Turns out that opening a Swiss bank account wasn’t quite as easy as I made it sound in a previous post.
True, I’ve watched too many movies starring people like Matt Damon who were pampered and fawned over upon entering a Swiss bank. Also true, as I reported, no one asked me when I arrived if I perhaps might like an espresso.
A couple of Friday afternoons ago, I went to the post office, took a number, and waited in line, just like everyone else. When my number was called, I handed over a great deal of information about myself – a copy of my passport and visa, a copy of my employment contract, a copy of my rental agreement, among other things. I was prepared to hand over dental records and a DNA swab, if the request had been made.
But, after waiting a week for my account information to arrive by “post” (pardon me if I sound affected, but I now live in a “flat” and take a “lift” to get there, so naturally my mail arrives by “post”), I received an email from a very nice person at my new bank – the Swiss post office – informing me that, in addition to everything else, I would also have to furnish a copy of my residency permit.
Only then would I have the privilege of entrusting all of my money to them. In the U.S. I could bring in a dollar to open a savings account, and the bank manager would personally give me a toaster to thank me. (Well, that was true in 1963, when I opened my first account at Old Kent Bank in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Maybe things don’t work that way today.)
To be fair – and you’ll find out in a few paragraphs why I really do need to be fair about this – everyone I have dealt with has been unfailingly polite. They even speak (and write) impeccable English, compared to my shamefully peccable German.
Beyond that I learned a great deal since writing my last post about how the Swiss banking business has changed in the last year. Given how few banks want to take money from U.S. citizens right now, it’s remarkable that I found even one that was interested in holding my money.
Under pressure from the U.S. government, centuries of (profitable) Swiss banking practice changed, almost overnight, and so it’s no wonder that I wasn’t offered any espresso at the Swiss post office. They have been polite to me, yes, but they have decidedly mixed feelings about my government.
At this point I’m going to remind my readers that I’m a pastor – with excellent training in Hebrew and Greek, but little in the way of banking practice. And so, what has happened is still largely a mystery to me. What I know for sure is that I moved to Switzerland at an awkward time for U.S. citizens, even those with small amounts of money to deposit.
But here’s the thing: The compliance manager at my bank, who emailed yesterday with further instructions about opening my account, thanked me for my recent blog post.
And now I realize how wise it was for me to be fair when blogging about this subject. I hope to get my bank cards in a couple of days.