A Leauki's Writings
The 19th century in the 21st
Published on May 5, 2005 By Leauki In Misc
The below is an email I sent to the Irish Banking Authority after I have been a customer of Irish banks for a year. Ireland is often cited as an example for successful deregulation and one of the most free countries in Europe. I have come to think that this is actually a myth.


The following is not a specific complaint, merely a short summary of the image the Irish Banking system portrays to foreigners who come to work and live in Ireland.

I expect no changes to the system, in fact considering what changes I have seen so far, I can only hope that no further changes will be introduced. The below is not something that merely happened to me but a very typical series of events for foreigners and possibly Irish citizens as well.

Again, it is no complaint. It is merely meant to give an idea of the results of Irish banking regulations and attitudes.

1. When I opened a bank account in Germany I produced my id card and got a bank account.

2. When I opened my first Irish bank account in 1998 I showed them my German id card and a letter from my land lord and the bank said they couldn't open an account for me because of money laundering laws. I should try a building society rather than a bank, since that law apparently doesn't apply to building societies. (It is a well-known fact that evil criminals NEVER use building societies for money laundering, only banks. At least this is well-known to Irish law makers.)

3. And indeed a building society could open an account for me.

4. When I came back to Ireland in 2004 my old bank account was closed and I tried to open a new one. I produced my German id card and a letter from my land lord and was told that the law had changed and that I need either a utilities bill or a letter from my employer to open a bank account.

5. Thus, in my next visit to the bank, I produced a letter from my employer asking the bank to open an account for me. I was told that I needed to make an appointment because the lady who can open bank accounts is on lunch. (That made sense. I was lunch time. That's why I had time to go to a bank.)

6. I got an appointment for the next day and came back as planned. I was told that my German id card, which allowed entry into Ireland, was not legal proof of identity.

7. So I got a passport from the German embassy.

8. When I got back to the bank (my memory is somewhat blurry here, but I think I did have an appointment) the bank informed me that they can't open an account for me.

9. I tried another bank. They accepted the passport and the letter from my employer but said they couldn't open an account for me because my "address wasn't safe".

10. After several phone conversations the bank informed me that a rented flat is not a safe address, I would have to own a house. I told them that I can't buy a house because I don't have a bank account.

11. My land lord (who is a customer of the bank) and I went to the bank, trying to convince them that the address was safe. The bank said they couldn't open an account for me.

12. I called the Irish Bank Authority to complain. They told me to call the bank's customer service centre in Cork. The customer service centre told me that the branch office in question had acted according to the law but they would talk to them. I mentioned that I complained to the Authority.

13. A few days later the manager of the branch called me to apologise and tell me that he would personally open an account for me any time I wanted, even before business hours. I made an appointment for 9:30 AM and finally got my bank account, after only three months.

14. I applied for online banking. Irish online banking allows me to view the balance of my account and transfer money to other accounts owned by myself at the same bank. I cannot transfer money to other accounts. I have to transfer money to my German account every month.

15. Since then I have spent a happy two hours every month in the bank branch office transferring money to my German bank account.

16. The first time, after one and a half hours of filling out forms, I was informed that everything was done, except I had to withdraw the money from my account now so they could send it to the continent.

17. A few months later when I tried to transfer cash, the bank informed me, after I filled out all the forms, that I would have to lodge the cash on my account now so they could transfer it.

18. And there is no way to automate the transfer process for varying amounts of money.

19. One bank prided itself on following the law more strictly than the other banks, which is, they said, why the building society opened an account for me in 1998 and the bank could not now. A week later I read in the news paper that this bank have broken nearly all laws that could possibly apply to a bank.

20. I am impressed by this bureaucracy, and I was born in Germany!

on May 05, 2005
I don't think that this is a result of the deregulation of irish banking--just some really bad customer service.

As a foreigner, I had no problem opening a bank account when I moved to Dublin in 1998--and I was living in temporary university accomodations for four months, with no job. Then two years later, when I moved up to Belfast (technically the UK), I again had no problem opening a new bank account with Bank of Ireland.

Sorry to hear that you had a difficult time--I think you just ran into some real idiots.
on May 06, 2005
Well, in 1998 I didn't have many problems either. Since then, the banks claimed, the laws had changed.

It wasn't just bad customer service, since this was not one bank but several. And all of them referred to the law as an excuse for their bad service.

Bad customer service also exists: like bank employees who do not know what continental ID cards look like (airport police do) or how long an IBAN (account) number is. It seems that all an Irish bank clerk reallly has to know is the words "I am sorry, we can't open an account for you.". It's the Irish 21st century equivalent of "You want fries with that?".

on May 06, 2005
Just goes to show that banks can be amazingly stupid and annoying no matter where you go
on May 06, 2005

That's the point. This didn't happen in Germany. Since I always used a German bank account before, I was entirely unprepared for this.

I still use German bank accounts for most things, like credit cards (taxed in Ireland, not in Germany) and important transactions (take 30 seconds in German online banking vs 2 hours in an Irish bank branch office). I can call my German bank to ask them to do something in the morning and get a call back later the same day where they tell me they have done it. Irish banks simply cannot compete.

If the European Union was really a "union" and there weren't any Irish laws to prevent it, German banks could take over the Irish market in a couple of months, I think. Irish banks currently advertise ways to save bank fees that I had never even heard of in Germany! And they pretend that it is an achievement to get rid of these fees. It's like walking into East Germany for the first time after the cold war: businesses simply don't know what expectations they should meet and what they are competing against.

I am just stunned that Ireland is consistenlyt rated as being among the most free market and unbureaucratic countries in Europe and then these things keep happening. And why does Germany have a bad name for its buraeucracy? The two cannot even be compared.

on Sep 23, 2005
A few days ago I walked into my bank and asked them to transfer money from my account to an account in another Irish bank (one mile away). They said they couldn't do that at all.

Bank clerks here consistently don't know what an IBAN is, what a BIC is, how long either should be, how to do simple tasks that any bank on the continent does automatically, or how to spell words.

My Bank in Germany is the "Berliner Sparkasse", which I always have to spell out when I want to transfer money to my account there. The address of the bank is "Berlin". Last time we did this, the bank clerk spelled "Berliner" as "Berliler" and "Berlin" as "Barlin".

I admitt that the first is a mistake that could happen (to anyone who has never heard of JFK). But a reasonably educated clerk in Europe not knowing how to spell "Berlin", that is a bit much to take. (And why two different mistakes in "Berliner" and "Berlin"???)
on Nov 15, 2005
Ah I am beginning to see a pattern here!