Taiwanese banks are garbage.
These institutions, which ostensibly exist to service individuals and businesses, do no such thing. I hated banks in the US before I moved to Taiwan – they are giant, soulless, corporations who have used every business and financial analytic to hone themselves into machines for efficiently sucking their customers dry of money. However, in order to do so, they have developed that efficiency – great customer service, ease of access, and a high degree of professionalism. It is with the strongest irony that I miss the capacity of American banks to fleece me, but at least they can provide an explanation why my money is all gone when they do it.
Taiwan banks, on the other hand, have few good reasons for most of their policies, especially where foreigners are concerned. Let’s start with the fact that for me to do anything besides deposit and withdraw money, I need two forms of ID although one of my IDs is my APRC, which has my passport information on it. This is because, as far as I know, I’m not Taiwanese, and for some reason it’s necessary to verify non-Taiwanese twice. So, if I want to open or close an account, transfer money, both locally and overseas, or access my account overseas so I can actually spend my own money, I need to have also remembered to have brought my passport. I don’t like to carry that around for obvious reasons, so winding up at the bank and getting “mei ban fa” because I didn’t bring it is not uncommon.
For example, I went back to the US for a few weeks recently, and before I left I wanted to make sure that when I was in the States I would be able to use my card to withdraw money there – basically giving them a heads up to not freeze my card because I was using it overseas. However, I learned I was ineligible for this “service” because I had not “applied” for it. I was also unaware that I’d need to apply for a basic service, like being able to access my own money in 2017. I understand the need prevent fraud and theft and that it gets tricky when withdrawing money abroad, but with banks all over the world, all you need to do is call and let them know where you’ll be and how long you’ll be there. Still, I couldn’t go apply because, as it turned out, I wasn’t carrying my passport that day.
Another time, I wanted to be able to transfer funds from one account to another. Both accounts are in Taiwan with Taiwan banks. Instead of having an online system for transfers, the bank in question wanted me to buy a card reader to plug into my computer at home, and then enter my pin information with my card plugged in. To do basic, local, same currency transfers, I needed a card reader. Jesus.
And let’s talk about the bank book situation. Again, here we are in 2017, and the vast majority of Taiwanese banking is done with the help of these checkbook sized ledgers. I remember my first bank account I got in the US and they gave me one to hand-write all of my transactions so I could keep track. Never used it. But here, you go to the bank with it, and they have a machine out of 1963 that prints out every transaction on the account. You need it to withdraw or deposit cash at the counter, and you must have it with you, along with two forms of ID, for any other activity you might need at the bank.
You’d think that all banks need to do is update and streamline their online services, and most of these problems would be fixed. And you’d also be wrong. Taiwanese bank websites are the worst kind of cluttered and confusing web vomit right out of 1998. If they did move more services online, you’d get an “unable to process” prompt three out of four times you visited. And an English version that makes sense? It’ll never happen.
Here’s the absolute worst thing though – banks in Taiwan, by default, only allow you to make purchases of 20-30K at a time. Because who would ever need to buy something that costs over a thousand USD? Like plane tickets. Or furniture. Or all kinds of shit. But in Taiwan so much of that is still done with cash – you go to a travel agent to buy plane tickets, you go to the store in person to buy furniture, and the whole time, you keep large amounts of cash on your person. I guess it speaks to the level of personal safety in Taiwan that people feel okay doing that, but why should I have to call my bank to get permission to use my money to buy a plane ticket?
But that’s kind of the whole problem – Taiwan banks are some weird, Confucianist, super top-down organizations. Look at most Taiwanese banks – they have a lobby area and then a row of teller counters. Behind the teller counters there is like a pit where the big bosses or managers or whoever sit, everyone facing the same direction. Some newer banks have put a wall between the tellers and these managers, but it’s still the same kind of thing. At Taiwanese banks, it isn’t your money that you’re accessing, it’s their product you are using. And considering the abysmal level of customer service in Taiwan, that’s not a great state of affairs for getting banking shit done.
So, Taiwan banks, as much as I love only getting charged 5NT for an ATM withdrawal, I’d almost rather pay the 50NT and be able to use my goddamn money when I need my goddamn money. Stop telling me “mei ban fa” – it’s my fuckin money, your job is to help me get to it. And as much as I’d like to say I’d take my business elsewhere, what’s the use? It’d be the same everywhere else.