Please tells the Canadians (and others) to learn about IBAN numbers

A friend of mine in Canada did me a favour and sent me a wallpaper border that I could  not get hold of in Spain. I had originally bought this locally and my daughter had decided to rip off a large strip from the wall. The local distributor told me that the paper was out of stock and could not be obtained. So I tried to contact the manufacturer directly but had no luck at all. Even after several emails and attempted telephone calls I got nowhere. Please manufacturers support your customers or at least return emails or telephone calls, even if they call from some far away place such as Spain.

So I was very happy to have a friend in Ontario who could help me out. Thanks Andrea.

However of course things are not that easy. Over the last few years in Europe we’ve become a little spoilt in the EURO zone that international transfers are now far easier and cheaper than they were. In fact within the EURO zone and for EURO transfers the cost can not be more expensive than a national transfer. In some countries that’s free.

There’s a reasonably new “system” designed to facilitate this type of thing called IBAN numbers. This is not only used in the EURO zone but by several countries, including the UK. Basically with a IBAN number and a SWIFT code of the bank you can make the transfer quickly and with little chance of errors.  Canada does not seem to know (much) about this standard yet, or at least my Andrea was not able to provide me with an IBAN number for her bank account.  Therefore my bank makes a higher charge for the international payment.  Actually of course the “Internet” form used to make the transfer was not really very complete and it took me a while to work out exactly how it should be filled in. So much so that I went and looked on the online pages of other banks where I have to see if they were any better. One did not even allow me to make international transfers with the accounts I had, the other had a similarly obscure web page for making such transfers. Of course if these pages were used often they might actually be a bit more user-friendly.

Come on guys (banks in general), VISA, MASTERCARD, AMEX, … can work out how to charge me for the cost of a payment in pretty much any currency if I’m abroad. And there’s no real hassle doing this. They charge of course for the transaction as part of the exchange rate they apply, but the cost is not ridiculous. So how can the banks get away with such stupidly high charges? We live in a world where we CAN do real time stock trading, and messaging, and the real costs of doing this are very low. I’ve worked in the wholesale banking industry so know that technology is not the block. FX is basically a money making machine for retail clients and there’s little way around this.

Perhaps I should have checked my PayPal account to see if they are quicker and cheaper? However getting money in and out of paypal seems to be slower than I would like.

So perhaps it would be nice if the card issuers like VISA and Mastercard offered their clients a way to make transfers between cardholders leaving the banks to one side? Technically possible but I can imagine that as these organisations are owned by the banks this might be difficult.

Anyway this is just a cry of frustration from someone who believes that in this day and age of high technology there are still lots of blocks to real international commerce and trade.

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Simon J Mudd

Born in England, I now live in Spain, but spent a few years living in the Netherlands. I previously worked in banking (financial markets) both in IT and as a broker, but IT has always had a stronger influence. Now working at booking.com as a Senior Database Administrator. Other interests include photography, and travel. Simon is married, with two children and lives in Madrid.

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