Hell is a Venezuelan bank

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Last week was slow for me blogging-wise. Not because of a lack of ideas, mind you, but a lack of time.

Sometimes everyday life meddles with the routine. But in this case, it turned it completely upside down.

For once, I will share something personal: I hate going to banks. HATE IT!

You can ask many things from me, but going to a bank as a favor isn’t one of those I take to gladly. If in the end I have to go, it is because there’s no choice left. And it makes me feel miserable EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. This is not about the concept or purpose of banks in general, but about the specific experience of our bank branches, and the overall treatment of customers.

Here’s the story:

I went to a Banesco branch, with Banesco being one of the most important banks in the country. What was supposed to be a quick transaction became a depressing ordeal. At 9:30 a.m. (only an hour after opening) the place was already filled with people waiting. There was not a line, but instead they all have numbered tickets. People stressed out, even if they got one of the few available seats.

As time rolled by, there was something strange with the system: numbers were jumping back and forth. The order was all messed up. The deputy manager was attentive and taking the complaints, but the thing made me lose two valuable hours. It was probably a glitch in the computer, or so I was told.

The day after, I returned. The glitch was gone. The big crowd and the slowness were there still. Of the five desks for the so-called “promoters”, only two were working – a natural bottleneck. After 90 minutes, I quit. The business of finding information about an old bank account I had there was left unresolved. I was upset.

My hatred of Venezuelan banks comes from my teenage years, when I started to go there to run errands for my mom and dad. The lines alone made me hate them. But as I saw them change and embrace technology, my hopes were dashed – things didn’t improve a bit.

No matter if they’re regular bank offices or those located inside malls (with extended workhours), bank offices in Venezuela are always full. ALWAYS. Even with ATMs and deposit machines, people wait for hours and hours. Heck, they would camp there the night before if they could. The worst treatment goes for the elderly, as they must wait all day for their pensions, rain or shine. It’s so unfair to them, it embarasses me to the core.

There are other aspects to criticize beside the defficient quality of the sevice, as if that wasn’t enough. For example, banks have different requirements for opening an account. Some are more simple than others, with the copy of the I.D. and some referrences. Others ask for so many things, that they could go for CADIVI-styled folders. Better not give them ideas…

When I went to Germany years ago, the difference couldn’t be larger. Even in Frankfurt, the financial center of Europe, bank offices were almost always empty. If you have to do something face to face, employees treat you well. Machines are fully functional and many don’t even bother to go unless it’s really necessary. They can pay the bills online after all.

Of course, we’re not Germans.

(For the record, most Venezuelans treat ATMs like crap. No wonder they don’t work most of the time. I cut some slack on the banks in that matter. #LoCertifico)

Most, if not all private banks are not that interested in improving customer service. Public banks are no better, even if they grow larger in number and access. Meanwhile, the Chavernment has not shown any concern. But there was one time when they wanted banks to have public restrooms. In the end, this proposal was just a bluff. The real purpose of this decision was to force private banks to give out more loans.

In the end, part of the blame goes to us. We stand in line, suffer all the ordeals, and remain silent. It’s like there a permanent need to do everything personally. There’s a big distrust of the banking system, built on the multiple crises during the decades: from the mega-collapse of the nineties to the recent crash of some minor banks (which led to the creation of one major public bank from the remains of those institutions).

At least banks here have adapted to the times, and many operations can be done on the Web, but most Venezuelans lack access to Internet. Also, they prefer to cash their paychecks personally. For those who have to withdraw larger amounts, the issue of personal security enters. Robbers outside could be waiting around, tipped from inside about who they should go after.

Banks could do more to improve, and clients would give them some trust in return. I’m not optimistic about that. I know this rant won’t change things. But at least I feel better to let my frustrations out. If this post makes some minuscule impact, I’ll be very surprised.

I can tell you this: my personal vision of Hell is a full Venezuelan bank office downtown during payday (quince y ultimo). Full, slow, with half of the tellers out “sick.” And with the computer system down.

