Thursday, January 28, 2010

HSBC, the English Bank with an Armenian Twist

Since the arrival of HSBC (formally Midland Bank) to Armenia, I have been a client and a regular user of withdrawals using my U.S. bank debit card.

In May of 2009, I learned that the ATM (in Armenia refereed to as a ‘bankomat’), no longer would take my card and I had to go inside the branch to make withdrawals. At that time I asked why I could not make withdrawals from the ATM and was told it was due to a software update that should be resolved in a couple of months.

When I left and returned to Armenia in late July, the “software update” had not yet kicked in and again, I was subjected to withdrawals during banking hours to make as over the counter transactions, which not only huge inconvenience, but time consuming.

It is now January of 2010 and as of yesterday the software update has not yet been completed. You have to wonder how long this update will take? I mean when I update my computer operating system from time to time and it’s a matter of minutes to complete an update.

What is interesting for me is the ATM works for those who have accounts in Armenia without any problem. It’s just cards from the “outside” that do not work and you really have to wonder why?

I can say for one thing that from May to the beginning of July of 2009, I withdrew close to $30,000 during the Nazareth Berberian murder investigation. The approximate cost for those transactions coast me $900 (3%), where if those same withdrawals took place at the ATM, it would have cost only $300 (1%). To save money, I did try to have money wire transferred with no luck. After over a week of waiting, HSBC could not find the money and asked for SWIFT codes and every other thing short of a urine sample and rectal exam.

You really have to wonder if there really is a “software update” in the works that is needed, or are we seeing the Armenian version of English banking at work at the expense of people coming from the outside in need to withdraw money during their stay who will not complain and just be glad to get back to civilization where being screwed over by your bank is not as frustrating?

Does Tim Slater, the CEO of HSBC Armenia know that this is going on?

I can share with everyone a solution to save yourself $20 on every $1,000 you withdraw and that is Armbusiness Bank (ABB) who has 24/7 ATMs which seems to take all kinds of bank cards including my U.S. debit card and charges 1% of the amount withdrawn. There are 3 branches I know of in Yerevan, all very conveniently located within walking distance of the places tourists hang out. They also have a branch in Stepanagert, Artsakh, which is where I made the discovery that my card worked with their ATM.

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