Friday, June 4, 2010

Take it to the Bank

Is it only me, I wonder, that resents being forced to open bank accounts? I don't mean "instead of keeping money under the tatami" or "instead of burying cash in the garden". I mean being forced to open yet another bank account for the convenience of some company that owes (or will owe) me money, but wants to pay it into a particular bank, even a specific bank branch, of their choosing.

This practice allows companies to minimize the charges they have to pay for making bank transfers, and in some cases to avoid the charges altogether. Since checks are rarely used here, either by individuals or by organizations, the transfer transaction fees can mount up pretty quickly, even at the rate of a hundred yen or so each time. The company clerks' jobs are somewhat simplified, too, because they have fewer accounts to keep track of.

Often—but not always—the company will arrange for the account to be opened, requiring only that you fill out and sign/seal a form. In a week or so you get your bankbook and ATM card in the mail.

That's registered, return-receipt-requested mail, so you either have to be at home when the postman comes, or else arrange to pick it up or have it re-delivered at a specific time. "Specific" here can mean a window of a couple of hours or as much as a half day. Having to arrange your schedule for the sake of some company's convenience is another annoyance in the forced account process.

Keeping track of the balances in multiple accounts, some of which may be for rather small amounts such as transportation or other expense reimbursements, can be troublesome, too. Lately many—but by no means all—banks allow some transactions or account balance confirmation to be done online. That's better than taking the bankbooks down to the branches of each bank, or poring over mailed statements, but it's still a time-consuming hassle…and remember that this for your client's/employer's convenience, not yours.

Depending on the bank, but in every case that I've personally encountered so far, most changes to bank accounts require that the account holder go to the specific branch of the bank where the account exists, during office hours. This seems to be required for such things as getting a new bankbook or ATM card (some banks have started allowing this to be done by a combination of e-mail and postal mail, to be fair, but it's still a hassle), changing the signature or seal for an account, and closing the account.  That means that although opening the account may be as simple as filling out a form that your client/employer gives you, closing it will probably mean a special trip and very likely a long wait. Leaving an account with no activity for a while is sure to result in phone calls from the bank telling you to use the account or close it, so you can't really just ignore accounts you no longer use.

What's more, in my case, there are a couple of banks that I prefer to avoid using, either because I find them more than usually unethical (the once-scandal-ridden Sumitomo Bank, for example) or because I've been particularly unhappy with their "service" (Mitsui Bank, for example, which happily charged me extra for 24-hour-service on transfers, but took four days to accomplish them because the "24 hours" meant 24 hours after enough people's printed transaction records were finally gathered at the branch to make it worthwhile, and taken by hand to the head branch of the bank, from which they were then—finally--transferred). You can imagine how happy I'd be at being forced to use a bank representing a merger of my two least favorite banks.

Since the justification offered is typically either "everybody does it (implying 'without complaint')" or "it's much more convenient for us", I am not persuaded, and I don't like being forced. However, the alternative is not being paid, and I like that even less.

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