Sadly, I’ve lived through that a couple of times.

1 COMMENT

  1. You left something out in the end Gustavo…

    “I can tell you this: my personal vision of Hell is a full Venezuelan bank office downtown during payday (quince y ultimo). Full, slow, with half of the tellers out “sick.” And with the computer system down.”

    … then they tell you you didn’t bring all the documents they requested and when they are about to tell you what you left out there’s a blackout so the office has to close for the day.

    In my personal version of hell I have to go to the bank on odd days of the week and on even days I have to go to a Registry or Notary. Beat that, Hades!

  2. Referring Banesco as the poster child of the Venezuelan banking system is the surest way to describe hell on earth. That’s why I chose to make a pro-active move: to cut off ties with Banesco and be client of other banks. Plain and simple.

    I’ve never had any negative experiences with Corp Banca, BFC, BVC and Banco Mercantil and I really don’t remember having spent more than an hour in a bank but Banesco, Banco de Venezuela and Banco Provincial will always be blacklisted for their very poor customer service and will never see me again in their offices. Banco Caroní gives good service as told by my parents —they have their retirement pension account there. Don’t know of the rest.

  3. I think the phrase “Robbers outside could be waiting around, tipped from inside about who they should go after” is no longer current. Robbers are now Inside the bank, camouflaged among us, making the cue with us, spotting us.
    A few days ago my mom went to Banesco in Los Teques (the satellite city near Caracas) as she need to deposit her pension and the pension of my ant. I can say that my mom is really active and careful but that day she was distracted. She started filling the stupid forms to make your deposit and count the money of both pensions with caution, then she put it back in her purse while finished filling the forms. Just in less than a minute 2 women with a child stopped side by side with my mon, each at one side, they pretended to filled a deposit form also and they were really close to my mom, at the poitn that my mom personal´s space was limited, while this was happening the child was running below the table moving and “disturbing” my mom and the women. My mom finished her form and went to the “promoters”, looked for her money inside her purse and surprise! All she found was two packs of newspaper carefully rolled like money instead!.
    Paquete chileno papa! easy money!

    • Yeap, she went to the agency days after she felt “safe enough” to go there. She talked with the manager and sub-manager, they listen and they said! Oh! thank you for coming, yes we have heard that this kind of situation is happening we will check the security cameras, bla bla. For me that is like: We know that is happening but we won´t do anything to avoid it…

  4. yeah, it’s a top-down system where every bank acts the same and people wouldn’t change banks just because one of them promised better services.

    However the complaint about half the tellers being off is typical and should be irrelevant. Just because they have the desks there doesn’t mean they should all be occupied. They each need a desk and they have turns, it bothers me that people can’t understand and blame the people that are not there thinking they are the typical “vividor” that isn’t at work that day. They have turns because work is not only done during the opening hours and it’s larger than 8 hours a day.
    The actual solution, more and bigger branches. But it will still have half the desks empty, that is seen not only in our country, just that in other countries you may not have had the time to fixate on that.
    As for the numbers, they’re not meant to be sequential, and a “glitch” may mean that that particular day more people of different types of errands (or a mix of costumer and non-costumers status) came in. Also something superficial that people tend to rant about because it leaves room for conspiracy theories instead of focusing on the simple problem, the staff is not enough, the teller/costumer ratio is not enough for the Venezuelan public.

  5. I think blaming customers or workers for this is off. All of the customer service problems in Venezuela come from lack of capitalist competition. As soon as someone new wants to invest in a quality bank, the other banks are going to have to shape up. But for now the hour, 2-hour, even 3-hour waits. And yes, even at Mercantil (though there are some branches that go faster).

      • It’s a point that everyone has known since the beginning of time, but nothing happens to change it.Maybe it would be interesting to delve into the reasons why nothing changes in this respect?

        • People could put some pressure to change it. Somehow, they don’t. Or they have tried and failed, so they gave up.

