Tuesday, March 18, 2008

(not) Accessing bank accounts and television shows

I'm approaching my May 1 deadline to establish a US bank account for my paychecks that I can access for living expenses in the Netherlands.image I finally gave up trying to convince (Yoo Hoo !) WaMu that global banking should include currency exchanges and wire transfers. I went on to approach Schwab, HSBC, Bank of America, but in every case, the bank required a personal visit to open an account, and wire transfers required fax or written instructions. I can't believe that I'm starting to wish more banks were as good as Fortis.

In desperation, I called Citibank. I think of them as a high-flying business bank, fallen on hard times, and so I had low expectations for personal banking. The first hour on the phone with them reinforced the concerns:

1) I started in an overseas call center, who rattled through a script and directed me to a Personal Banker.

2) My Personal Banker was irritated that I wanted to ask questions before opening an account. After ten fruitless minutes, she hooked on the word "Dutch" and sent me to the International Personal Banking group.

3) My International Personal Banker danced around the options, telling me I didn't qualify for account types that were unavailabel anyway. I consulted their web site, asking about simple Regular Checking or Interest Checking. That got me routed to the Global Executive Banking program.

4) My Global Executive Banker told me that I needed to talk to his supervisor and hung up on me.

5) I called back into the Global Executive connection, and was told that I could only establish an account through my Company Relocation Office. I explained that my company expected me to do this myself, and they explained that I could, therefore, put $25,000 on account with them and they'd be happy to talk further.

6) I am sheepishly routed back to my Personal Banker.

Remarkably, at this point, I connected with someone who understood that I wanted to simply make direct payroll deposits and wire cash overseas using the Internet.

And Citi has that account.

A Citibank Access Account can be opened on-line, is instantly established, and carries no fee if you do monthly direct deposit ($3 otherwise). No minimum balance (I opened it with $0.00), and, while the account has an ATM card, there are no other checks or products attached. Instead, you get simple, free wire transfers domestically, and rapid, $30 international transfers with generous limits accessible over the Internet, denominated in the currency of your choice.

i was shocked: it's *exactly* what I've looked for during the past few years. It took an hour to set it up and do a test transfer from WaMu, get the Fortis link entered and stored, and figure out the SWIFT codes. I'll see how the first month goes, but I am very impressed with the simple minimalism (services and fees) of this account. (Warning: This account immediately went sour, and I am no longer a Citibank customer.)

I decided to celebrate by exploring Hulu, a new service that streams American television and movies over the Internet for free. I registered, and found an interesting selection of films and classic shows. But, any attempt to watch anything brought the message:


This continues a pattern: all of the networks in the US flash similar "We apologize, but this video isn't available at your location" messages. I've fiddled with anonymizers and such to try to spoof it, but without success. I'm not sure what motivates this restriction: many of the same shows appear on Dutch cable television (sans commercials).

So, back to reading and practicing Dutch language...probably better for me anyway. At least I'm batting to the sunny side of .500 today.

Bank note photo credit Commercebank

1 comment:

Chamoloco said...

Very informative blog. We are relocating to Arnhem this summer from Michigan. Look forward to read you posts.

By the way Chase also has an online bank account that allows you to do what you wanted - no need to come in person to open the account or to arrange international wires.

Although it's a pain Citi locked your account for your protection. Last thing you want is for your account to be hacked and empty to $0. Pain yes but better that the alternative of finding out that your account balance suddenly shows $0 instead of a large amount. This does not excuse the run around that customer service gave.

Please keep writing all these educating posts.