Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Fun at the Bank

Yesterday, the CH and I decided the time was ripe to pull the trigger on sending money back to the States. We're attempting to build a nest egg for when we're old and gray and the interest rates in Japan aren't doing much for anyone. If you've never had a Japanese savings account, I'll let you in on the fact that the rates are close to zero.

The way in which we return money is by wiring it home to our credit union. For the privilege, you pay 8,000 yen ($85) and get to park your fanny in the bank for 40 minutes or more. This was the 5th time in 6 years that we did this, though it actually has been about 2.3 years since the last time. Each time, the process changes a little. In fact, each time it has become more troublesome.

The last time we did this, we were quizzed a little about why we were sending the money back. This time, we were interviewed extensively about:
  • where the money came from
  • why the money was being sent back
  • who the money was paid to
  • our relationship and history with the bank we were sending the money to
Toward this end, we were asked to produce documents proving we held an account at the receiving bank and had an ongoing relationship with them and proof that we were employed by the companies who paid us. The bank asked us to show a bank book for our credit union account which had both the CH's and my names on it and asked for a business card from his company that indicated he worked there. The problem was that we don't have a bank book from back home as we deal with them through an on-line account and receive no printed information. Also, my husband doesn't have a card, though he did show them his gaijin card which fortunately listed his company on the back of it.

They also asked to riffle through the history of transfers we just so happened to bring with us. That is, they wanted to look at the 4 previous wire transfers documentation. This was weird because they have copies of all of those papers, too, but we gamely went along with it. Even after seeing that every other time we wired the money it was to the exact same account and the exact same bank, they kept scrutinizing the information as if there were something missing.

After much fussing and questioning, we were sent off to sit and wait. No doubt they were performing forensic tests on microscopic residue we had left on the documents or some such. It's interesting to note that we don't have a Japanese ink stamp (hanko) and we were chastised for this when I couldn't recall precisely how I signed my name when I opend my account about 15 years ago. The bank lady said that you don't have to worry about remembering how you signed your name if you have a hanko. We didn't want to sass her, but after we retreated to the waiting area, I mentioned to the CH that, while I couldn't recall precisely how I signed my name, at least no one could steal my signature like they could a hanko. Also, only in Japan am I forced to sign my name different ways. In the U.S., I can sign (first name + last name) all the time so I don't have to remember how I did it as I always do it the same way. In Japan, they keep forcing me to write it in various permutations of (last + first)or (last + first + middle) or (first + middle + last).

At any rate, as we sat there, we noticed a few things. For one, the door to the safe, which is about a foot thick and has one of those big wheel handles you always see in safe cracker scense in movies, was hanging wide open with notices for the staff attached to it with magnets. The fact that this is the area where things are supposed to be secured for their bank patrons and it's just left hanging wide open as an ad hoc notice board doesn't exactly inspire confidence in their security. The other thing we noticed was that all of the women had to wear ugly grey polyester suits with fuschia blouses while the men were just wearing regular suits. Also, the women were in the front and had to deal with customers and the men were all in the back. I'm guessing the men spend their valuable time frowning at important paperwork.

The reason for all of the scrutiny and interrogating is that the banks have to comply with (police's? government'?) requests to keep an eye open for potential money launderers. I've read that this applies if you send back more than the equivalent of 5,000,000 yen or more, though I've heard that some people have been grilled for sending back as little as 10,000 yen when they've attempted to do it through the post office. I can't say for sure, but the banks can't really help having to put you through so much as it's not really their choice. Also, it's not personal nor does it apply to foreigners only, though foreigners are more likely to be affected by it since few Japanese are wiring money to foreign banks.

My advice if you want to send money home is to make sure you print e-statements from the bank you're wiring your money to if you don't have an old-fashioned passbook. Also, take your working contract, business card, or a pay statement that proves your relationship with your company. You also have to have your gaijin card. If you're married and operating from an account with your spouse's name on it, then you also need to take your spouse along. This time we were lucky that the CH just happened to take a folder with some extra documents which they accepted as sufficient proof our our relationship with our credit union. I don't expect that we'll be sending money again any time soon as we pretty much tapped ourselves out this time, but I'm going to go a bit better armed next time.


Roy said...

You should use Lloyds TSB. Much easier and doesn't cost $8000 either. Probably get a better rate as well.


Helen said...

Just wanted to say that I worked in a bank in Canada and our vault was always open during business hours. Inside the vault were other boxes/vaults and safety deposit boxes. There was no "cash" just lying about.

The vault was behind the tellers area, and we had to keep it open so customers could get to their deposit boxes and the tellers could get to their cash/coin supplies. Obviously customers couldn't go in without a staff member.

