Bank accounts are not free. An account costs about 120€ a year. If you want to change currency, the service is independent and not found in your local branch.

When our daughter decided to study in the UK, she needed to close her French bank account.

She walked the 500 metres to the branch where our accounts are held and told them what she wanted to do. ’Pas de problème Mademoiselle”.

The next month a ‘relevé de compte’ arrived in the post for her because there were quelques centimes in her account from the interest on a savings account. I walked down the road and asked if the few cents could be transferred to our account. ‘No, that is not possible without a letter from your daughter to authorise the transaction.’

Said daughter wrote an email giving her consent for her parents to benefit from the small gift. I returned to the bank with a copy of the mail. “Pas de problème, Madame”.

However, to our surprise, another statement came in the post the following month.

This time, a little irritated, we descended again to ask why the money had not been transferred. The woman behind the computer was always the same one. ‘I will need a RIB’ was her response this time. A RIB is a Relevé d’identité Bancaire.  These little slips of paper are generously provided at the back of a cheque book so that anyone who needs your bank details has all the information they need. ‘Why do you need one?’ I asked. ‘So that I know which bank account to send the money to’, she replied.

‘But we are with your bank, our accounts are here, can’t you look on your computer for the information?’ I was getting even more annoyed. ‘Oh, if your account is here, there is no problem’.

Next month another relevé de compte’came in the post. This time I was not so patient.

‘Excusé moi, madame, pourquoi vous ne pouvez pas, transférer les centimes d’un compte à l’autre ? C’est n’est pas difficile !’ ‘

I can’t. You need to make an appointment with the manager’.

‘You only have to click on a few buttons and this could be done!!’

‘Non, je ne peux pas, vous devrez avoir un rendez-vous avec mon responsable.’

And she gave me a telephone number to ring to make an appointment. I was fuming. As I left the building I expressed my exasperation like a small child would do, stamping my feet and waving my hands dramatically in the air, much to the bewilderment of a client arriving at the door.

That afternoon I picked up the phone to make the necessary appointment. The manager answered. ‘There is no need to make an appointment, Madame Brodier, I have your dossier open in front of me, and I am transferring the money as we speak. ‘Merci, madame. Merci, madame.  Merci, Madame.’ I think that if she had been in front of me, I would have kissed her.

This is the service you tend to get in a bank, even if banking is not free and they charge you 9.50€ a month for being unhelpful, slow, and extremely inefficient.

I have used this example during lessons with business students. I make it into a role play. One student is trying to close their bank account and another student plays the role of the unhelpful employee. It is usually very funny, as the excuses the ‘unhelpful’ person invents become more and more preposterous. I ask if they have experienced service like it and they nearly always say, yes. When I ask, ‘But, why?’ They reply that banks don’t like to lose customers and so they make it as difficult as possible for the customer to close their account. Also, the employment laws make it very difficult to sack anyone, so even if the employee is next to useless, she knows that she is safe in her job.

I was telling this story to a friend quite recently. He had recently sold a piece of land, but when he checked his account, the sum in the bank was less than it should have been. When he enquired about it, he was told that the bank had taken part of it for their fees! He was not at all happy and was ready to make a fuss. The clerk, relented by saying that as he was a good customer they would give him a goodwill gesture and gave him his own money back!

Moral of the story. Persevere. It’s not your French, nor your level of understanding that is the problem.


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