Sunday, 26 May 2013

Covertible Renminbi? Dream On...

Banking in China is one of the most annoying chores in the country...
When the media talks about how China is going to make the renminbi a convertible currency, I can't help but laugh.

In China, banking has to be one of the most frustratingly bureaucratic things to do in daily life. No wonder the banks are open seven days a week.

While ATM machines have made it easier to withdraw and deposit money and credit cards are more popular, cheques are still unheard of let alone bank drafts. And still having its highest denomination bill as 100 yuan?

When I worked for one company, every employee had a bank account with the firm's bank. That's because that was the only way one would get paid. If you changed jobs, which I did, you had to open up another bank account with that new employer's bank. If a person changed jobs say five or six times in their career, they could easily have that many bank accounts. It was deemed impossible to do direct deposit into another bank.

The same goes for transferring money from one bank to another. To pay rent to my landlord, I withdrew a red brick of cash from my bank, had to physically go to my landlord's bank and deposit it into his account.

One time a foreign colleague had moved from Shenzhen to Beijing and wanted to transfer her money to the same bank, but in the capital. This was a daunting task and it wasn't even done properly -- her money was somehow transferred to some bank account in Shenyang. Eventually she somehow got the money to Beijing.

Fast forward to last year. I opened a bank account with a Chinese bank here in Hong Kong and was given a cash rebate that was in the form of credit in a credit card. I naively assumed that since the credit was available in Hong Kong dollars and renminbi that I could use it on the mainland with no problems.

So when I visited China, I put two charges on there and assumed my rebate would cover them -- but I was wrong.

In the statement I received earlier this week I was shocked to find I had an overdue payment on my credit card. I called to find out what the issue was, and the rebate would not cover any renminbi charges, even though it would only involve converting the renminbi charge into Hong Kong dollars and then deducting from my rebate.

No. Impossible. In a hurry to pay up the overdue charge as soon as possible, I was advised by customer service over the phone to do online banking. But then I soon discovered that I could not log on because a) I did not have a PC; b) I did not have a desktop computer; and c) I did not have Internet Explorer.

All three criteria prove how mainland Chinese this bank is -- and how utterly useless it is in Hong Kong where a good number of people use Apple laptops that don't use IE. It also illustrates how this bank's online banking system is not very safe if one must use a desktop computer...

In the end I had to physically go to the bank to get the overdue charges settled. I explained to the teller that I couldn't do online banking and she gave an understanding smile, probably having heard that complaint many times before.

It's safe to say I will be cancelling this credit card as soon as my rebate runs out -- banking with a mainland Chinese bank is so tedious particularly in a financial centre like Hong Kong where practically any banking request can be completed quickly and efficiently without much fuss.

So China having a convertible renminbi anytime soon? Don't bet on it.

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