C'est un problème – no. 3

In 4 words – THE FRENCH BANKING SYSTEM. I actually started to write this blog last year when we were at the point of needing to pay for Mireval and abandoned it as I felt the situation was a one-off. This story is the first section of this blog. The second section covers our more recent banking experiences.

Making an online payment – French style

We had received an email from Maître D's assistant, Sandrine, asking us to transfer the balance of funds to them immediately as the signing of the acte authentique was only a week away. In the UK this would entail making a single phone call or possibly popping into any branch of your particular bank. But this is France, so its much, much more involved than that.

We had needed to do a simple piece of banking over the summer and as we were in the UK at the time popping into the Chalabre branch of our bank was not practical. I caved in and spoke to the bank's English speaking helpline. The French lady's English was impeccable and she explained to me that she would act as our bank manager from now on and that she was not able to action our request over the phone. We would need to complete and return 2 forms before she could action the transaction. Now this is not exactly online banking is it?, but we did eventually manage to open the accounts we had requested.

I naturally assumed that this process would also work for a bank transfer and rang our English speaking bank manager. She told me I would have to complete a form and send it to her along with photocopies of our passports as proof of identity before she could action the money transfer. We had anticipated a same day transaction and this process could take up to a week.

Obviously it would be quicker to go to the Chalabre branch and complete the forms there. We duly scurried over to Chalabre armed with our passports, the notaire's RIB (Relevé d'Identité Bancaire) and the phone number of our bank manager. The charming young bank assistant filled out the form, got it countersigned by the “big boss”, photocopied our passports and telephoned our bank manager for her authorisation to do the transaction. We left the bank slightly bemused by the fact that doing a simple money transfer had taken most of the day and that the funds would not appear in the recipient's account for 2 days. 

No, you can't have any of your cash (computer says non)

I decided to resurrect this blog after our latest banking shenanigans.

I had rather rashly told our architecte, Mr V, that I would transfer the latest tranche of his fee to his account using online banking. I logged on to our bank's website and navigated around every section of the available online services before realising that there is NO OPTION to transfer money to another account. I was reduced to writing a cheque to make the payment. Hmmm, another example of appalling French websites I thought to myself.

I was, in fact, clutching the envelope containing the cheque when we went to the Laroque d'Olmes branch of our bank. The sole purpose of our visit was to get some cash. As the cashpoint machine was en panne I had to go into the bank to ask them to give me some cash. I handed over my carte bleue to the cheery young man seated behind the desk and asked him for some cash. He did that thing that happens in banks the world over nowadays and turned to his computer to view our account. An anxious look passed over his young face and he asked me if the Laroque d'Olmes branch was “our branch”. I told him that “our branch” was in fact the Chalabre branch.

Désolé”, he said before telling me he could not give me any cash.

Did his computer say NO????!!!!!

I must stress that this situation was not due to lack of funds, oh no, nothing that simple. He appeared to be unable to view our account online. He then suggested that we should go to Chalabre if we wished to get cash from our account. So I emerged from the bank to explain to a patient Jeff that I had not actually got any of OUR money out of the bank. In the UK this situation would have triggered a serious amount of chuntering about the third-world British banking system at best, deep rage and much shouting at worst. But “I'm-oh-so-nearly-French” Jeff shrugged in a very Gallic manner, fired up Pluto and drove us to Chalabre.

So, its not that the French banking system doesn't work. No. It's just very, very time-consuming, frustrating and involves lots of writing and driving. Oh well, it gets us away from the laptops.

A certain, well-known French bank should appoint me as marketing manager. This is my first suggestion for their rebranding. I think it sets customer expectation at a realistic level... don't you?

(Image from busymomdahl.org)