What Century Is This?

My Bank's Computer
My Bank's Computer

Please forgive the forthcoming rant, but I wanted to relate my recent trials in trying to send some money to Germany via electronic transfer. As some of you will know I went to Germany last month to visit my Linux Outlaws co-host Fab, and also attend Linux Tag 2009. It was great fun and obviously there were various costs for hotels in Berlin and travel, amongst other things. I wanted to send some money to Fab to cover these things and a bank transfer seemed the easiest and quickest way to do that, or so I thought. I knew I needed an IBAN code and the SWIFT code for his bank, I thought this would be enough. First off I looked for a way to arrange this with the Natwest Online Banking site, which at the time of writing still hasn’t been updated to accept Firefox 3.5, but that’s another matter. It seems you can’t do International transfers online. I was disappointed by that but it seemed fairly reasonable.

So I took the details I had into my local branch. I was told that an IBAN number and bank code are not enough. It seems that 2 unique identifying numbers, the name of the bank and the name of the account holder are not enough to uniquely identify the recipient bank account. I thought these numbers were designed for exactly that purpose, you know identifying accounts? The name certainly leads you to that conclusion. I was advised I needed the full address of the local branch I was sending it too. They couldn’t look this up for me from the bank code apparently, so exactly what use is the code? Do they just pluck them out of the air? I might as well have given them my bloody lottery numbers.

Where They Keep The Abacus
Where They Keep The Abacus

Anyway, it gets better. Apparently  it costs £10 for a standard transfer, which takes about 4-5 days. I could opt for the “urgent” transfer which should – and I emphasize the word “should” here –  arrive in 2 days and costs a princely £27 for privilege. Let’s think about what they’re actually doing here. Taking some digits off a computer system in the UK and adding them to a computer system in Germany via the Internet. In this day and age where I can co-host a podcast with someone on the other side of the globe (not just Europe) with live video and audio;  it still takes 4 days to send a couple of digits a few hundred miles?! That seems pretty pathetic to me. Is it incompetence? Is it by design so the bank can sit on your money a few days and claim more interest? Who knows. It’s similar to paying in a cheque and having to wait 3 days for the money to clear. It’s banks being bastards I think. Let’s not get started on the whole public bail out of the banks with taxpayers money, these huge corporations make billions in profit and promptly ship it to the Caman Islands to avoid tax and International law. I bet that doesn’t take 4 days!!!

I went back with the branch address a couple of days later and the woman at the counter spent about 20mins trying to type in the details. I was beginning to see why this cost £10. It was going to take her an hour, she was obviously working at full capacity, it wasn’t her fault but the system doesn’t need to be this complicated. We got to the end and it said the transfer was rejected, “computer says no”. Why? Because apparently there was a digit missing from one of the numbers we’d entered ages before. It took 20 minutes just to work out there was a digit missing, what system are they using in there, a ZX Spectrum? I’d checked this a few times and was pretty confident the number was right but the bank was about to close (they knock off at 4:30pm, another swindle) so she advised me to go home and check it again. I went home and thought to myself “what century are we living in here? Why is it so hard, expensive and slow to send a bit of money from one country to another in this day and age?”. I suddenly had a brainwave, why not just use Paypal. After looking on the site and calculating that Paypal charged about %5 commission to the recipient of a transfer, it was actually cheaper for me to add a bit of money to compensate for that and send it with them. It’s instant, cheaper and more convenient than going to the bank. I could even send the funds directly from a credit card if I wanted, and you know how much information I needed to achieve this magical instant transfer 2 banks were incapable of? A DNA sample, a letter from god perhaps? No. An email address, and that’s it, done.

So I sent the money with Paypal. They do take their own commission of course but compared to the service offered by my bank it was an absolute bargain, and I could arrange it anytime I wanted 24/7. It’s not hard to see why the banks are in such a mess if this is seriously the optimum efficiency they can muster. It doesn’t stop them paying 6 figure pensions to the likes of Fred The Shred though does it? I bet he doesn’t wait 3 days for his cheque to clear. Bastards.

Rant over, flame off. I’m off for a cup of tea. I just wanted to share my frustration, sorry.


  1. It seems a bit much to simply send money for a legit reason, that was obtained by legit means. Shame on everyone for making it so hard.

  2. I bank with many banks and NatWest are the worst when it comes to their charges and online banking – it’s dire. I remember when they charged me £114 for a direct debit fail payment.

    Even their charges (compared to HSBC) is unacceptable. I have also experienced being charged and not being notified by them, this happened for around 4 months without knowing by which the charges had grown and debit interest was being applied as I had gone overdrawn by then, (I do not keep any significant amount of money with them), yet I still did not get notified. I only found out because I happened to be checking all my accounts randomly.

    I do not use my NatWest account any more.

  3. @Adonis – I don’t blame you. I’ve been with Natwest a long time and not found them too bad, but then I haven’t used many other banks. It may be time for a change. I have a Smile account which I use a fair bit and they’re pretty good

  4. An excellent rant at the banks and not before time,nothing any bank does seems to be transparent or open to any form of scrutinisation whatsoever.How they get away with charging extortionate fees for nothing more than burping in a jam jar is beyond me.This sort of outrageous behaviour makes me madder than a hornet bee with mange.Look it`s simple you take my money and send it for me,its my money which i have given my permission for you to hold for me.But oh no lets make it more difficult to send it than compiling gentoo with a migraine and an intel 8-bit 8080. Come to think of it that is probably what the lady in the bank was using to process your request.An antiquated piece of hardware for an equally calamitous and dire system of dealing with our hard earned cash.

