Monday, May 29, 2006

Banking in Cyprus

I would have thought, now Cyprus has been in the EU for a couple of years, that the banks would have caught up. And sure enough, they do now have more modern computers than they used to, and their online system is distinctly better than it used to be, enabling me to pay utility bills and transfer money between accounts from home.

But they don't seem to have got the idea that banking should be 'free' to the customer. What we expect is the kind of service we get in the UK: a current account with no service charges so long as we stay in credit, monthly statements delivered in the post, free cheque books arriving automatically when the current one is nearing its end, and at least a small amount of interest on credit balances. Our UK current account gives us 2% interest, which isn't great, but isn't bad. We also have an instant access savings account connected to it, which gives us a little over 3% interest. Not a good rate, but it's technically a discontinued type of account. In other words, it's still running but they don't allow new people to start them, and they don't give top interest rates. Since we can't easily open a new account in the UK while living in Cyprus, we accept these accounts and use them despite the low rates.

Our bank here does have some good points. The counters are open - no glass fronts, no security precautions other than a closed circuit TV. The staff get to know the customers, and one girl in particular always seems to know if there's a new card or paperwork waiting for anyone, without being asked. The hours aren't very long (8.30am - 12.30pm weekdays, plus one afternoon) but the ATM service allows us to draw cash at any time, so that's not really a problem.

On the other hand, they charge us for cheque books, and don't even send them automatically. When we're running low, we have to fill in a request for a new one, and then pay £5 (that's about £6 sterling, or $10 US!) to get another. At least with online utility payments, and no more rent when we move house, we shouldn't get through many cheques in future.

Worse, the bank have recently started charging £1.50 PER MONTH just for the privilege of producing statements for us. A computer-generated piece of paper in the local post, which arrives about two weeks late, so the actual cost is probably around 25c. If that. Apparently we can forgo monthly statements, and have just an annual one, and it will save us £18 per year... so we're going to do that, and simply check transactions online.

Moreover, our Cyprus current account does not pay us any interest. Not one penny. We have an instant access savings account here, and that gives us an unbelievable 1.75% interest. Yes, that's LESS than our UK current account!

We don't normally worry much about interest rates - we're not particularly materialistic, and have never really had sufficient money for it to make much difference anyway. But for the next month, until we actually pay for our new house at the end of June, it seems worth making the best possible use of the proceeds of our UK house. And so, suddenly, we're confronted with questions of when to transfer it, how to transfer it, and where to keep it in the meantime. As far as we can tell, it's best to keep it in the UK as long as possible!


Deb said...

Sounds like Cypriot banks operate much like North American banks - very few free accounts there, no interest on chequing (oops, checking ;-)) accounts, you have to order and pay for your cheques etc.

When you're looking at your options wrt your house funds, don't forget to factor in the direction in which the exchange-rate is moving; on large amounts, a very small fluctuation can make a big difference (as we learned the hard way).

mreddie said...

Every country has their own oddities. What Deb said about the exchange-rate made a lot of sense. ec

Sue said...

Yes, we're watching the exchange rate obsessively! It feels like a constant gamble... do we, don't we?!

I'd forgotten that the US banks did seem very old-fashioned when we lived there for a couple of years in the early 1990s. But in those days I don't think UK current accounts paid interest, and nobody had online banking. I would have thought they would have caught up with Europe by now, though... but maybe not?

Anvilcloud said...

Canadian banks will ding you in every possible way. It's quite infuriating.

Steve Hayes said...

Our banks used to be free, or at least cheap. They charged ledger fees on transactions, but that was all. Now they charge the equivalent of 5 quid a month just to have the account open, with no interest at all.

And the building societies all went commercial and turned themselves into banks, so you can't go there either.