Wednesday, March 31, 2021

moving to mexico -- banks

The piper always gets his due.

Whenever he lifts our spirits with a lilting air, we always know there is a more melancholy leitmotif waiting in the wings. As one of The Universe's shop stewards, he prefers keeping life in balance.

On Monday in moving to mexico -- drugs, I sang the praises of the Mexican prescription system. Its treatment of patients as adults would put a smile on the face of a Cato Institute fellow.

I like balance. Whenever I write about the aspects of Mexico that drew me and keep me here, I often include a throw-away line similar to: "Of course, no place is perfect." I then scurry away to the sunny side of the street.

Let's talk about one of those "not perfect" aspects of Mexico. Its consumer banking system.

Most of my Mexican neighbors consider banks to be no more trustworthy than politicians. Even the people who use banks do so only out of necessity.

When I was preparing my move to Mexico, I needed to come up with a method to turn dollars into pesos to cover my living expenses. A fellow blogger, Felipe, advised me of a perfect solution.

I opened an account at Banamex USA with direct deposit of my monthly checks. When I moved south, I opened a linked account at the Banamex branch in San Patricio Melaque. With no more than three clicks on my computer, I could transfer just under $10,000 (US) to my Mexican account. It was truly an elegant solution.

It worked perfectly until the Obama administration enacted the poorly-considered FATCA that effectively caused the shutdown of Banamex USA. I was reduced to the vagaries of our often-nonfunctioning ATMs for my income stream.

About three years ago, Intercam improved its banking services in our area. Instead of relying on ATMs, I now write a dollar-denominated check for deposit in my Intercam checking account. Before the hour is out, a wad of pesos is on hand for my withdrawal. I have not used an ATM in Mexico during those three years. There has been no need.

You might wonder what happened to my Banamex account in town. That is the rest of today's story. And it all centers around that simple phrase "three years ago."

Earlier this month, I received a letter from Banamex informing me that Mexican law required the bank to freeze my account because it had remained dormant for three years. The letter then shifted into that too-friendly tone used by public relations practitioners. The type of voice that makes customers grab onto their wallets.

I was not to worry. All I needed to do to re-activate my account was to make a deposit or withdrawal. That sounded simple enough.

So, on Monday morning I joined the long queue at the bank. The lines on Monday are always long, but this line was yeasted with Semana Santa tourists. I waited in line for about 20 minutes to use the sophisticated ATM that facilitates deposits. When I tried to deposit a couple thousand pesos, the machine told me I would need to see a teller.

I joined another queue for services inside the bank. After waiting for about 45 minutes, I told the teller my tale of woe. I gave her the letter I had received along with my bank card, my permanent resident card, and the money I wanted to deposit.

She clicked and clacked on her keyboard and repeatedly frowned at her screen. Then she clicked and clacked some more. After about ten minutes, she surrendered and told me I needed to see Sergio, the customer service teller.

That meant waiting in another queue for approximately another 45 minutes. By this time I had stopped looking at my watch. I reconciled myself to the fact that trying to get the account running again would be my task for the day.

When I made it to Sergio's counter, I gave him all of the same items I had given the first teller. I have known Sergio for four years. I knew that he would do what needed to be done. And he did.

He hammered away at his keyboard. Documents were printed. Managers were summoned for their signatures. Copies were made.

Sergio then did what all customer representatives eventually do in Mexico. He asked me for something I would not usually have at hand. My passport.

This time I was prepared, though. For some reason, I had picked it up when I left the house. But I felt a hole open in the bottom of my stomach. By chance, I had brought my passport. But I did not bring The Document that is Necessary to do Anything in Mexico. A utility bill. I feared I had lost all of that time at the bank up to that point.

As it turned out, he did not ask for a utility bill. He made further copies and printed some more documents. And just like that, after about a half-hour of doing this and that, he announced we were done. 

I found that odd because I had signed nothing. How can you do anything at a bank without repeatedly signing documents?

He gave me my pesos. I pushed them back and reminded him I was there to deposit them in my account.

Last week on a local Facebook page, a northern woman asked for assistance on some banking questions. Her father had died recently leaving money in a Banamex account. She had called the bank in anticipation of flying south later in the Spring and had been told she needed to open a Banamex account. Five days later, the funds in her father's account could be transferred to her account.

She wanted to know if that sounded correct. She was particularly concerned that she had to wait five days for her new account to be activated.

I did not offer any advice. After all, I did not even remember I had an open account, let alone what the procedures were a dozen years ago when I opened it.

But it turns out there is a five-day waiting period. When I tried to deposit my persos with Sergio, he told me I could not withdraw or deposit pesos with my account for five business days. Realizing how my memory had tripped me up, he took pity on me and even wrote down the date I could re-activate the account.

And what is the moral of all this? I am not certain.

But I do know that the piper from The Universe plays far more lilting tunes like Mexico's pharmacy system than downer songs about bank problems.

And that is moral enough for me on this breezy and sunny afternoon in this little fishing village by the sea.  

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