Living in Switzerland you soon learn that banks were more or less invented in the country. We do have a government, politicians, people that pretend to tell us what to do and we even vote now and again - it looks good in the newspapers. After living here more than forty years I have realised that there is a secret force amongst us called banks and they actually rule Switzerland. Who needs a monarch or a president when there are banks.
I am not talking about political problems, international problems caused by people that do not like our banks, that is another kettle of fish and I leave that to the powers that are in the world to sort it out. No, I am talking about putting your money in a bank for safekeeping. The days have gone where it was sufficient to stuff the bank notes under the mattress, or hide them away under the floorboards. No, today we are told to let your money work for you and who would be better than to do that task, but a bank. There are however a few problems.
Today we live in an age of modern communications - computers, online banking or whatever. The cheque book has almost become non-existent in Switzerland in any case. Now and again you might even stoop to putting real money in your purse to buy something This is where the problem began for me since I received a letter from my bank last week.
We all know the bank machines, where you insert your plastic card, enter your secret code which no-one should know and choose how much money you require. The problem might even begin with the code. How many codes does an average spending person possess today? You have your bank code and your credit card code. Just two you might think. Well that is according to how many accounts you might have. I also have a post office account, so that is another code. Then we have the progressive form - access over the computer. You will then have another set of codes, supplied by your bank/post office by post and told to destroy the codes once you have memorised them.
How many of us memorise at least 5-6 codes? I can just about manage 2 and then they have to be birthdays, or other memorable numbers. So there we are, the normal average person is already swamped by too many possibilities. And don't forget, do not write them anywhere, you never know.
Ok, and now I read the letter from my bank informing me that in future I should only draw money from a bank machine belonging to my bank. Up to now I could use my card in any bank machine. I can still do this, but if the machine does not belong to my bank, I will be charged two swiss francs by my bank (as a penalty??). Ok, I don't have a big problem. I mostly draw money for daily purchases from my post office account, and there is a post office in every town in Switzerland. Note I said town, our village post office will be closed this month, as in most Swiss villages (but that would be a subject for another blog perhaps).
Anyhow back to the bank. As said no problem for me but for other members of my family so what to do. You phone the bank and ask for the person responsible for your account who is happy to give any advice. Luckily, being in Switzerland, the bank correspondent is almost a family member, especially when it comes to advising how to invest your money to increase bank profits, so we called him.
Banks are always prepared for such problems and there is a bank system, especially tailored for innocent customers as ourselves, to cope with this problem and our banking adviser told us on the phone it would be a good idea to visit the bank to discuss what could be done. This week Mr. Swiss and myself ventured into the secret vaults of our local bank and yes we were advised.
For a certain amount of money, paid annually, we would be able to draw our money from any bank machine without paying extra. Now this does not really make sense according to my average womanly intuition, but if we signed on the dotted line, not only do we get free access to any bank machine, but our credit card is also included plus a free credit card from American Express (for visits to the States?). Our credit card would also be cheaper per year (mine is more expensive because I have always been able to profit from being a Mrs. Swiss up to now but I would now be equal to Mr. Swiss, paying the same as him). We also have a son who is confronted with the same problem, so we finalised his bank business as well.
We are now proud possessors of a bank account, credit card, and American Express credit card all incorporated in a new bank system. Mr. Swiss is very happy as he saves money and can draw money from any bank machine without further cost, Mr. Swiss Junior is also quite happy as he also saves money, but Mrs. Swiss? Well she is still trying to come to grips with the new system which will cost her twenty swiss francs more per year.
Don't you just love banks? Or why fix it when it isn't broken. Sometimes I understand my 96 year old father who told me quite adamantly on my last visit "I do not want a cheque book". No problem, dad, the cheque book will disappear one day from the english financial system.