Sunday, April 1, 2007

Banking In China

God knows I have had my share of problems with banks in America, like when Chase gave me an inactivity charge that sent my account negative on an account they insisted was free , and then added overdraft charges, but I would love to be dealing with any major (or minor) American bank for my time in Beijing.

Most of your banking and the utility purchases (which are done through the banks) have to be done in person. No mailing checks, no online banking, not even a electronic kiosk in the bank - no, you get a number and you wait. I've just returned from trying to pay my internet fee and buy more electricity, but when I got there I encountered at least 40 people waiting in chairs, got a number 201 (now calling 51), and didn't see a single number called in the five minutes I stayed.

Now I understand why China wants to keep around lots of meaningless service jobs. Unemployment is a political sore spot in the west, let alone in a country where thirty years ago people were told not to care that they didn't have cars or television because they had an "iron rice bowl" that could not be broken. But the costs of slow banking include not only all the tasks done by hand (and the mounds of useless paper generated) that could almost certainly by done much cheaper online or by a machine, but the 50 people waiting, probably for at least an hour each, on a Monday morning at 10:30. Those people aren't at work, they might have driven or taken public transportation to get here, and I'm sure they hate waiting as much as I do. They may not be obvious, but all these things have costs.

Foreign banks have recently won the right to do business in China, thanks to its membership in the WTO. I dearly hope that they bring some semblance of international banking standards and force these decrepit organizations to adapt or perish.

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