Friday, March 06, 2009

Bank Misery, Part I

After 20 years' of unsatisfactory service from Bank Mizrahi, I decided to move my bank account to another bank. Those of you who live outside of Israel might wonder why I waited so long? Those of you who live in Israel might wonder why I bother?

You see, it's a well-known fact among us Western world immigrants that Israeli banks are not customer-service-oriented. That is, they don't do ordinary, consumer-banking service. The banks here probably enjoy working with business customers who maintain large (six- or seven-figure) balances and have lots of daily activity, but for an individual who makes (in good times) a few deposits a month and writes a few checks, forget it. Just go to the cash machine and leave us alone is the general attitude. And, as one extremely up-front and honest bank manager told me back in 1988, when I first considered changing banks, "You won't like any Israeli bank. We don't like customers." Things haven't changed much, so why move now?

Well, as you will soon see, changing bank accounts is a time- and energy-consuming project. If you're lucky, it doesn't cost any money, but if things go awry you could end up with late fees for the "standing order" payments or bounced checks from one or another of the accounts. And if your phone or electricity bills aren't paid on time, the not kindly customer-service-oriented phone or electric company just turn off service without warning, charging, of course, a reconnection fee as soon as the bill has been paid.

One other weird thing about the bank is that you spend more time there than you would expect. For example, they won't mail you your checkbooks or your renewed credit have to pick them up in person. And you can't cash a check in just any old branch: if you should want to do such an antiquated transaction, you have to go to your own branch. And wait in a very slow-moving line while the teller takes phone calls before serving live customers!

Which brings me to the reasons I'm ready to do the change now: my original account is in the branch closest to where I was living when I arrived in Israel: Ramat Aviv. 1) Now that I've sold my car, I have to take a bus or taxi there, although I live within walking distance of many other (equally unhelpful) banks. 2) And now I'm retired, so I have time to indulge in bureaucratic follies as a form of entertainment. (Sad, I know.) 3) And finally, I recently became acquainted with an English-speaking neighbor who lives abroad part-time and manages her local finances through one of the nearby banks, and said neighbor was willing to share the names of her favorite clerk, teller, foreign exchange specialist. Because like everything else here, banking is 90% about relationships, and incidentally about the specific product, in this case money.

Note: when occasionally an American immigrant returns to the USA, and offers as his reason, "the banks," those of us who choose to remain usually nod sympathetically.


Mongrel said...

My first experience with Israeli banking was in 1980 in Gedera, felt the need to pull this person over the counter.

I want to congratulate you with your decision (is there any consumers organisation around?)allthough instead of former bitten by the cat, in the new situation it will be the dog.
You do live in a modern (allmost thirty years have passed, yes!?)country, are there any banks who do in internet banking.
If one for example has $5000,- and wants to lend it to the bank say (a deposit)for 5 years, what is the % interest one receives?

Savtadotty said...

Mongrel, there is a consumers organisation, but they don't seem to want to deal with the banks. I once joined an Internet group of English speakers for this purpose, but it seemed to be just a repository for everyone's complaints.

Internet banking is available, but my Hebrew is not up to it. The banks claim to have Internet banking in English, but what they mean is, they have some web pages in English but all the error messages are in Hebrew. I don't dare risk it. And you have to change your password every month or they lock you out and you have to call during service hours, very inconvenient when traveling abroad.

I don't know how much interest a bank would pay on a five-year time deposit, but I'll inquire on my next visit, which should be soon.