Friday, 26 September 2014

Colombia – a banker's paradise revisited

There are a lot of things that can irk expatriates here in Colombia. After a time, most come to learn that the best way to deal with them is to, well, not deal with them. Either grin and bear them or laugh them off. Trying to find solutions to whatever may be bothering you is generally a futile exercise.

Colombia's Davivienda bank.
Davivienda; nice little bank... (Image from Facebook.)
However, like it is for the opposite sex (whichever that is for you) and pretty much all over the world, the majority of us have found – usually to our annoyance – that we can’t live with or, more pertinently, without banks.

Thus, I find it a little more difficult to simply ‘let it go’ when it comes to banking in Colombia. This is a topic I wrote about before; the fact that I still have a bank account here shows that I have learnt to take the ‘punitive’ hits somewhat. Every now and again though, the red mist descends in relation to this whole area.

You see I still don’t understand why my bank, Davivienda, charges me 9,500 COP (Colombian pesos, just slightly under four euro) per month to have what is quite erroneously termed a ‘savings’ account. Or maybe the savings refers to what Davivienda makes with my hard earned cash? The title makes a bit more sense if you look at it that way.

Whenever I question Davivienda employees about this, some of whom I have worked with in a freelance capacity, they explain the fee as the cost of managing my account, along with the peace of mind that my money is secure. Fair enough on the second point, but don’t they use my deposited money to lend to other people, generating handsome revenue for themselves?

As for the management of my account, heck they must be flat out there. For one, the last time I used my debit card to make a transaction was in April of this year. When it comes to making deposits, I’m the one that does it, in person, standing in ridiculously slow-moving queues to do so. It should be me asking for a fee (or interest as we call it for savings accounts in Ireland and the UK).

Now in fairness, I do get sent a text message each time there is account activity; that includes when I go on line to view the status of things (alas, it’s not that great). So perhaps the random figure of 9,500 COP is used to put credit into Davivienda’s ‘pay as you go’ mobile phone. They must be damn expensive text messages at that. Just don’t forget to send me a birthday text guys; it will all have been worth it then.

To add further insult to injury, I was told that if I had a nominated account i.e. one in which an employer deposits my wages, I wouldn’t be charged anything. The snag here is that I don’t have a full-time employer. So it seems if you’re a freelancer, trying to make it on your own minus all the relative security and benefits of full-time work, you get even more screwed by the system here. Of course there’s a fair chance I’m missing a trick or two; for if there is a simple way to avoid these fees, the banks will be the last ones to tell you.

It must be said that it’s not just Davivienda that’s at this – it’s basically the same with them all. It’s the way things operate here. The international banks must love it.

Plus for many hard-pressed, working-class Colombians it’s not an issue. They either have the aforementioned nominated account or just don’t have an account at all. Under the mattress is best for the majority.

Indeed it appears banking in Colombia is either for the very rich (who tend to get fees waived) or idiots. At the moment I fall into that latter category.

I suppose somebody’s got to contribute towards those semi-comical Davivienda advertisements (see video above). Wrong Way, always giving.

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