People have, on occasion, told me I should start a blog. Usually my thoughts could be sufficiently summed up in pithy facebook or twitter posts to avoid writing more than a paragraph. But now I am moving to Europe, and I imagine I’ll have sufficient inspiration for more loquatious musings. Plus I’ll have more time to write on these international flights.
Things have been very busy for the last couple months, as things are wont to be when moving abroad. There’s the visa, the actual packing and moving part, and in my case shipping a car. I may or may not comment on these later (no promises). But one relatively minor task turned into much more of an ordeal than I would have expected. Words like “kafkaesque” or “seinfeldian” provide a rough summary within 140 characters, but to use those words to describe the process of a currency exchange demands more detail.
Going to Europe, one needs to have some Euros. I had a cashier’s check from an account closure that I thought I might take to a local bank (at which my parents were account holders) for an exchange. Plus I had a fair bit of cash in hand from craigslist sales. A suggestion had been made to me that “a brick of cash” is the easiest, most straightforward way to move money from one continent to the other, plus I would need a bunch for, you know, stuff. So with the cash I had, I thought I might get 5000 EUR.
This bank’s exchange rate was 1.15 USD/EUR. Plus a $7.50 fee for the service. The *actual* exchange rate was 1.10 USD/EUR. (I leave it as an exercise for the reader to determine why it is even legal for a bank to lie about exchange rates instead of adding a 5% fee. And also to determine why any bank anywhere thinks they can get away with this when exchanging 5000 EUR.) Not feeling like losing $300 on the transaction, and being a Capital One 360 account holder myself, I call a Capital One branch that’s located about 50 minutes away to ask about their exchange rates. Selecting option 1 (English) and then 5 (“Another Reason”) (this will be important later), I am prompted to enter my “16 digit account number” to speak with a representative. I do so, but they don’t find it, so I try again and I get through (“I must have typed it wrong?” I think).
The customer service agent puts me on hold for 10 minutes to answer each question. After being on hold for 10 minutes to talk with him in the first place.
“I would like to come to the Capital One Branch to order Euros, can you tell me what the exchange rate will be, or how much 5000 EUR will cost in USD?”
*10 minutes on hold* “Yes sir to order cash Euros the rate is 1.09, it will be $5450”
“Ok great can you tell me how long it will take to make the order?”
*10 minutes on hold* “That will take 2-3 business days.”
“That might work, but is there any way to maybe expedite it?”
*10 minutes on hold*
*gets booted back to main menu*
Well he answered my main question. I find out by consulting the internet that the branch closes at 3 (I know, right?). It is now 1:45 and I haven’t eaten since breakfast (at 10) and it could take an hour to get there. Better leave now.
So I arrive at the bank a little after 2:30. I explain what I want to do to the lady at the counter. I give her my account number, but then she says I can’t get Euros out of a Capital One 360 account.
“Why not, the guy I talked to on the phone said I could do it.”
“There’s no guys here, what number did you call?”
*I show her the number*
“That’s the number for this branch…”
“Ok then why wasn’t I talking to someone at this branch?”
“I don’t know, did you use option 1 then 5?”
“Pretty sure I did.”
“Let me call the manager” *calls manager, confirms I can’t get Euros from 360 account*
“Then why did the guy on the phone tell me I could, and how does that make any sense when you can both make withdrawals and deposits with that account?”
“It’s just the bank policy”
*slight facepalm* “…ok fine. What if I give you this check and some cash, then you could give me Euros for that.”
“You would need to be a member of the bank first.”
“I am a member of the bank, you have my account number right there.”
“But you’re not a member of this branch”
“But you could open an account with that check, make the Euro order, then close the account when you come back”
“…ok. And there aren’t any account fees or anything?”
“No, it’s a free account. But the cashier’s check will take a day to clear.”
“…not the best. What if I withdrawal money from my existing 360 account, deposit the check to that account, and then use the withdrawal to open a branch account, and use that branch account to get Euros, and then close the branch account in 3 days?”
“That would work. But you’d have to withdrawal cash, because a cashier’s check from that Capital One account would still take a day to clear into your new Capital One account.”
*blank stare* “…sure fine whatever.”
Some discussion now ensues about how much cash to withdrawal. I want to ask about their exchange rate for this operation, but she can’t tell me at the desk (for reasons, I guess), I have to ask the bank manager I will be talking to later to set up my account. So I go with what the guy on the phone said and withdrawal $5500. This pretty much cleans out her register, which prompts her to comment that the manager I give it to will just bring it back over when I am finished. We both find this a ridiculous situation.
Now I arrive at the manager’s desk to open the account. I explain the situation. She’s overheard a bit during the proceedings and is brought up to speed quickly. Two forms of ID are required to set up a new account, but apparently a Capital One 360 account counts as a form of ID. But not as a form of bank membership. Sure fine whatever. Before setting up the account and bothering about the whole thing, I ask to get the day’s exchange rate.
