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the art of swiss banking

July 17, 2010

While getting ready to move to Switzerland, there were a lot of things that started to run through my head, but one of them was undoubtedly opening a…Swiss bank account.  Just saying it, seemed fun “Excuse me, I have to return a call from my bank.  My fiancée and I are opening a Swiss bank account.”  Okay, so I never muttered those words exactly, but it was occasionally good fun to bring up that I was opening one.

Although in my heart of hearts, I knew that it wasn’t going to be something out of  Bourne movie with secret codes, keys maybe an eye scanner, I still hoped for some air of cool and mysterious.  Like maybe a laser pointer that displayed the name of my bank with my account number (preferably not embedded in my thigh)?

But it’s not cool.  In fact, it’s rather dull.  It’s probably just like you’re bank except with better interior design (unless you’re a Scandinavian reader in which case, I would never suggest something is better decorated than in your country).  These banks of legend and lore do exist, but unless I pursue a career in diamonds or drugs, I don’t think I’ll be privy to one.  This is, after all, a country that set its minimum balance to avoid monthly fees for accounts at 10,000CHF.  It takes a big bank role to get the laser chip surgically embedded.

I will say this–they don’t joke around about security.  Although you will struggle to find e-commerce thriving here, you pay all of your bills online.  No checks in this country.  In fact, when I first went to our bank to open our account, the woman helping me goes “Excuse me, I hope you don’t mind, but may I ask you a personal question?”.  I wondered what on earth a bank employee was going to ask me that was going to be considered “personal”, but agreed.  She asks “Is it true that in America you use checks?”.  Slightly dumb-struck I say “yes”.  Here eyes lit up in a way that you would have thought I told her that we had sighting of unicorns in Wisconsin.  She continued on “Really?  Wow!  That’s amazing.  And you use them for what?”  I reply that we use them to pay bills.  They are pieces of paper we give to other people that represent a fixed amount of money.  Her eyes widen even more “OH MY!  Do you have one that I can see?”  Sadly, I had to disappoint her.  I wasn’t a traveling banking museum and didn’t have my prehistoric checks on me.  She was just going to have to imagine what they looked like.

But online banking means potential security risks, right?  So, they make sure log-ins are secure.  No more than 3 business days after this transaction, this arrived certified mail.

Weird.  Then the next day, another package, this time with a card and a pin (not delivered in laser format) that I used with this calculator type thing.  Logging into my account without this machine is impossible.  Here’s what you do.   You go to the log-in page for your bank.  It asks for your account number, eight digits.  After you press enter, you type your pin (different number, 5 digits) into your 80’s calculator thing-a-ma-jig.  Now, you look back at your computer which now has an eight-digit alpha numeric sequence on the screen.  You type this into your calculator which is now asking for “input”.  Your 80s calculator now responds with another eight-digit alpha-numeric code that you type in fields now available on your computer screen.  If you get this all right, you proceed to your account.  If you’re me, it gives you an error message and you do it all over again.

the key to the kingdom

I asked the bank employee once what happens if I lose it. The answer?  Don’t lose it.  Um, okay.  But on the off-chance, I do, maybe you want to scan my retina to keep on file.

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