In a previous life [read Dar] we were paid in cash, and we were paid early. So every month on the 25th, I could be seen lugging around a
sack handbag with millions of red elephants. Exchange rates are a beautiful thing. Since the money never went through the bank, I had my piles of cash literally under my bed. They’d stay there for a few days before I traded them for a much smaller pile of brown elephants and handed them over to Western Union – with a reason why I was sending ‘their money’ away.
Allow me to translate my gibberish. I worked in Tanzania for four years, and because of the exchange rate, my salary ran into millions, literally. I sent most of my earnings home, but I had to send it home via Western Union. The procedure involved providing a copy of my passport, my work permit, and giving a valid reason why I was sending money out of Tazania. I hate banks.
When I got home, I opened two Barclays accounts because my cousin worked there. I later opened a third one, and merged the other two. Both accounts have no ATM and withdrawals cost 300 a piece, so they’re strictly for savings. Not that there’s much in them to save – last I checked the balance was barely over a thousand. Still, it’s the thought that counts. I have two other accounts – one at KCB for Paypal and one at NBK for everything else. And this is where my trouble begins.
Sometime last month, I needed a withdrawal to buy a good friend lunch. I decided to lump all my errands together and take out enough for a few other things. I was late for my 9 o’clock meeting, so I was pretty pissed when I got to Pesapoint and found it surrounded by mean-looking men with big guns. Yep, they were loading the machine. I hung around for maybe ten minutes then decided to leave and come back later. Fortunately, my lunch date agreed to take the tab. I love my friends.
Later, I came back to make my withdrawal. I should mention I’m a little bit afraid of ATMs. See, I first used one when I was 12. My cousin had sent me to get 2K out of her account. I stood in line for half an hour … then panicked … and somehow left the booth with her entire salary. I sprinted out so fast the watchman almost stopped me! Of course my cousin thought it was hilarious, but to date, I still shake a little at the ATM.
Pesapoint itself is a trial. It always tells you take out your card and put it back in, and whenever it does that, I expect to hear buzzers and see flashing lights and have SWAT guys crash through the windows! Anyway, I got through that part okay, but while I waited for my withdrawal, the machine … well … it took a lot longer than it should, which was upsetting. Then, it said my bank had taken too long to respond and asked me to take my card. Okay…
I put the card back in and tried to re-do the withdrawal, but it claimed I had exceeded my daily limit. Weird. I still needed the cash, so I crossed the road and tried a Barclays ATM. The VISA transaction would cost me 250, but I needed to pay stuff fast. Barclays informed me that my balance was 20,000/= less, since I had – apparently – just made a withdrawal. WTH? In a panic, I called @TheMacharia, my friendly neighbourhood Financial Adviser, who calmly suggested I call the bank and they would reverse the transaction. I said okay, but in my mind, I was already seeing nightmare scenarios like this.
I got home and hunted down all my bank documents, trying to find a phone number. I checked my ATM card, waiting card, envelopes, bank slips … I even rummaged in the bin for old ATM receipts … but nada. How does bank stationery not have a phone number!?! In the end, I Googled it and got the number. Phew! I called the bank and a nice man said they’d get in touch with Pesapoint and that I’d get my refund in two days’ time. And no, I wasn’t allowed to make another withdrawal before midnight. Sigh.
Two days later, I went to another ATM – still Barclays [it was closer than my NBK, and I was still wary about Pesapoint]. No refund. I called NBK the next morning, and the lady was surprised that I hadn’t been refunded yet. She transferred me to the same nice man who said since it was a weekend, interbank transfers weren’t on. He advised me to call on Monday at noon and talk to Lilian. Okay.
Come Monday, I waited until 12.30 to call. Lilian was very polite. She looked at my account, told me the money hadn’t been refunded yet, and suggested I call the next day, which I did. At this point, I was mentally running through my list of ‘soft loan’ targets because my budget was ruined and the debtors were calling. I was put on hold for 4 minutes, which is no fun when you’re using a cell phone to call a land line. At least the holding music was fun.
I hung up and called again. They apologized and put me through immediately, but the lady couldn’t help. She said when things like this happen, the bank reconciliation process will note that the money is still in the account and refund it immediately. However, she says, Pesapoint has issues with this, and customers have waited as long as a month for the money to be refunded! A month! That soft loan just got a whole lot harder.
I mentioned the saga to a cousin who banks at CBA, and she said when it happened to her [via EcoBank] her money was refunded within 24 hours. Conversely, a customer at Barclays had to wait a month, and that was only after he spoke to 69 supervisors … and blogged about it. Personally, I can’t afford to wait a month for 20K, but it looks like I don’t really have a choice. So the next time any cash checks in – no pun intended – don’t be surprised if I take it out over the counter and keep it safely under the bed. I’ll keep a shotgun there too. I don’t want all my savings being gobbled up by rats.