Brian's Blogs

Manila – Where Patience is a virtue ... nay, a necessity!

I will never, ever, ever again, complain about how crap the Chinese banking system is. No honestly. Once you have been to the Philippines, and experienced what they call banking there, you will think that the Chinese have the answers to everything.

How do banks in the Philippines stay in business? How on earth for that matter do they keep their customers? Is it purely – as I suspect – that the poor blighters have nowhere else to go for their banking?

You’d think that changing some money from Chinese RMB into Philippine Pesos wouldn’t be the hardest job in the world, would you? Haha. Think again!

I arrive in Manila – the flight is late and the queue at the money exchange counter is miles long. On top of that, the exchange rate isn’t that good – as is the case with all airport exchanges the world over. I decide to take my chances and change my Chinese money into pesos the following morning in town.

Near the hotel there is a money changer and I could have used him, but his rate is so bad – 6.55 – that I decide instead to use a bank …

… in this case the Metrobank of the Philippines.

I turn up at 9.30. Sorry, I am told; we can’t quote you an exchange rate for another half hour when we receive the day’s updated rates. Can you please wait till then?

I wait till 10.10 when finally the rates come through. 6.99, I am told – a drop from the 7.01 of the previous day, but I agree anyway. Do you have a bank account with us? I am asked. Actually I do, even though I only want cash. This doesn’t seem to make any difference. I hand over a copy of my bank card which is then passed on to another lackey and I am asked to sit down while my identity is checked. This process takes 20 minutes – more than the time it would have taken to change my money in the airport or at the money changer.

So now I finally get to spread out a fistful of Mao Zedong’s smiling visage gracing a wad of red notes and hand them over to the plump and bored-looking cashier. Ms Chubbychops slowly checks each and every note – all 170 of them – to make sure that they are all genuine. This is where I silently curse China’s policy of having its largest note as being a mere 100RMB (that’s about £10).

Next, it appears she is obliged to write down every serial number of every single one of the 170 notes – a process which takes another 35 minutes! Please sit down, I am commanded, and I park my sit-upon on one of the many chairs that seem to take up more than half the floor area of the bank.

It’s now that I finally realize why there are so many armed guards in every bank. It’s not to keep the armed robbers out, as I had previously thought; instead it’s to keep the customers from throwing tantrums inside the hallowed portals and demanding something that could in the remotest sense of the word possibly resemble anything that smacks of service.

The serialization is finally at an end. I am called up to the counter once again and am asked to sign an authorization slip. The exchange rate seems to have magically transformed itself to 6.945. But you specifically quoted me 6.99, I tell Ms Chubbychops who just shrugs her shoulders with a take-it-or-leave-it look. Having been kept waiting for well over an hour she knows as well as I do that I am unlikely to give up at this point in time.

Finally, all of one hour and 25 minutes after I first set foot inside this miserable establishment, I am able to walk out with a slightly smaller fistful of pesos than the bigger fistful of RMB that I walked in with.

This is not the first time, of course, that I have experienced the slothfulness of the Philippines’ banking system; so I shouldn’t be surprised that it takes 85 minutes to transact a simple cash exchange. In such a crime-ridden country the banks need to triple check everything; but it’s yet another example of how the Philippines really has a long way to go before it can be taken seriously by the international community.

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