Quarter Life Crisis

The world according to Sven-S. Porst

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Apple and Banks

1021 words

Argh! Now that my initial iBook problems have finally been resolved, the next act of Apple induced unfriendliness started off. ‘Induced’, because Apple (probably) didn’t mean to do anything bad in this case but their utter competence forced things to go wrong, particularly with the help of the other hapless, incompetent and greedy institutions known as banks.

When I bought the iBook, I got it with the ‘buy an iBook with an iPod and you’ll get €150 back’ offer. As I said, something that’s a really nice idea to begin with. Friends who had used a similar offer last year told me beforehand that I’ll have to wait quite some time to receive the cheque. And I was about to start to worry about exactly that last week… just to find the cheque in the mailbox. Which I was happy about.

The cheque itself was a bit strange. To begin with – it was issued at the beginning of November but only arrived here a month later – one more thing that makes Apple look ‘reasonably’ good on this as it means processing a form and some barcoded labels only took them six weeks or so, which was pretty much what they promised. And then they seem to have handed things to another company (?) to handle the shipping and delay everything.

Never mind, I thought, I have the cheque after all. So I went to pay it in at the bank. Deutsche Bank, one of Germany’s biggest banks. They’re making billions of profits each year and fire thousands of their staff to be even more profitable! A nice company. Very efficient. They even refurbished their local branch for the past two months, making it look so utterly cheap and not-well-done in the process that you start wondering what exactly they had in mind when wanting to do that.

Anyway, while that bank is very rich, it has one fundamental problem. In the many years that I’ve had my account with them I cannot recall a single time that any of the young staffers doing the service there could actually help me right away. Invariably, they either had to run to the back for help, couldn’t figure things out at all, gave wrong or contradictory information or referred me to their web site even. Not that I would have bothered to go there if their web site offered any (findable) help for it. At the end of the day, all they can do for me thanks to the excellent training they receive are the very same things which I can do on my own on their (all right) online banking web site in a minute or so. Not exactly what I’m looking for.

I go there when I have non-trivial problems. And in this case my problem was a cheque. A cheque by Apple, issued in Euros but issued by Barclays in the UK. Cheques have become very rare in Germany since 2002, but I still knew I had to fill out a special form to pay one in. Sure enough, the form still existed (along with a single biro for all cusotmers in the branch to use for writing…) and I was happy to see that it didn’t only work for the old Eurocheques but for any cheques issued in Euro.

When trying to fill in the form I started being confused. You’re supposed to fill in the cheque’s number and the code of the bank that issued it. The Barclays cheque I had just didn’t fit that scheme in any way. It contained plenty of numbers but not a single word on what those numbers mean. So I went to the counter and asked for help. And sure enough the hapless youth ‘working’ there smiled and said ‘no problem’, just to start looking confused a minute later, giving up another minute later and running to ask one of the older colleagues for help on this difficult issue yet another minute later.

A bit later the whole problem was ‘solved’ with some numbers having been copied into one of the fields on the form and BARCLAYS having been written into the other. Well done, bankers. I considered the problem to be solved then. After ‘allowing’ a number of more days for the processing of this complex bit of financial magic, I checked my account just to learn that they had charged me a freaking €12,50 for this crappy service.

So I checked back through the small printed pages of fees and for sure enough that’s just what they charge for cashing foreign cheques. But wouldn’t – or rather shouldn’t – a decent businessperson at least tell you that he’ll grab about 10% of the total amount of what he’s processing? Particularly when apparently the service people in the bank itself don’t even know themselves what they are doing? Don’t banks usually want you to trust and appreciate their services rather than questioning everything they do because of your prior experiences?

That said, those horrendous fees for ‘foreign’ cheques don’t seem to be unusual. Looking around a little – and that ‘little’ is to be taken literally as the banks do quite a good job at hiding their fees, i.e. probably the only helpful information they have to offer anyway, on their web sites – suggests that many banks enjoy these kinds of rip-offs. So I assume that Apple should be aware that they are sending you a cheque issue in one country in a currency of another one which’ll mean that wherever you try to cash it, you’ll have to face extra fees. And most likely those will be of the extorionate kind. And they will know that almost 10% of the money they want to give to their customers will go up the noses of bankers… Shouldn’t they be concerned about this? Don’t they want to make their customers happy rather than the bank’s stockholders richer? Would it be that much more expensive to transfer money directly into your account, to send you a local cheque, to just give you €150 credit in their own stores? I doubt it.

December 8, 2005, 0:47


Comment by Dan: User icon

Grrr. I’ve had similar problems more than once. Someone sent me an Irish cheque for €25 and NatWest would only pay it in after charging me £12, leaving me with about £3.50 worth of cheque.

I also have an Bank of Ireland account and they never charge for cashing foreign cheques. If I’d known this when I first moved to Ireland I could have saved myself more than £200 in English ‘service’ charges.

Needless to say I wrote commending and complaining letters (which I believe should always be written in pairs) to both my Irish bank and NatWest. The bank of Ireland replied immediately thanking me for my kind comments, whilst it took a further two letters and a phone call for NatWest to send me a brochure containing a printed list of ‘service’ charges. Bunch of Grr.

December 8, 2005, 12:35

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