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Monday, September 14, 2015

Two Banks, Two Countries, Hassles All Around

Last week we had had enough and we went looking for another bank in Japan. It wasn't one thing that had us gnashing our teeth and wondering why the much vaunted Japanese "service" did not seem to apply to banking sector, it was many things that made us feel  unwelcome and made very simple things very complicated.  Over the last year we have made every excuse, searched for all other explanations and finally (and with great reluctance) came to the conclusion that this bank simply does not want to deal with foreigners.  A few choice examples:
  • Having to fill out the applications for debit cards multiple times and having them rejected because they did not like the way we wrote our names in Japanese characters.
  • Using a translator for direct meetings and over the phone with bank personnel for the first few months until they decided that this was not acceptable.  From now on, they said, all discussions with bank personnel must be in Japanese (no French, English or any other language) and for most things we could no longer use a translator.  Since my spouse and I have been here for less than a year our Japanese simply is not good enough to have direct discussions with their staff about financial matters.
But the final blow came last week when my spouse went to our bank to transfer money to France.  We have taxes to pay there and our daughter who's is at university in Canada has a tuition payment due.  As transfers go this one was pretty modest - thousands of Euros and not hundreds of thousands (or millions).  Before the bank would consent to do this, they wanted copies of the tuition and tax bills.  They said that we had to prove that the money would be used for these things and for no other purpose.  Which led my spouse to ask about what will happen when we left Japan in a year or so.  Ah, they said, same rules.  You must give us a reason (and proof) before we will close your account and let you take that money back to France.

And the last struck fear in the heart of my French spouse.  What he heard was: If we choose, we can confiscate your money.  You, sir, can leave, but we decide if your money can follow you back to your home country or not.   That was it and enough to send us off a day later to a more international bank (American) where he opened what he had at MUFG:  a simple checking account.  The new bank's policy in international transfers?  No problem whatsoever for the modest amounts we require.

And so ends our experience with banking locally here in Japan.  And on a very sour note.  Given the very different policies between the local Japanese bank and the international one, the only conclusion we can come to is that the Japanese bank simply doesn't want to deal with foreigners and they will be delighted to see us go.

All this reminded me  that I have some equally perturbing issues on the other side of the world with our French bank.  In their case it's not discrimination on the basis of national origin or immigration status, it's pure sexism on the part of our customer representative: a Frenchwoman, a decade or so younger than me.  In spite of numerous emails, phone calls, face to face meetings and a complaint to her manager, this woman persists with a "the man must be in charge" mentality.

All correspondence about our accounts is sent exclusively to my spouse.  Even when my spouse sends her email and puts me on copy, she refuses to hit "reply to all" so I can have a copy of her reply.  Everything she does demonstrates that the only person who counts here (and the only person she informs or takes directions from) is the man of the house.  And she simply ignores all requests to change this.  Pretty amazing, isn't it?  That in 21st century France this kind of 1950's mentality still exists.

That this is a woman treating another woman with open contempt with her employer allowing that behavior to continue just goes to show that feminism is still necessary because even where laws mandate equality, mentalities are still a few steps behind.

As for the Japanese bank, that experience was a disappointment.  We had certainly heard quite a lot from other expatriates/migrants that national origin discrimination was alive and well here.  But part of encountering a new country and culture is listening to the stories of the more experienced residents, and then setting those tales aside and coming to your own conclusions based on actual experience.  We set out on our latest migration journey months ago prepared for them to be proved wrong.

And what a shame it is that they turned out to be right.


Anonymous said...

What? -They can keep your money if you don't have a specific (and good) reason to transfer it back to Europe from Japan? I can't believe it! (not that I'm intending to save any money here and take it back to Europe when we leave, but still.)

Victoria FERAUGE said...

Yes, that is exactly what the bank said. For the small transfer that we wanted to do last week we would have to provide them with the original tax bill and the tuition bill before they would allow us to send the money back to France. For a future transfer if we leave Japan the bank said we would need even more documentation to prove what we would be using the money for in France. And it was up to them, they said, to decide if the documentation was sufficient or not. So the answer is that yes, they said they could keep our money in Japan.

To be 100% sure I spoke with my spouse's Chief Financial Officer (and his Japanese translator that day) who went with him to the bank last week. She conformed what was said by the bank in Japanese and expressed her surprise that the bank had these kinds of rules. She had no idea, she said, and would not have recommended MUFG to us if she had known about that.

DL NELSON said...

One woman in France blocked my husband's work permit for our company in France. We were able to shift to Switzerland after a two year tek of hoop jumping. I have no idea how to fight non budging obstructionists who seem to answer to no superior.

Inaka Nezumi said...

Wow. I checked MUFG's web page, and they do indeed say they may demand proof of how the funds will be used for overseas transfers. They cite a 2008 anti-terrorism and -money-laundering law as the reason. Yikes!

Victoria FERAUGE said...

Nezumi-san, Thank you very much for checking that out. I can understand laws that are designed to combat ML and possible terrorist activities. But the sums he wanted to transfer were pretty small and a check on his account would reveal immediately that his only income here in Japan comes from his local salary - an amount which is comfortable but not outrageous (the days of the glorious expat packages for mid- to upper-level managers are pretty much gone as far as I can tell). Were they suspicious because he's French? Or did they note that he was born in Algeria? Was the request for a money transfer a chance for them to encourage him to leave since they have never been too keen on having his business.

What I do know is that he opened an account with another more foreigner-friendly bank and we were told that for the sums he wanted to transfer, not only was that not a problem but he could do it himself on-line. :-)

Inaka Nezumi said...

I do also see some reports on the net of Japanese people being refused overseas transfers by MUFG because they could not produce some ridiculous paperwork. One brought some cash (a few thousand dollars' worth) from home to send, and the bank demanded a receipt to show where the money came from, which obviously isn't possible in that case. In another case, they refused to let a father send money (a few tens of thousand dollars' worth) to his daughter living in the US unless he showed proof of having paid gift tax on the money. But of course, without being able to send the money, there was no gift yet to pay tax on, and therefore no possible way to provide such proof. Catch-22.

Of course there is no guarantee that your husband's nationality or birthplace was not the trigger for suspicion. But it sounds like that bank has a bad service culture in any case, or overly paranoid training materials. Taking your business elsewhere sounds like the right move.

Inaka Nezumi said...

When they suddenly said "no more translator," did they mean you could not even bring your own? If so, that would seem prima facie evidence of mauvaise foi.

Victoria FERAUGE said...

They were not consistent, Nezumi-san. We were told that bank personnel were not authorized to use any other language than Japanese and that my spouse had to reply in Japanese. That is their official position. Period.

But he took a translator with him for the meeting about the wire transfers and they didn't say anything.

So officially the bank staff can only talk to us in Japanese and we must answer in Japanese. Unofficially, I think the staff is ignoring that. :-)