There was a very good letter to the editor in today’s China Post newspaper here, editorial page, written by five year expat David Norman in Taipei, explaining just how screwed up the financial services here are for some foreigners. I will take down the long text tomorrow, in case the link does not work yet.
Taiwan’s banking system helping to ruin country’s image
by David Norman.
Letter to Editor:
Since first arriving in Taiwan in 2000, I have noticed many improvements in the convenience of travel and shopping, as well as whole neighborhoods changing for the better.
However, one area that lags far behind is the banking sector. I now hold five bank accounts, and all but one of the banks is third-world in its service. Add to this the apparent racially discriminatory policies of the Central Bank of China, and the situation seems unlikely to improve soon.
Last week I tried to close my account at one of the banks. I have moved since I first opened the account, to an area across town. In a first-world banking system, I could walk into any branch of the bank, present valid ID and my bankbook or ATM card, and close the account.
But not in technologically-advanced, notebook-computer, TFT-LCD producing Taiwan. Here you have to return to the bank that you opened the account at. Fortunately for me this means “just” forty minutes’ travel each way. What if I had moved to Taipei from Taichung or Kaohsiung?
Next is the issue of credit cards. Teenagers in Ximending have wallets full of credit cards, but try getting one as a foreigner, on a salary of NT$50,000 a month or more, while working for a household name organization, or even for the government of Taiwan. Fat chance. Oh, but foreigners are a flight-risk, say the banks. Really? What percentage of the Taiwanese population hold passports or permanent residence visas from foreign countries and could just as easily zoom off overseas if they decided not to pay their bills, with their multiple credit cards, each with limits of over NT$200,000? I had to threaten to write to the newspapers, highlighting this very policy and naming them, before my bank agreed to give me a card in Taiwan. To their credit, their service has been exemplary ever since, and to mine, I haven’t missed a payment in the 15 months I have had it.
On to the main reason for me writing this letter. Last week I opened a bank account at ICBC, as it is conveniently located near my home, and they do have useful international transfer facilities in currencies other than the big four. My ATM card, which took “only” three days to be readied (it used to take 20 minutes until the authorities decided that, for “convenience”, all cards must be fitted with IC cards), was handed to me along with the statement that it could not be used overseas. I flipped over the card and saw the “Cirrus” and “Maestro” logos on the back.
So why can I not use it overseas if it has these logos? After all, having lived in Taiwan long-term, when I periodically travel abroad, I need to withdraw money earned in Taiwan to pay for my living expenses while on my trip. Apparently because foreigners may not.
Naturally I wanted to know why. The first reason the supervisor suggested was that it was a form of exchange control. The couple of hundred thousand foreigners living in Taiwan cannot access their money on trips overseas so as not to cause wild fluctuations in the currency, but the millions of Taiwanese nationals who travel overseas each year can. Tell me another one.
When I pointed this out, there was a big pow-wow among the office staff before they managed to produce a document they said was from the Central Bank of China, which stated very clearly that foreigners may not be allowed to draw funds from overseas. This did not solve the problem, but did shift responsibility for this bigoted approach.
Furthermore, I learned that foreigners are now not allowed to access their funds once their Alien Resident Certificate (ARC) expires. This is, of course, incidental, as if you are living and working in Taiwan, you should have an ARC, and according to the previously-mentioned policy, foreigners may not access their money from overseas anyway.
The implication, though, is that if you do not have every aspect of your finances squared away before you leave Taiwan for the long-term (and your ARC is canceled), you will be cut off from your own money in your own bank account in Taiwan!
The only reason I can see why this could be a concern is that accounts could be used for money-laundering, but this is certainly not the exclusive preserve of foreigners. Any Taiwanese citizen living overseas on one of those many foreign passports and residence visas could be doing the same.
Most bizarrely of all, these racist regulations are not something being phased out, but indeed, are a recent introduction! Rather than making Taiwan a fairer place, they are tarnishing Taiwan’s already less-than-impressive reputation on the equal rights front.
While I was applying for my account last week, there was another foreigner, clearly a businessman, doing the same. I wonder what he thought of the policy? And what he will tell his company, colleagues and business contacts about the third-worldliness and egocentricity of Taiwan’s banking system?
I will spare you the details of the story of how my traveler’s checks were reported stolen shortly after being purchased from a local bank when they were in fact in my possession all along, and the hours of to-ing and fro-ing that resulted in an attempt to sort that problem out.
The fact is that I, like many other expatriates I have spoken to, am sick of being given the run-around, excuses, and complicated hoops to jump through, for the most basic of services, or to fix mistakes made by the banks. The thing that’s really missing from banking in Taiwan, is what banks should be offering: financial service.