Thursday, April 24, 2008

Banking in Ukraine

We set out to buy a car in January which meant transferring the last of my cash to Tanya’s account at Privat Bank. In three tranches so as not to attract attention by being over the $10,000 limit on any one transaction. We had been transferring money several times so my branch of the Credit Union knew the routine by heart. I could check on line to see when the money left my account and after three days it would be in Tanya’s account. Except it wasn’t.

Tanya had lost her bank card in Canada some place and got a new one. And a new account. Who knew? The money was transferred to her old account number. So we go down to Tanya’s branch where her account is and up to the third floor where people deal with such things. The dingy hallway/waiting area looked like a cross between a bus depot in the slums and a doctor’s waiting room in flu season. Full of rank and file mostly middle aged and old people. No receptionist just closed doors the length of the hall. And a computer terminal which gave you a choice of 8 problems and then a number. Two screens flashed numbers periodically and people got up exited to "The Room" which seemed to have people behind it doing something.

Efficient? No. Some people picked two or more problems and got two or more numbers to see if it would speed up their waiting time. Sometimes the machine spit out two numbers at a time. A young lady from inside “The Room” spent most of her time in the hall sorting out the mess. Another young woman in tight Dolce & Gabbana jeans and above-the-knee red Italian-leather stilettos clattered up and down the ceramic tiled floor, moving VIP (Very Important Paper) from room to room through the hierarchy for approvals and the all important stamps. We waited. And waited. An hour!

Finally our turn came. We entered “The room” which had about 18 people at desks rowed down both sides of the room. Depending on the problem you picked, you were sent to the desk of the person(s) who would work on it. We found ourselves with a young man who actually was keen and wanted to help. He had one chair in front of his desk. Tanya sat down and began to explain the situation. This was going to take time, I could see so I looked for a chair. There was an empty chair right across the aisle in front of a hard working woman displaying cleavage normally associated with the Oscars or New Year’s Eve parties. She was not working with clients so I asked politely if I could borrow her chair. She point blank refused.

I don’t know if she thought I was going to sit and stare at her or what. I know I find décolletage interesting but now that I am an old man, I cannot remember why. I just wanted to sit down. At any rate, Tanya intervened and I got the chair. The young man understood the problem and was certain it could be solved. He checked Tanya’s old account number. No money there either. Oh, cool. We gave him the details of the transfer, all relevant numbers, Tanya’s internal passport and he left. Another girl came in with some documents which Tanya looked at. She left. Thirty minutes later the young man came back. Money was now in the old account. Transferring it to the new account took another thirty minutes, more VIP to be read, signed and stamped and much more rushing too and fro but it happened.

We should have known this was just a warning of things to come.

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