Banking in Ukraine continues to be a nightmare.
The competence that seems to be lifting the quality of restaurants and retail in Ukraine barely penetrates into banking. I hate it. Most tellers are like incompetent little girls terrified that you’ll ask them to do something difficult or unfamiliar — that you’ll give them an opportunity make a mistake. I blame their managers. Mostly they seem ready to tell you whatever they must, really to make whatever sounds they must, as any connection to the real physical world being incidental, to get you to leave them alone.
A couple years ago, I used to bank with Raiffeisen Bank Aval Ukraine. I opened an account to transfer myself some money from the US, expecting it to be cheaper and more convenient than ATMs.
I wanted an alternative to physically walking to the bank to check whether the deposit arrived and asking whether I could check online. They gave me a brochure with instructions how to do so. (First visit.) Great! The instructions did not help, so I returned to ask again. Apparently I would need to set up some special thing, and the teller who could help me would only be in tomorrow. (Second visit.) On my third visit, she started helping me and then asked for my passport, which I did not realize I needed. On my forth visit, she wasn’t there again, and asked me to return after lunch. On my fifth visit, she started helping me, got through the step with my passport, and then asked for the form which shows my tax id number. On my sixth visit, the job was done, and I was able to then check my balance online.
Can you please exchange this big stack of 50s for a small stack 500s? (It was maybe $100 worth.) She counts my 50s. Then she looks around confusedly. “I don’t have enough 500s.” “Is this a bank?” I ask. I suggested that maybe her neighbor had more. She said she wasn’t allowed to ask.
Similar to Episode 1, it took about five visits to close my account with Raiffeisen Bank Aval. A comedy of incompetence and bad manners.
The one thing they did right was telephone me months later asking why I closed my account. I put down my work, shut the door, and let them have it. We spoke — meaning, I spoke, they (surprisingly) listened — for a good twenty minutes.
So I opened an account with Privat Bank for it okay online banking. It’s Ukraine’s largest bank, with branches everywhere. The owner is a sleazy oligarch, but one who at least had the decency to support Ukraine, both vocally and materially. For this he was rewarded with a governorship which he promptly lost after using his personal army to settle a business disagreement.
Anyway, Privat Bank.
This summer I had to transfer money to another account for an office expense. It was about $8 to buy water, if I remember correctly. I did the transfer online. Then I received a phone call as a security check. There was a live human doing the check. He spoke quickly and impatiently, and in Russian. He asked for a name and I told him the name of the recipient. He said no, he needed my name. I told him my name. He said it was wrong. (WTF!?) He said I failed the security check, and then hung up. My card was blocked.
It took about an hour sitting in a Privat bank while a surprisingly polite and heroic teller named Allah made phone calls on my behalf. I considered buying her flowers.
For about a week, Privat’s online banking seemed to be down. When I tried logging in, I would get a message that “service is temporarily unavailable.” But then something strange happened. I mentioned this to someone, and they said they used the service daily without any problems.
It turns out that the genius UX team of their website was giving me a “temporarily unavailable” message when I had been blocked! I was blocked because apparently, I don’t know my own name. (see Episode 4)
So I went back to Allah. This time it took over an hour, but eventually I was unblocked.
EPISODE 6 (today):
I try to add 110 uah (about $5) to my phone card. The transaction on the website seems to go through, but then I get an SMS saying that 110 uah is over my limit for internet transactions. (I pay this amount monthly.)
After struggling with their website with only PRETENDS to provide an English language option, I walk to my favorite teller in all over Ukraine, Allah. It took about an hour.
Over the phone, they told her that everything with my account was fine and that I should try again. I did. Same result. They didn’t believe her, so she photographed my cellphone showing the SMS and sent it to them.
It turns out my maximum internet transation was set to zero. Just because . . . because fuck you for trying to do banking in Ukraine.
She walked me through the not-quite-English interface and showed me where to change it. The change required an SMS confirmation code. Apparently, it takes a few hours to go into effect. I thank Allah profusely and thought again about buying her flowers or chocolates, but I’m married now and wouldn’t want her to get the wrong idea.
Hour later, I received an automated phone call from Privat bank asking me whether I wanted to raise my credit limit or if someone told me to do so. The message seemed to ask me the same question three times worded in slightly different ways.
Do you know what the best part of Episode 6 is? Even though the website now indicated a higher limit for online transactions — significantly higher than $5, I still get the same rejection when I try to add money to my phone.
Moral of the story: DO NOT BANK IN UKRAINE!
EPISODE 7: I’m unable to make online purchases. When I try, I get a cryptic SMS “Purchase amount too low”. But I’ve grown accustomed to the fact that error messages — whether on their website or via text messages — often seem deliberately designed to confuse you.
I consult with Alla and Nadia, the two kindest bank tellers in Kyiv for whom I am very grateful.
After 45 minutes, my inquiry remained unresolved and I suggested I return to work and they call me when they get answers.
That evening, Nadia calls. Apparently, Privat Bank no longer allows internet purchases over 700 uah unless it is through their payment system, Privat24.
Sorry, Kolomoiski. I’m done with your bank.