Navigating Banks in Singapore

Over the last few days, I have suddenly had a need for a local bank account. Now that we are living in an apartment, companies like Singapore Power want to get paid in Singapore dollars, and I’m not going to pay cash, especially when my bill is over $500. I have found banking in Singapore to be quite an adventure.

We opened up a local account at Citibank, thinking it would be easy to transfer money back and forth from our account in New York, which it is. However, the process of opening an account here was so long and arduous I could barely stand it. Joel lost his patience a couple of times at the people who work there, mostly because the first guy we talked to didn’t understand his job or banking in general.

We decided to open a tap and save account because it comes with a SMRT card. The SMRT card doubles as an MRT pass (the subway, bus and taxi company here), so you don’t need to carry around an extra card in your wallet. Genius, right? Tell that to the guy who initially tried to open our account. Not only did he ignore our request for the SMRT card, he proceeded to open a regular account that didn’t even have SMRT as an option. Of course, we didn’t know this was the case, so we spent over two hours opening an account we didn’t want. Why did it take two hours? The guy didn’t know what he was doing, his computer wasn’t appropriately powerful enough for the applications it was running and crashed several times, and they are nut cases about signatures in an unhealthy way. They had us sign the documents over and over again, because we couldn’t sign the forms in the same way twice, even though they watched us sign and knew we were the ones making all of the signatures. I am worried about whether or not they will clear checks that I write.

After all the form signing, waiting, crashing and rebooting, we finally realized this account wasn’t going to get us the SMRT card. They had to call a private banker to come downstairs to set it up for us. Joel asked the guy why he couldn’t just tick a box that made it the right kind of account, and his response was he han’t been trained to open that kind of account, or to ask the right questions, apparently. It took the private banker another hour to get our account set up with the SMRT card, but at least he could answer our questions about transferring money into our account from New York and seemed to understand banking. I lost three hours of my life in Citibank that morning. I had better things to do.

Of course, when the checkbooks arrived, we realized we had two accounts. I had to call Citibank to find out which one to fund. I had both account numbers, and I simply asked the call center rep which one was connected to my SMRT card. Unfortunately, she wasn’t allowed to tell me. She had to transfer me to a private banker to get that one question answered, and wanted to take my number and have a private banker call me. Citibank in the US has its share of incompetents, but I do believe that is one question they could have answered in the US. I threw enough of a stink that she agreed to transfer me herself, and of course got a quick answer from the private banker because it was a simple question!

Once I funded our account, it was time to pay bills. I decided to try online banking, for fear my checks wouldn’t clear for unmatched signatures. I logged in to their account online, and was unimpressed to find that they use your ATM card and PIN to login, Really, how insecure can they get? All someone has to do is intercept that traffic and suddenly they have ATM card numbers and PINS.

I tried to track down the power company online to pay bills, and it was such a strange system. I have been doing online banking since my bank first allowed it, and I have to say I couldn’t follow the system here. In order to do online banking, you need the other party’s bank account and routing codes. Businesses all over Singapore are handing out their bank account numbers to customers!?! Why on earth would they do that? I know that there is very little crime in Singapore, but if the Russian mafia ever got wind of this system, they would have a field day! Did I mention they could really benefit from Paypal here? Just saying…

As a result, I have written my first check in Singapore, to the power company. My next adventure will be to visit the post office. Hopefully it will be much faster!

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