Wednesday, June 16, 2010

banking on it

I am in the mood for comments.

And nothing seems to stoke the furnace as much as Mexican banking. 

Mention "Mexico" and "bank" in the same sentence, and just sit back to watch the fiesta.

A month ago I reported, in
cruising the financial highway, I was following Felipe Zapata's blog advice to open an account at Banamex USA in Los Angeles.

I have seen several other blog references to Banamex USA's service -- with unanimous praise for the ease of opening an account.

For all I know, that was once true.  I have no reason to doubt it.  But, we now live in a world where banks are often used to finance terrorism and crime.  Of course, that has always the case.  The difference is governments are getting testy about both.

As a result, opening a bank account is not as easy as it once was -- north or south of the border.  It can be every bit as difficult as getting a driver's license.  (If you have not been subjected to the new driver's license requirements in The States, you have an entirely new experience awaiting you.)

To open my Banamex USA account, my initial contact with the bank was a familiar one.  Fill out an application, over the telephone, with all the usual personal information the bank will need -- and will share with the Internal Revenue Service.

After that, I may as well have been applying for a job at the bank.  The very nice man on the telephone said I needed to send a copy of either my passport or my driver's license (I opted for the license -- the one with the photograph that makes me look like an understudy for Porky Pig) and a copy of a utility bill with my name and address on the billing.

That is where I left the story last month.  As you know from that post, none of the utilities for my rental are in my name.  My land lady takes care of those details.

When I talked with the Banamex representative, he told me that a utility bill was the only way I could get an account.

Now, I know a bit about bureaucracy.  After all, I was in the military, I have worked for a bank and insurance companies, and I am a lawyer.

I also know that bureaucracies seldom request something for absolutely no reason.  There is always an underlying purpose -- no matter how vague or tenuous.  The utility bill requirement was an easy one to decipher.  The bank needs some proof I live where I claim to live.

I have two documents that fit the bill: my visa (an FM3) and a constancia de domicilio (a certificate issued by my local government showing my rental address).  I sent copies of both. 

And it worked.  Substance won out over form. 

Because the documents met the purpose of the bank's rules, the bank was flexible in not requiring a utility bill.  That is good service.

On Monday afternoon I returned home to discover my shiny new check book.  I can hardly wait to get to Mexico to open a companion Banamex account in Mexico. 

The check book will do me no good.  No one takes checks in my village.  But I will have the flexibility of transferring money to and from Mexico.  And I will have an ATM card from a local bank -- to avoid paying the new non-Mexico bank card fee when using the local ATM.

One unintended consequence (and a pleasant one it is) is that I will now be able to use bank statements in Spanish to renew my FM3 next April.  That should make the renewal process that much easier. 

The extra effort may pay off in future benefits.

But that is one of the conservative principles espoused by banks -- isn't it?


Leah Flinn said...

You will be glad you did it. :-)

Calypso said...

Steve - Back in May I had to laugh at your several times mentioning you were sure Mexican banks were as secure as U.S. banks. Of course this is ridiculous - I have been writing about living in Mexico for nearly six years now. During that time I have had both Internet and face to face conversations with people that 'lost' money in a Mexican bank account.

A few stories came from trusted, intelligent, highly Mexico experienced people.

It is simply naive to think the Mexican bank is as secure as their U.S. counterparts when it comes to a foreigner especially. When money goes missing (and it does) a shrug of the shoulders is sometimes all you will get from a Mexican bank official - bottom line - to believe otherwise is crazy. There are just too many stories to the otherwise.

Most certainly there are those that have had perfect transactions with Mexican banks, equally certain is there are those that have not.

Anonymous said...

If Felipe says so, I agree. The guy is almost always correct.


NWexican said...

Of course, after today's Mexican Gov. announcement to restrict the "dirty money".... It probably just got even more difficult.

Babs said...

I think it is amazing that you could open an account by telephone without actually being there! It seems to me that was pretty darn easy.

Joe S. said...

Steve, take the Nyquil,its okay. Unless you taking vodka shots or exceed 4000 mg of acetaminophen a day, its okay. Sincerely, the Medical University to your North.

Steve Cotton said...

Leah -- I hope so.

Calypso -- This seems to be a winner either way. If my banking experience is good, it will make a good post. If my banking experience is bad, it will make a good post. How often does that happen?

Horst -- And I concur.

NWexican -- The signals get more complicated every day. The government announces it is hiring a PR company to improve its umage and then tells people dollars are not welcome. Go figure.

Babs -- That surprised me as well. I had heard that Banamex was now requiring new account applicants to show up in person at the Los Angeles office. It is easy to figure out why that is not a requirement. But I doubt most American banks would allow it.

Steve Cotton said...

Joe -- The cold is past its zenith. Another health crisis averted.

NWexican said...

Makes sense to me as the dollar IS a bad image ...