By Stacia Saunders
Welcome to London, a world financial capital. You probably managed to navigate your way through the process of getting a National Insurance number and a bank account (without even a utilities bill in your name) and you are probably impressed with the fee-free accounts here. But be warned.
A free account sounds great — but only if you pay cash and don’t run your account down too low. You see, despite having all the latest technology available and providing elaborate security mechanisms such as a plastic Pin sentry contraption needed to obtain extra validation when doing online banking, English banks run on the old batch processing system, therefore when you pay on card, it’s not live.
Just say, I paid rent on card. It takes four days for the hostel’s bank to transact with my bank. In the meantime, it looks like I have that money available to spend. So, I spend it.
But then suddenly, I get a letter from the bank saying I’ve overdrawn and I am going to be charged eight quid per transaction made after the account went into negative. Some banks charge £40 or more. The frustrating thing is – it didn’t look negative when I made the bloody transaction!
Funnily enough, my English colleagues seemed quite perplexed at my troubles. “You check your balance online every day, and just keep track of all you spend,” they said.
My Indian friend disagrees:
“Why would I have a debit card if I need to keep a diary remembering everything I am spending?”
Another thing to watch, is cash withdrawals abroad. Whilst in Kenya, I rang Barclays UK to check my balance. Despite double checking several times with the operator that this was my available balance after a withdrawal at a Barclays Kenya ATM that morning, it turned out this wasn’t the case and I copped a big fat lot of charges. Money withdrawn from overseas ATM machines, even a subsidiary of the same bank, are not live and may take several days to show up on your account.
Luckily, my local bank manager is a Kiwi fellow who is on special alert for Aussie, Kiwi and South Africans screaming highway robbery at nonchalant tellers. He used to be head of Online Banking for a bank in New Zealand which allows live transactions to appear on online statements, ATM receipts and phone banking records as they occur. It is after all, 2011.
Unfortunately, the UK has not adapted the ‘most up to date banking system on the planet’, although two tiny islands in the middle of nowhere have managed to.
“They are slow to change systems in England,” explained this Barclays manager. “Of course, I go shopping and don’t track all my purchases either. But you’re better off paying cash if you want to avoid a fee for going over.”
Have you been stung by UK banks? Share your experiences below in the comments section.