Friday, December 23, 2011

A cash-strapped Christmas

There is never a good time to lose your bank card. Especially in China, where replacing one is an absurd and galling rigmarole. But Christmas - a time of no work and much partying and heavy cash expenditure - is probably just about the very worst time for that to happen.

So, yes, I know, it's my own stupid fault.

At the Bank of China, you have to pay a 15 rmb administration charge to get a new card issued - a trivial amount, but irritating nonetheless. What's more annoying is that they insist you pay in cash; for some reason, they can't just deduct it from your account balance. This could be mightily inconvenient if you happen to have lost your wallet as well as your bank card, but fortunately I hadn't. It is mightily inconvenient for the bank, too, since people carry mostly wads of 100rmb notes, and are going to be asking for lots of small change back.

Then you have to wait 10 to 12 days for your new card to be issued. What the hell???
When you open a new account, they give you a card immediately; every bank clerk has a stack of them under the counter. Chinese bank cards aren't personalised in any way: they're not printed with your name, or any number specifically connected to your account. So, assigning a given card to someone's account is all done on the computer. A new card could therefore be issued on the spot. Even if cards had to be individually crafted from fine jade and engraved with a unicorn's horn, you'd think they'd be able to turn one out for you in 3 or 4 days. Two weeks??!!

Ah, but the icing on the cake is this: while you are waiting for your new bank card to be issued and activated, your account is completely frozen - you can't even take money out using your pass-book. (I'm not sure if it's 'frozen' against inpayments as well; but, this being China, it very well might be!)

The only positive element of this latest bank experience of mine was that the clerk who served me was astute enough to point out that my bank account would be useless until some time in January before she filed my 'lost card' notice. If she hadn't done that, I really would be having a Pot Noodle Christmas. I think I got very lucky there.

I think a Chinese banks are CRAP! series may be appearing on here in the New Year.


John said...

I lost my card here recently. I was able to cancel the old one at the bank immediately and it was free to have it replaced. The new card arrived about a week later with its PIN separately the day before. Also, if you are with a certain bank here (I forget which) you can still use an ATM to access your money should you lose your card.
I've heard China bank horror stories from Chinese friends (when I used to chat online with them)- such things as having to return to their home town (a journey of several 100 miles) in order to replace their card etc. I don't know much about the banking sector (although I understood she banked with the main one there) but I assume Communist state = state owned banks. Even if that isn't the case, when I suggested she switch banks to the competition she more or less told me there was no such thing.
Socialism (to use a blanket term when one should not be used!) or Capitalism, both have their criticisms but to be in the space in the middle must be the most frustrating thing ever.
Anyway, hope you're able to have a good Christmas none the less Froog; I expect friends will be just fine with the odd IOU here and there. Money and luck haven't exactly seen eye to eye recently for you have they? I suggest a New Year's resolution of adopting a system of bartering and trades; makes more sense than money in China.

Froog said...

Status of Chinese banks is a bit of a grey area, I think. Most of them are still SOEs, but increasingly independent - and some of the larger ones have been courting partnerships with international banks and launching IPOs. Even though they're increasingly trying to operate as normal businesses (insofar as banks ever do - ha!), they are all still ultimately underwritten by the government. The whole economic miracle here has been built on soft loans, and I don't think anyone has any real idea of how much of that has been surreptitiously written off, or will have to be over the next few years.

As with most things in China, there's a bewildering multiplicity of different operators in the sector, and a crude classification into 'tiers'. I worked with someone in one of the 1st tier banks a year or two back, and asked that question you're not supposed to ask about whether she thought the government here would ever allow one of banks to go under. "Oh, no," she said,"Not one of the top tier banks. The second or third tier... maybe..."

JES said...

Like John, above, I do worry about the run of bad luck you've had in the last few weeks. Dark forces seem to be conspiring against you, maybe trying to convert you from your philosophically erroneous capitalist nature.

I hadn't thought to suggest the barter-and-trade option, though. Points to John for that one.

Froog said...

I grow impatient with money: it's so depersonalising. I think I'd enjoy a return to medieval simplicity: you spend a couple of hours chopping wood, and the grateful innkeeper gives you a hearty meal and a flagon of homemade cider.

John said...

But knowing that guy he'll have overcharged you by a few sticks. ;)

JES said...

Or, knowing Froog's luck of late, the head would fly off the ax and into a deep river.

Froog said...

I've had the head of a hammer fly off the shaft and hit me in the eye.

But that's Chinese hammers for you. Why would you attach the head to the shaft? You don't want a tool that's functional and safe, do you?? Well, that will cost you extra.