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Banking in the Philippines

Banking in the PhilippinesEveryone knows by now that I try to be very positive with what I write about the Philippines. Sometimes I even hear from people who are annoyed that my “Paradise” seems so trouble-free. “Get real,” they tell me.

The truth is, of course, that like every country, the Philippines has some negatives about it. Most of these “negatives” are cultural differences though. I expect many things will seem wrong to me. I expect to be left thinking at times,  “that’s not how WE do it”. When I encounter situations like that, because I’m kind of prepared for them to crop up, I think that I can better deal with them without much weeping and moaning.

For instance, the post before this one was an Ode to the Filipino Napkin which (I hope) was a humorous take on something that I find frustrating: the small, thin napkins that are a staple nearly everywhere that I’ve eaten in the Philippines.

My wife will tell you that I really dislike messy hands when I eat. If I have to pick up sloppy food with my fingers, I want to wipe my fingers as fast and thoroughly as possible afterward (think: eating curried chicken legs).

If you’ve ever used one of those napkins while eating messy food, you know how frustrating it is. You know that you’re going to go through a stack of them and you know you’ve wondered why they’re so thin, small and darn near useless.

So there’s the dilemma. That’s a kind of culture clash. If you can’t deal with that kind of annoyance, it will build up with all of the other little things and break your enjoyment of a place you know you love: the Philippines.

So I tried to poke fun at the napkin thing as an exercise in dealing with cultural annoyances.

What does this have to do with banking in the Philippines? I’m glad you asked because now I can segue from napkins to banking! Salamat!

Seriously though, the parallels between napkins and banking are there, I promise.

If you’ve opened a checking or savings account at a bank in America, you know how easy it is to do. You sit down with a bank representative, fill out a form, answer some questions, make your first deposit, the rep clickity-clacks on their computer, they hand you a few temporary checks so that you can access your money and that’s it. Your debit card will arrive in the mail in a few days as will your first box of checks. Thank you for banking with us. Next, please!

Not so in the Philippines. There are forms to fill up. And then some more forms to fill up. Small, passport-style photos of you are required. Then come some more forms to fill up. Then you have to sign your name three times on a form, one right after another. Then there’s a period of data entry while the banking rep (who, like all of the other banking reps, is young, female and using too much skin lightening soap so that it looks like you’re sitting in a branch of  Kabuki National Bank) enters all of that information into what you surmise are electronic versions of those forms.  Then you make your cash deposit. Then the banking rep will grab a rubber stamp from her rubber stamp collection and thwack the heck out of those paper forms you just filled out (I think all of the reps really enjoy the rubber stamping part). Then, if you didn’t want to wait for one with your name on it, you will be issued an ATM card that you will have to activate at an ATM by inserting it and reciting the Lithuanian National Anthem.

All right, I may be exaggerating with that last bit but what I’m trying to say is that, like many processes in the Philippines that seem redundant and needlessly complicated (like paying your travel tax at the airport at one booth and then having to go to the very next booth to have your stub torn and recorded), the process of opening a bank account also seems to have redundancies and needless complication.

That’s how it is, Jack. And even if your name isn’t Jack, that’s how it is. It’s cultural. It’s playing by a different set of legalities, needs and banking rules. You’re not in America anymore and you really have to adapt by adopting a bemused attitude and a smile for your banking rep who is working really hard and trying desperately to do everything correctly.

So the parallels between banking in the Philippines and using the typical Filipino napkin are: they can both be frustrating, they can both seem silly, you should  be careful when wiping your mouth on them.


photo credit: Instant Vantage via photopin cc


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