Chinese Stories in English
It's spring, and a young man's fancy turns to thoughts of…. Um, I seem to have forgotten. Anyway, with April 15th fast approaching, my thoughts (if not my fancy) have been turning to money transfers and banks.
Banking is more convenient here in Liuzhou than in the states. For one thing, there are a lot more branches. Downtown there seems to be a bank everywhere you turn, and even out in the neighborhoods you seldom have to walk very far to find one. Also, the branches are open long hours. The bank I use, which is fairly typical, is open 9 to 5 on weekdays and 10 to 4 on Saturdays and Sundays. They do close on the first Sunday of each month, however. Talk about Banker's Hours!
On the other hand, service is quite slow. Money wired from the U.S. takes 3 to 4 days to arrive. When it does get here, the wire instructions (deposit to the account of X, for example) are ignored: The beneficiary must go to the bank in person and confirm that, yes, the instructions are correct. This sluggishness is deliberate, I'm sure, because the banks make money "on the float"; that is, they earn interest on the money while it's in their possession. The amounts are trivial on any individual wire transfer, of course, but in a country as large as China, they add up quickly.
Once, as an experiment, I decided to write a check on my U.S. bank account for deposit into my bank account here in Liuzhou. Checks are not commonly used in China, so the clerk here had to look in his procedures book to see what to do. After a couple of minutes he explained that the check would first be sent to the bank's HQ in Beijing; then forwarded to the Chinese bank's branch in New York to be cashed. After they had the money, the NY branch would notify Beijing, who would in turn notify the Liuzhou branch that the funds were available. The clerk estimated that it would take about one month to complete the transaction!
I told him that, despite the delay, I wanted to go ahead and make the deposit. That raised the next question: Should I make the check payable to myself, to cash, or to the bank? The procedures book didn't say but, after some discussion with the clerk, I decided to make it payable to the bank.
Three weeks later I got a phone call from the local branch. My first thought was, "Great, a week sooner than expected!" Fat chance. In fact the NY branch had decided that I should have made the check out to myself, not to the bank, and they had therefore returned it. I had to go back down to the local branch and make out a new one, and start the process all over again.
Three days after giving the new check to the Liuzhou branch, I checked online and noted that the funds had been withdrawn from my U.S. bank. Three and a half weeks after that, the Liuzhou branch phoned to say that they were now authorized to release the funds to me. However, I would have to go to the bank in person to tell them whether I wanted the money in cash or on deposit, in U.S. dollars or Chinese RMB. (This being China, my physical presence was required so that I could fill out the necessary forms.)
(PHOTO of armored car guards REMOVED. See here.)
I often see armored cars with armed guards delivering cash to banks and ATM kiosks around town. Maybe one reason these guys display such impressive weaponry is to keep customers, including frustrated foreigners, from taking matters into their own hands. (Actually, there's been some speculation as to whether the weapons are loaded. I hope I never find out.)
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