From the Tropical to the Mundane

From last post’s tropical to this post’s mundane.

S.A.M decided we needed a bank account.  Most people we’ve run into just use their U.S. accounts and withdraw cash with an ATM or cash checks.  But after putting down some roots it’s become more evident that an Indonesian bank account would be quite helpful.

One is the safety of our staff.  We’ve been paying them in cash and at the end of the month we send them home with small bricks of bills.  If we could transfer the money electronically, it would be a lot more secure.

There are also lots of extra discounts linked to a local bank account.  If you buy a meal at a restaurant you can save 10 or 15% just by using a card from a local bank.  The local Krispy Kreme has good deal going now. 6 donuts for the price of 4.  Just for telling them you’re a customer and showing them your card.

Also, for reasons that are unclear to me, the use of credit cards has not caught on to the same degree as back home.  Many places don’t take credit cards or if they do, they charge upwards of 5% for the privilege.  Plus, often they won’t take credit cards from foreign banks which makes it hard to buy things like airline tickets or hotel rooms.  You can, though, freely transfer money electronically from account to account with no fee and almost instantly. Wire transfers are much more common.

So, I looked around and asked around and got the inside scoop from a colleague who warned me that there would be some frustration.  There are a number of local banks, but I went on recommendations and the fact that I saw branches and ATMs everywhere.  My friend told me the branch that he went to which was also a branch where many expats go, so they have a lot of English speaking staff.

Off I went in pursuit of a rekening. That’s Indonesian for Bank Account.

Step 1.  I ducked out of work early to head to the suggested branch.  I was told getting and account could take a while so I allowed 2 hours.  I arrived at the bank at 3:09 pm to find the doors closed and the last customers filing out.  They close at 3 pm every day.  Huh.  Strange for a bank.  The bank is in a mall though and they’re open on Saturday.  The staff at the door assure me that the bank will open at 9 AM.

Step 2.  I return the next day at 9:45 to find a line of 60 other people who must have been told the bank opened at 9 AM, too.  It opens at 10.  Curiously, there is a neat and tidy queue winding down the mall until 9:55 when stragglers walk up and crowd at the door.  Just like in the streets.  When the doors open, the queue collapses and there is a mild crush toward the counter.

Step 3.  I make my way to the Customer Service Counter which, thankfully, has a smaller line.  I take a number I wait my turn.  Two men roll up with a small trolley and 2 one meter cubes of cash.  They’re guarded by what appears to be a 17 year old in a guard uniform holding an AK-47. They take the cubes o’ cash into the back room.  The armed teen waits outside.

My number is called.  I stepped up and made my request for a bank account.  I showed them my documents and all things seemed to be in order.  Something changes my agents mind, though, and she asks where I work.  I tell her and she says that that is kind of far away from this branch and that they usually only service customers in the immediate area.  I ask her if all the banks are linked with computers.  She assures me they are.  I ask if I can’t then just open an account here.  She tells me I cannot.  I say that I can walk to my work from here, maybe it is close enough?  She shakes her head and offers me the location of another branch closer to where I work that is not open on weekends. I tell her where I live which is actually further away from this bank.  She tells me that, alas, I live on the wrong side of some arbitrary boundary. She gives me the name of several branches, one of which is in another mall close to my house.  She thanks me for coming.

Step 4. Banks in malls are open when malls are open, and if malls are open on Sundays, then so are the banks.  I decide try again at the mall close to my house.  I find that there is no such bank branch there as she claimed, but only an ATM.  Grrrr.

Step 5. I go to another mall nearby.  Have I ever mentioned that there are more than 93 malls in this city. Not strip malls, either.  Full on, multi storied, multi-anchored malls with fountains and marbles and countless escalators. This will be my 3rd mall in 3 days.

Step 6. I walk into the customer service area and I ask to open an account.  The woman looks at my documents and says that yes they can help me.  She stands up and switches spots with a young man.  “We are exactly the same.  I will help you now.”  I think it is because his english is better.  

I have to mention that this man is gorgeous in a completely feminine way.  Definitely a man, but with sparkle.  Glittery rings and tasteful accents on his shirt. It is stunning.

He confirms that they can help me and he pulls out the needed forms and starts filling them out. He asks me some questions.  There is light banter with the other woman who seems to be advising him. Everything seems to be going smoothly.  

He gets up to have the bank manager sign off on the account and he returns with a dejected look.  “I’m sorry, Mr. S.A.M, but my manager says we can’t open an account because you don’t have an Indonesian Tax ID number.”

I ask, “Why do I need one of those? I don’t pay Indonesian Taxes.  I don’t get paid in Indonesian money. My friend just opened an account with this bank and he didn’t need a number.”  

He and the other woman nod their heads and agree with me. Off he goes to confer with the manager.  
He returns.  “I’m sorry, Mr. S.A.M, but we can’t open an account because you don’t have the proper ID.  Maybe you can get a proper ID from your boss.”  The woman next to him quickly disagrees with this and sends him back to the manager to explain the manager’s errors in thinking.

He returns looking more confused.  “I’m very sorry, Mr. S.A.M, but the reason we can’t open your account is because you don’t have a Indonesian Tax number. If you get that number, then we can open an account for you.”

“But, I’m confused.  Why didn’t my friend need a number when he opened his account?  Where would I even get such a number?” And, given the state of bureaucracy, how long would that even take?

Pretty man looked at me sympathetically and said, “….Or, you could come to the branch that I work at during the week and we can open an account for you no problem.”  He gave me the address of his place.  

I told him I was confused. “So, if I want an account from here today, I need a special number, but if I come to your branch tomorrow, I don’t”  He empathized and looked equally confused. “Yeah.  Different branches have different rules, I guess.”  

His partner assured me of the same and we parted ways.

Step 7. I return to the bank branch that he and his coworker staff during the week.  It is close to the nightly cake market.  From 2-7 am people sell small cakes and cookies for consumption the following day. It is also wedged in the heart of one the main red light districts of the city.  I’m beginning to understand why the banker man is so beautiful.  He may have a side job with a short commute. Today he is dressed more bankerly, but there is definite lip and eye liner.  His nails are long, freshly buffed and polished.  He and his fingers are impossibly long and thin.  I’m going to call him Skeezix.

It’s first thing in the morning, and while I wait, women stroll in and deposit the night’s take into the banks of ATMs on the wall.  Must have been a busy night.

Skeezix and his partner Any are happy to see me. Just like before, Any starts helping me and then they switch seats. As promised, they go about opening an account with only a few complications.  They scold me for not signing my name exactly as it appears on my passport. I’m made to sign everything again.  

The manager here has fewer rules and in fact, I don’t know that they were even consulted.

Skeezix pulls out a sheet of numbers and asks me if I want to pick out my own account number.  He answers my blank stare with “Maybe you have  lucky number?”   I take a look and try to find a number that’s sure to attract more money into my account. I wish I were more numerologically literate. Perhaps my luck would change.

I give them my money and they give me a receipt and just like that, I’ve got an account in under a week’s time.   All I need to do is return in 1 week and pick up my ATM card and activate it.  

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