded me for an item that you have to be sixteen years old to purchase. So I’d already shown them an ID and they were still questioning my identity.
I suppose, over all, it’s a good thing that the culture here does not rely on credit cards as much as they do in the United States. When a British friend stares at you, confused that the card you just used is not actually linked to real cash but instead linked to a line of credit, this can bode nothing but good things for the debt situation of the individual British citizen.
But, to the banks. It took me over a month to get my online access to my chequeing account set up. In the meantime, I moved, so I went into the bank to change my address. She handed me a handwritten form. I’m not joking. Someone had handwritten this form and then photocopied it. Then she didn’t even update my address, so two weeks later I had to go back in and spend forty minutes in the bank talking both to a bank representative on the phone and the teller to get my addresses updated.
In the United States, when you deposit a check into my (free!) checking account, you insert it directly into the ATM machine. The machine scans your check and emails you a receipt, which includes a copy of that check. They’ll usually let you access a portion of that cheque until it clears, which is rarely more than 2-3 business days.
In the United Kingdom, you handwrite all your account information on both a receipt and the deposit form. When they take your deposit to your (very much not free) account, the only receipt you get is one you’ve written yourself. (Do they not have people accidentally writing the wrong account number down on the slip all the time? I get so paranoid about that and worry that they’ll take a cheque that represents ALL OF MY POOR STUDENT MONEY and deposit it into someone else’s account.) You physically stand in line. You hand it to the teller, who confirms the amount and stamps you slip. It then takes 5 business days, or one week to clear a cheque.
In the meantime, it will show up on your account, taunting you. Your account balance will include the amount of the cheque itself. It’s only if you click through several pages of the online system where you notice that no, actually, you have no money. Not only do you have no money, but because you thought you had money, as indicated by reading your bloody account balance, you now owe something stupid in overwithdrawn charges.
And then there’s the whole system of currency exchange. In our gloablized world, with so many transnational executives, students, diplomats, whathaveyou, it is absolutely ridiculous how long it takes to transfer funds between international accounts. Or how much it costs. How much money do I loose to the ether of exchange rates and transfer fees? I should be able to go to any bank, anywhere in the world, give them the account information to an international account and say: “Please transfer funds here without asking for my first born child.” That’s not possible though, so every time you have to get money from bank account A it involves transferring it to bank account B (because A doesn’t do international transfers) and then transfer it to bank account C in the other country. Or maneuver paypal to the best of your abilities. However you do it, it’s a pain in the ass. You get as good as you can at limiting or managing these fees. You get creative – how can you do this and pay the least possible amount in fees? But it really should not be this difficult or expensive. Money in a digital world is the same as other digital information: a series of binary information that means something because we give it meaning. Numbers on a screen that sometimes, but doesn’t have to, transfer into hard cash. Hard cash is an outdated concept, anyway. Banks (at least in developed countries) need to catch up with this.
In the meantime, I am supplementing my degree in Creative Financial Management with a Certificate in International Banking Bull Shit.
This is, unfortunately, a program without a professor, syllabus/guide, or an end date on the horizon.