Saturday, June 26, 2010

Adventures In Chinese Banking

Two years ago, when we first moved to China, we opened up a local bank account. We thought it would be kind of cool to have a Chinese bank account. (Not as impressive as a Swiss bank account, of course!) Plus, we reasoned, it would be nice to have access to significant amounts of cash, rather than just be limited by the amount we can withdraw at one time from an ATM machine.

When we moved back to the US, we decided to leave the ICBC account intact. And so one of our first orders of business was to restock the funds in this account. Walking into our neighborhood branch with a wad of US dollars, I took a number and found a seat on one of the many pleather chairs in the lobby. No queuing at Chinese banks. It is kind of like the deli counter at Shop Rite...You had better be ready when your number is called or they will move right on to the next customer!

My transaction took all of two minutes, as I explained that I wanted to deposit some American dollars into my account. It was two days later that the fun began...

Wanting to replenish the cash in our wallets, I stuck my ICBC card into one of the bank's ubiquitous ATM machines...And was promptly informed that there were "insufficient funds" in our account. In fact, the "advice" (this is, for some reason, what the voice in the ATM machine calls a receipt) stated that there was the equivalent of about $50 available for withdrawal.

Later in the day, I strolled back down to the local branch and tried to straighten things out. When I explained that the account supposedly has only about 300 yuan in it, the teller nodded in agreement. Looking at the screen in front of her, she said, "Yes, you have 300 yuan in your account."

But what about those two thousand US dollars I deposited the other day? "Yes, you also have two thousand US dollars in your account." Eureka moment for this silly waiguoren!

I had assumed that it didn't matter if I deposited money into our account as renminbi or dollars, that either would be available for withdrawal as Chinese currency. Wrong! So now what I need to do is go back to the bank, take out those two thousand US dollars, convert them into renminbi (probably right there in the bank lobby), and then deposit those notes into the account. At least that's what I think I need to do!

~Steve

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