Romanian banks have it too easy

Those of you familiar with US banks may be displeased to learn that in Romania, banks will charge you to deposit money and to withdraw money. It’s also customary for them to charge you monthly fees just to keep your account open, and will charge you additional fees for a bank statement, and for internet banking. Pretty much everything that can carry a fee will carry a fee.

Somehow, in a country renowned for its IT workforce, the banking systems in use are terrible. Bank clerks will often complain their systems are slow, or are out of order. If you use any Romanian internet banking system, and you’ve been used to the ones in the US, you’ll be pulling out your hair. It’s like stepping back in time to the early 1990s — there’s no thought whatsoever put into a proper user interface, into making names and options user-friendly, and the total lack of various options for managing your account is mind-boggling. One wonders if the people who coded those systems ever bothered to look over the fence to see what other, more enlightened countries were doing.

But at least the banks are good at handling things in person, right? Wrong. You’ll find long lines at pretty much any bank you visit. And if you find a bank whose personnel is friendly and happy to assist you, by golly, stick with it, because they’re few and far between.

What about ATMs? They often break down. If they don’t break down, you’ll likely find you can’t withdraw money because there’s some technical issue on the backend, blah, blah, blah. And if they’re working, you’d better make sure some thief hasn’t installed a skimmer. The banks might as well equip each ATM with a 1990-style “Under construction” animated GIF, because that’s what it feels like to use them.

On top of all that, you’ll be hard-pressed to find them offering fixed-rate mortgages. They all offer ARMs (adjustable-rate mortgages) at sinister rates, which fluctuate up and down (mostly up) as they see fit, so they can gouge and gorge from their customers’ wallets. During the recent financial crisis, it wasn’t uncommon for some people’s monthly mortgage rates to double. When you realize how low the average monthly income is in Romania, I find it unconscionable that banks will subject their customers to 100-200% increases in their mortgage payments. And yet, you’ll find some of the highest salaries in Romania paid in the banking sector. I guess it pays to be a banker…

The Romanian government recently stepped in to “encourage” banks to offer lower interest rates on refinanced mortgages, but to my understanding, they’re still ARMs, so it’s likely that down the road, customers will get gouged again.

I’d love to see some real competition in the Romanian banking sector. I’d love to see some decent banks step in and treat their customers the right way. I’d love to see less fees, and I’d love to see a bank offer a proper internet banking system, like the one my favorite US bank (USAA) offers.