    • I couldn’t agree more with the post. As to the reason for this delay, competition may be a problem in the long-run. However, what I’ve seen is that the regulatory environment makes banks completely disinterested in obtaining new customers or keeping existing ones. They live on commercial accounts and individuals are irrelevant. Isn’t that why their requirements for opening a new account can be so onerous?

      • The rules for opening new accounts in Latin America are generally set by the government. The punishments for failure can be severe, so banks have an incentive to go above and beyond. I am about to go cash a cheque here in Santiago, since I am still unable to open any bank account 2.5 years after moving here. At least in Venezuela immigrants can open accounts.

        • I went and cashed the check (no line at all at local branch of Bci bank) and then deposited in the account of my lawyer (no line at all at main office of Banco de Chile) and went for a walk. Total time for the tarea was about 12 minutes, including getting to the banks on foot and finding the right window.

          Now Gustavo, if you want to really get into international comparisons of how much time people spend in line, you need to look at SAIME. Here in Chile I got my visa by mail. In Venezuela I had to be at SAIME at 4 am a couple times for 5-hour lines. The US? Forget about it, it might be better than Venezuela but the disrespect for applicants is palpable. Visas are the best test of customer service, I think. Unlike banks or government offices for citizens, there is little incentive for managers to do a good job. No competition, no electoral pressure. But in Chile they do it well. Why? I suspect it has to do with basic good management practices and respect for other people’s time. And I appreciate it.

          • P.S. I wonder if Chile’s restrictive banking practices for immigrants extends, as well, to foreign companies, setting up shop, say in Santiago. I remember when Toronto-based Bank of Nova Scotia was buying out the old Royal Bank of Scotland > Banco Sudamericano, which has now become Scotiabank Sudamericano. Yes the time frame was lengthy, but that’s a corporate acquisition/fusion. Not sure if SS allows retail banking (for regular Joes and Josephines), as well as commercial banking.

          • I tried to open an account there and they rejected me because I was Venezuelan, they allowed my American friend to open the account (and asked me to translate to her). I submitted a complain to Sernac and I made them apologize to me, but of course, I am in very special circumstances.

          • i was paying him following the successful conclusion of my personal injury case — another little thing that makes me glad to live in a country with reasonably functional government. but yes, i’m unbanked, because banking law here is very, very anti-immigrant.

          • Perhaps immigration to Chile is limited, as are incentives for change. In that respect, Vz has long had a history of more liberal aperture.

        • O_o

          Whoa, whoa, Setty!

          And I thought I had it bad. You are making me feel really bad about the privilege I have had so far here in Chile.

          By your account of banks, it you are close to your house, we are almost neighbors.

  6. Corpbanca: Tres cajeras maximo, a veces una!!, las maquinas contadoras se equivocaban muchas veces, cuando se modernizaron cambiaron las camaras primero y mucho mas adelante las maquinas contadoras…, en atencion al cliente con el papeleo no son tan quisquillosos…

    Provincial: Siempre ha sido lento, pero recientemente cambiaron el sistema a tickets, si no posees tarjeta de debito/credito del banco te ponen en un contador que puede que no avance por una hora!! DIscriminacion!!

    Mercantil: El unico banco decente en el que puedes pasar rapidamente a una caja, o esperar tranquilamente sentado, eso si, pendiente con la pantalla que pasa rapido y puedes perder tu turno al no darte cuenta, con el papeleo si son mas quisquillosos, no aceptan una referencia bancaria online porque no tiene sello (a pesar de tener un numero de referencia).

  7. I seem to remember that the government passed a law about a year ago that would fine banks if anyone had to wait more than 30 minutes to be attended. It seems to me that Banco Provincial got around this by installing deposit machines where the line moves so slowly because in my local branch there are two deposit machines and one is always out of use, BUT as people are waiting for a machine the bank is not liable under the 30 minute law.
    The old and infirm waiting in line for their social security pension is a national disgrace. The government is principally to blame but the banks do nothing to make it easier.

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