  5. @Dan: Was not surprised to see you ended up with paypal.

    I too have spent many hours fuming about the unreasonable cost and time it takes to do an international transfer with banks. I came to the conclusion that the reason the banks don’t offer better service here is because it’s simply too small a market for any individual bank to worry about. Ebay paved the way for paypal to build a viable cash transfer business out of what is essentially a niche market in the grand scheme of things.

    “After looking on the site and calculating that Paypal charge about %5 commission to the recipient of a transfer”

    I thought that was only true for business customers. I frequently internationally paypal myself $US to $A and the only “fees” are those built into the exchange rates (which I thought worked out to about 2.5%-3%).

  6. @digi – Maybe I have a business account but I don’t remember signing up for one. I looked at how much I’ve received from payments to my account, and for a payment of £10 I was actually receiving about £9.50 after deductions. This was a payment in Stirling as well, so no currency conversion needed. I checked a few others and it seemed to be about %5 on each. I think it depends on the amount as well though, they adjust the percentages depending how much you send.

  7. From paypal UK:

    Personal Transfers

    It’s free when you use your PayPal balance or your bank account linked to your PayPal account. There is a charge of

    3.4% + £0.20 GBP

    for debit or credit card payments
    (either the sender or recipient can pay this fee)

    I guess one/both of you haven’t linked your bank a/c? (was somewhat hesitant myself)

    • @digi – Well my Paypal is linked to my bank account and has been for a long time. Maybe the other person paid with a credit card who knows. Either way it’s a lot cheaper than bank transfers and you can do it anytime of the day or night on the website. There’s no comparison in service at all. Maybe you’re right that the market is too small for banks and they don’t care

  8. From what I hear, British banks seem to be the worst of them all. I have a bank account in Spain and another one in Germany and I’m quite happy with both. I can do an international transfer over the web (and the interface works with all the open browsers I’ve tried) with just an IBAN and a SWIFT.
    It does take a couple of days for them to process the transfer, which is annoying, but I don’t pay anything for transfers (but that’s because I’m a student). My father has a flatrate of 1EUR per month and then transfers are free.

    • @Carlos – That sounds a hell of a lot better than the banks we have here yes. I don’t know why this is. Seems our government just lets them do what they want instead of actually making them stick to the rules. We follow the American model. As long as the rich people get richer who cares right? Maybe I’m cynical, but that’s honestly how it seems. If I were to steal something from a shop or wherever I’d got to jail, but if you steal millions while working for a corporation you get a slap on the wrist, a knighthood and a massive pension. Maybe even a seat in the House Of Lords. What a joke!!

  9. Not to mention the bank charges when you RECEIVE money through an international transfer – Lloyds TSB take £8 for every international bank transfer. “Yes Grandma, the 20 Euros you transferred for my birthday have arrived…sort of.”

    Apart from that, I’m still happy to have a bank account here in the UK, where I don’t have to pay for giving them my money. In Germany, it’s nearly impossible to get a free standard bank account (charges start at 5 Euros per month), cancelling bank cards and applying for new ones costs around 15-20 Euros and the service mainly consists of speaking to computers.

    Oh and did I mention that you get charged 3-5 Euros every time you use an ATM that’s not one of your bank’s? Everyone I know in Germany has cards from at least 2 different bank accounts to cover the major banks and not get charged every time they take out cash (which can happen several times a day). Unbelievable.

  10. @Sam – That’s a good point, you get charged at both ends for the transfer. It seems unfair. I had a bank account in France for a while so I’m familiar with being charged for cards and just having an account. In some ways though I would prefer to be charged up front and know what’s going on, rather than have my money taken by hidden charges and penalties. Neither was it perfect I suppose

  11. If you use your credit card for cash transfers/payments with Paypal, the credit card company takes 2% of the transaction amount. The credit card is owned by…urrrmm…oh yeah a bank! So the leaching gits still get their pound of flesh (or £ of flesh) without even doing anything.

  12. LLoyds are the worse bank i’ve ever delt with. Got to pay that $0.14 Amazon S3 bill? Sure, you can do it with a LloydsTSB debit card but you’ll get charged £1 for the privilege. My S3 account charges were a regular £1.04.

    Banks are just a bunch of con-artists without much regulation.


  13. @Nik_Doof – Here here 🙂

  14. I remember when I changed banks …what a nightmare…from Lloyds to NatWest.

    My direct debits were not paid on time in the first month of transfer and I received lots of letters re my none payment – none of which was my fault. My worst problem was my cat Insurer’s at the time who threatened to cancel my cat’s insurance and my cat was under the vet at that time…I got it sorted but it was all unneccessary hassle. Natwest I seem to remember were quite helpful, after I complained to the Manager!

    Also, earlier this year Natwest failed to advise me to change my ISA to a new account with higher interest – they waste my time every time I go in the bank asking would I like to see a financial advisor re my mortgage, insurance etc but when this would have helped me get more interest from them they never mentioned it….seeing the Manager this time was a waste of time and energy!

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