However, we didn't use it as a bulletin board. That does sound a bit odd.

Joseph said...

I had no problems sending our money back to the UK two days ago, although admittedly it was under 2 million.

...at least I thought there had been no problems. Today I received a call from Meguro central Post Office asking me for more information about what the money was for. 'Loan repayment' wasn't enough - they wanted to know what the loan had been used for!

Cheeky monkeys. Still, she seemed more than happy when I told her it was to pay for a wedding and the move to Japan. I hope that's the last I hear of it, at least until it shows up in my UK account!

Orchid64 said...

Roy: Thanks. I had heard of it Lloyds before, but I'm always a little squeamish about using new institutions for my money. I should note that the 8000 yen fee is on two ends. Mizuho gets part of that and our credit union gets the other. I don't know if Lloyds TSB charges 2000 yen flat or if that is their end and we'd still have to pay the wire fee to our credit union (I'm guessing we would). However, we're going to look into it next time we send money back.

Helen: Yeah, I didn't think that wads of bills were lying back there, though this being Japan, you never know. I knew that there were safe deposit boxes in there.

The difference to me is that the door hanging open in the West means that one layer of security is removed, but you've still got some big burly security guy as another line of defense. In Japan, you've got some 70-year-old in a security uniform named Yoshi whose main task is organizing the bikes parked in front of the bank. I have more faith in the security layers back home. ;-)

Joseph: I was actually going to ask you at some point about your eLloyds experiences since I knew you used them. I was also thinking that I doubt Japan lets people get out of the interrogation that easily and I see that they don't.

They also wouldn't accept "family matters" as our explanation, and even "retirement saving" wasn't good enough for them. They then had to know if it meant we were quitting our jobs and leaving Japan. There was just a lot of questioning when the explanation was simple - we're in our mid 40's and need to set aside money in an interest generating account for when we're older. But, they really are just doing what they feel they must do.

It's a good time to be us on the Japan working front with the current exchange rates. We actually sent our cash back on the day of the lowest rate so far. The rate was slightly lower for a few hours, but that only occurred in the evening our time and overnight so we couldn't take advantage of it. Of course, now we're tapped out, but at least we sent another chunk back when the time was ripe.

Thanks to all for commenting!

Helen said...

Actually, we didn't/don't have security guards at the branch I worked at...I've never seen a security guard at a bank in Canada!

The branch I worked at was robbed twice during my time there, but the thief didn't show a gun and didn't get very much money at all. I think our system is quite a bit different than the US system. I was "off" both days that we were robbed too.

I don't have enough money to send back to Canada these days...so I don't have to face the interrogation.

Sherry said...

I agree with Roy. Try the GoLloyds with Lloyds TSB. I have started using GoLloyds and have never had any trouble nor has anyone else I know. It is very simple and easy to set up an account. They gave me a phone call to check about where I got my money since I am a SAHM. They were perfectly satisfied with "from my husband's job" and that was the end of it. I don't remember being questioned anymore than that, but I may have forgotten. Nothing horrible like I have been put through with the post office or other banks when sending money or buying checks though.

They charge the 2000, and you are right, you will be charged at the other end too by your receiving bank.

Girl Japan said...

I never send money back but being on the receiving end, I have been questioned by a forensic auditor once, afterward I was just simply asked. I mean I don't get all the questioning if money were to be laundered you wouldn't do it full on with your REAL id etc... I just put "gift" in the questioner.

I think they were probably follow protocol. I agree with Roy too = )

Orchid64 said...

Sherry: I think our situation is complicated by the fact that my husband and I have different last names and married couples can't do that in Japan. From what I've been told, a couple must take either the husband's or the wife's last name, but they both have to have the same last name. I've actually known men who changed their names to their wive's family names and signed into their family registry.

At any rate, I think any incongruity might make them ask more questions, and I do understand why. It doesn't make me happier about it, but it does make me patient with it.

I'm surprised you don't put your money into interest-bearing accounts back home. It's such a rip-off in Japanese banks, though I guess that you're here for good and don't want to risk losses from exchange rates. Much as I enjoy my life in Japan, I know I'm going to retire back home. Our goal is to put away something in the ballpark of (at least) $300,000 before returning. Suffice it to say, we have a looooong way to go. :-)

Kelly said...

The reason why Japanese men sometimes take their wives last name is if he is the only son, and there is no one to keep the family name going.

My husband is the only son, but his father said if he met a girl who was the only child, he didn't have to keep his last name if he didn't want to, he could take her last name.

In my case, i'm not japanese, and having an irish surname, i was only too happy to take on his last name (azuma)!! So he could keep the azuma name going on, hopefully.