*manager makes a call* “Exchange rate will be 1.168 USD/EUR”
*facepalm* “Then why did the guy on the phone tell me 1.09?!? 1.16 is worse than the bank I left to come here!”
“I don’t know, did you use option 1 then 5?”
“Yes, I’m pretty sure I did.” (I doubt my recollection due to her insistence that I should have talked to someone at the branch)
“Then you should have talked to someone here who would have given you the correct information…”
“Well I didn’t talk to anyone here apparently, and he told me 1.09.”
The bank manager now decides to have me make the call from her desk to try and get to the bottom of this. I make the same selections I did before, option 1 on the first menue, then 5 on the next, enter 16 digit account number from my card, it fails to find it (curious…), enter it again, and find a person to talk to. The manager takes over talking.
“Hi this is [person] at Capital One how can I help you?”
“Hello this is [bank manager name here] at the Capital One branch in [location], I’m with a customer here who wants to order Euros. Can I ask where you’re located?”
“I am in the Philippines.”
*round of facepalms on the house!*
“I see. Can you tell me the exchange rate for Euros today?”
*On hold for 10 minutes*
During this hold, she continues to insist that if I had just hit 1 then 5 quickly at the first menu, I would have spoken to someone at the branch. I tell her that I would have done that if it was an option on the menu.
*CS rep returns from hold* “The exchange rate is 54 Philipino Pesos per Euro”
“No, no. No, We need the exchange rate in US Dollars please.”
*10 minutes on hold*
During this time the manager vocally wonders why it’s taking so long, and I notice she has begun drafting an e-mail. I can’t see who it is to or what it is about, but I can only hope is is a letter to some higher up manager about the sheer ridiculousness of what is going on.
“I’m sorry, that system seems to be down right now, I can give you the website for you to check if you want.”
*further facepalms, headdesks, smh, etc.*
“No thanks that will be all right now.”
She calls her local guy for the exchange rate again to ask if the rate has ever been 1.09. Indeed it has not today, nor has it ever been 1.09.
I’m sure I’m now visibly exasperated and confused. The manager is apologetic about the experience. I take my pile o’ cash back to the counter to redeposit to my 360 account. It is now well after closing time, but because I was already there, they are all willing to help me out still. But first I make one more phone call, this time to Capital One 360 directly using the nubmer on the back of my card. I ask about daily limits and today’s exchange rate, they promptly give me the answers I need (They tell me if I withdrawal from an ATM in europe it will be 1.09 USD/EUR. Interesting…). So with this information I decide I can get along with ATMs perfectly fine, redeposit all the cash, and leave.
So let’s review how ridiculous this whole thing was.
- When I call the branch phone number, some guy not at the branch gives me an exchange rate that does not and has never existed at the branch.
- Capital One 360 touts being able to use services at local branches as a feature, but for some reason this does not include getting Euros for a withdrawal, although this is a service that the branch offers. (“It’s just the bank policy sir.”)
- So for some reason I can do all the things I need to do (deposit check, deposit cash, get euros (eventually)) at the location I’m at, but not in a way that makes any real sense.
- To open a new account, I must withdrawal cash, because a Capital One-issued cashier’s check takes a day to clear when going back into an account at the EXACT SAME CAPITAL ONE BRANCH. (“It’s just bank policy sir.”)
- I must carry that cash across the room to give to somebody who will take it back across the room to the place where it started.
- When calling the branch phone number, the bank manager is as dumbfounded as I am about why we a) get someone in the Philippines, b) get put on hold for 10 minutes for every question asked.
- WHY WOULD YOU GIVE US THE RATE FOR PESOS?!?!? WE ARE CLEARLY AMERICANS CALLING FROM AN AMERICAN PHONE NUMBER AT AN AMERICAN BANK AT A BRANCH IN AMERICA! I DON’T UNDERSTAND
So what did we learn? Remember what JK Simmons said at the end of Burn After Reading? Of course you don’t, it’s not exactly a cultural touchstone. But I’ll tell you:
CIA Superior: What did we learn, Palmer?
CIA Officer: I don’t know, sir.
CIA Superior: I don’t f***** know either. I guess we learned not to do it again.
CIA Officer: Yes, sir.
CIA Superior: I’m f***** if I know what we did.
CIA Officer: Yes, sir, it’s, uh, hard to say
CIA Superior: Jesus f****** Christ.
How’s a person supposed to get a large quantity of currency exchanged at a decent rate? I have no idea. Don’t go to a bank. Any bank. I don’t know how they get away with, like, anything they do. If you think you’ll need cash, find out what your daily and monthly limits on ATM withdrawals are, and just use ATMs. It’ll be a better rate and less trouble.