Walking the streets of large cities in any country is like meeting a person – the outside of what you see is a pretty good measure of what you may find inside. This old rule, a modification of ‘as above so below’, generally works although there can be exceptions. When you walk down the streets of a city they may be lined with shops, with art galleries with eating places. Sometimes, the streets of large cities are lined with banks – banks shout aspirations.
I remember a time when Bulgaria had only two financial institutions – the Bulgarian National Bank and the Central Saving Fund. This was all! It was a mainly cash economy where people saved for the large purchases in their life (or even the large purchase) – a home – and bought it when they were close to retirement; often without borrowing. They never saw what goes into their pensions or for their taxes (pay was known only net and the rest was mystery). Today banks are everywhere – there are eight banks within 500 m radius of our apartment. We had to make a choice – after all we are expecting the sale of property and we need an account here for family reasons anyway.
A small complication is that I had to open a bank account as a British citizen – all my attempts to get Bulgarian passport again (the old one expired a decade ago) were doomed. Another one was (but should not have been) that I wanted a complete internet access. So we chose a bank with a name I had come to trust – Tokuda Bank. It is not very large, but large enough; it is Japanese and if the hospital with the same name is anything to go by it is well run.
Yesterday we popped in Tokuda Bank – I was in the hospital anyway having my stitches taken out. People were competent, helpful and nice. What was interesting was that:
- I could not have an account with full internet access and debit cards at the same time. The solution was suggested quickly – to open two accounts; one with full internet access and one with one way (in) access and debit cards.
- I had to fill in documents for over an hour – mainly my name, address and passport number.
- I had to sign a document stating that I am not an acting Head of State, Minister, President or a CEO of a Bank. This had me in stitches (forgive the pun) – what happens if someone is a Head of State?
So far, so good I thought. But little did I know – today I set up the Internet Access. Or shall I say, today I started the long Kafkaesque process of setting up internet access.
First thing this morning I got a call from the Bank to give me the telephone number of their IT department just in case something goes wrong. Good, I thought; this is customer service. Then I got on the website – nightmare! Bulgarians are known for their IT skills but I wish they did not assume them in everyone else. What happened was the following:
- I had to go through level one registration to get a key. Strike!
- Then I got on level two – a form asking stuff I don’t have (line my national security number in Bulgaria). I phone the IT people, they offer a solution. Finish the form, press ‘submit’ – and an error message appears. Try again – the same result. Borderline insanity ensues – I am close to a full blown tantrum.
- Phone Tokuda IT again – they start shouting at me and start talking something about changing the protocols and settings of my laptop. Blast – how do I do that? Meanwhile I see what they mean – there are instruction with illustrations; about two meters long. I put down the phone but feel peeved – one doesn’t like being shouted at by IT people with a crap website.
- I try to follow the instructions – I get in a muddle. John comes to the rescue and not even an hour after we started, after me almost crying and being completely the opposite to ‘chill’ we do it. Strike!
- I get a message to go to the nearest branch to get my password. Strike!
- Then I receive an e-mail – it is all funny characters because it is probably in Cyrillic and I don’t have the appropriate character set to read it.
I am exhausted and have headache; but I have a bank account in Bulgaria. Well, thinking of it, I have two of those. As to the headache – it’s nothing that some cold beer won’t remedy.