Two days into my new teaching job in Spain, and at mid-morning during the teachers’ planning day in school, I went down the road to the local branch of Caixa Catalunya – the Catalan bank – to see if I could open an account.
At the end of the month I will be paid in Euros and the enormous amount of fuss and expense involved in paying that into a Barclays bank account, also losing on the conversion into Sterling, doesn’t bear thinking about! On the other hand – just as I was dreading the visit to the Policia Nacional after dealing with the Gestapo-like CRB in England (see earlier post) but they turned out to be very pleasant – I was also ready for another experience of having obstacles placed before me in opening a bank account, as happens in England these days. It seems that opening a bank account in England mainly involves proving you are who you say you are, demonstrating you will not be using the account for money-laundering, and begging the bank to take you seriously as a customer because you’ll bring in enough money to make it worth their while. All the time they regard you as someone who will eventually be begging them for credit and therefore little more than the “poor man at the gate”.
If you are lucky to have all the right paperwork, opening an account takes at least several days and the various bits of paper, cards etc., arrive in dribs and drabs through the post (for ‘security reasons’ of course, and all this is in your interest). Once you have opened your account, you will thereafter never speak to an employee again but will try and make yourself understood to a stupid low-paid ex-rice-paddy basket carrier now working in a call centre in some God-forsaken fly-swatted call centre in Thailand who is unhappily misrepresenting Barclays Bank in circular phrases reminiscent of Waiting for Godot.
Oh joy! I am happy to provide this free advertisement for la Caixa Catalunya.
I went up to the reception desk in the local branch and explained that – only last Sunday – I had arrived in Spain to work and I needed to open a bank account for my salary. The very pleasant and welcoming lady at the counter asked me if I had a NIE number. That was precisely what I had obtained at the Policia Nacional, without any hassle on Monday (see earlier post), so I gave her the number. The next question was not so easy to satisfy.
“Have you got your passport with you?”
It was a no brainer really. Any fool would have taken their passport along, but I had left it twelve kilometres up the winding road into the mountains when I left for work this morning. I told her I had my driving licence, but that would not do, she said. I was filled with dismay: it looked as if I would have to come back another time.
“No, that is all right,” she said. “Your passport must have been seen by the police who gave you the NIE number. Come back in an hour and I’ll have your account ready.”
I did not believe it could be so simple to hand over my money to a bank!
I went back at the end of the morning’s work in school, not for one moment expecting things to have been arranged for me, so accustomed am I to everything going wrong in England. Sure enough the young lady at the desk saw me and immediately called to a colleague, “Ah, here is the man I was telling you about.” I was sure the earlier optimism had by now all gone the shape of pears.
“Mr Thomas?” asked the smartly dressed bank employee, a young man in his thirties with a pleasant and genuine smile. “Come this way please.”
After years of habitual disappointment with Barclays and the attitudes of their bank employees, I thought this was probably the branch expert charged with responsibility for spotting international fraudsters and this was time for the one hour interrogation about my credit worthiness. We sat down.
“Everything is ready,” he said.
“Ready?” I could not believe it. How was that done? I looked around for signs of Harry Potter wizard hats and magic wands.
One by one, I signed the documents, received my pass book, my sealed envelope with the PIN number in it, my plastic card with the secret codes to use for internet banking – which was already set up for me – and a free pen. It was a good quality thick-barrelled ballpoint pen of the type I prefer. It had no logo or advertisement for Caixa Catalunya on it whatsoever. More’s the pity: I would be happy to flourish a pen advertising such a welcoming bank, for I was now the Hobbit who had arrived at journey’s end and was being treated as one who had survived all the trials of the journey. Now banking life could be lived without the habitual fight with the incomprehensible Barclays call-centre gnomes, the serpents who took money from my account for no reason, and the ogre who refused the meagre overdraft requested for a rare emergency.
“Shall I put some money in my account?” I asked. I looked in my wallet. “I think I only have twenty Euros…”
“Yes, if you like!” said my friendly banker.
I wanted to buy him a drink now. It didn’t seem right to just leave the bank without getting to know him.
What has gone wrong in England, I wonder? Is it just Barclays? Is it just the CRB? Is it just the Department for Children Families and (Schools) who change the education system every two months? Is it just the jobsworths who make life impossible in so many different aspects of life in England? Or is the the difference between a declining culture and a culture that is in the ascendancy? I have asked the question before on this blog. It is worth reflecting upon. Anyway, that’s the wider question. The more obvious question is why can’t banking be as easy and friendly as Caixa Catalunya makes it?
Thank you, Caixa Catalunya.