Credit Agricole would have to go out of their way to try to suck worse than they do. And maybe they do, on purpose, because boy, do they suck. Add to that the nightmare of French bureaucracy, and you’ve got a clear winner in the loser department.
Two years ago, I discovered that if I was planning on visiting France with any regularity, I needed a French debit card. There is a whole swath of transactions that can only be accomplished with French cards – specifically, French bank cards with the implanted chip. Attempting to purchase gas without a human teller on a holiday is just one example, but the one that forced my hand.
Since my father already had a French bank account, we figured it would be easiest to avoid the red tape and open a joint account under his account, with the French credit union Credit Agricole. I believe this is where things began to go wrong. In the interest of time and space – and for maximum amusing readability – let me cut to the (goose) chase:
- My Dad lives in Africa (long story). I live in San Francisco. The bank, based in Normandy, sent all my documents to Africa – even after I explained (at the outset) that I needed my documents sent to me in the U.S. I eventually did start receiving some documents (but never statements) in the U.S. Notably, a questionnaire asking me about their customer service….
- I tried logging in to the online system, and I had my online password wrong. Yes, this was my fault. After three tries, the bank locks you out completely until you contact them and ask for a password reset. Ah – they only send the new passwords by mail. It went to Africa. I had to contact my parents to get the code.
- I visited France this last June and I brought my bank card with me. I used my card for the first time and was given the keypad for my code….. I had forgotten my French card’s PIN (as opposed to the online login password). No sweat, I thought – I’ll ask them to process the purchase as a credit card. No deal. Even though the card says “Visa” on it, I cannot use the card as a credit card (with signature) – at least, if I supposed to be able to, I’ve been refused by stores so far.
- For the life of me, I could not remember ever even having received a PIN number – which is why I never thought of it in the first place. (I discovered later that I never did – my parents brought me a bunch of bank mail, which included the PIN). I went to the nearest Credit Agricole (I was in southern France by then) with my bank card, hoping to reset my code in person. They looked at me as I had brought them a nose-trimmer. “We can’t help you with that. You don’t have an account here. You have to call your local agency.”
- I call my actual bank in Normandy. They could resend my PIN number – by mail. Hmmm – you can probably guess how excited I was about that prospect. I asked them to send it instead to my mother’s address, in the south of France, where I would be for the next week. I should have guessed it would have sounded too fishy – even though I passed all the security tests on the phone, etc, they never sent it.
- This time around, on our trip in November, I go straight to the bank in Normandy. First, what’s this new $20 “bank card” fee I’m being charged? “It’s for the use of your bank card”. I’ve had this card for over a year now, never a fee. The assistant manager looks at the screen a moment, then says, “Don’t worry about it.” I ask if he’ll remove it. “Don’t worry about it.” That’s not how we confirm someone will remove a bank charge in the U.S. It’s “Yes, I will remove the fee.” I’m suspicious.
- I wanted to confirm my card would work with my code. The assistant manager stands beside me as I put the card into the ATM, enter my PIN. Ah, the code is accepted. I am able to take out money – or at least, I should say, get to the money screen, after which we cancelled the operation (mistake). So it works…..
- C’est vrai? Non….. I try to buy gas with the card the next day, on our way down to Lyon, 600 kilometers away from my bank. No luck – the card accepts the PIN, but then says the transaction is invalid. The woman looks at the card, and says “Oh, your card is expired. As of last month.” I have not received a replacement card (I’m sure it’s in Africa – they were *still* tryng to make my U.S. address stick in their system when I visited them this time). No one at the bank in Normandy noticed.
- I go to the Credit Agricole in Lyon. I have my passport, and I have my check book. Surely I can get money out that way…. You can guess where this is going, right? The woman is all accommodating until she sees my checkbook. On the cover, my dad’s name is printed, first initial and last name. She says it’s not my name. I show here an actual check with “G Beuthin” printed on it. She pauses. “But that’s not your full name. I can’t confirm this is you.” Apparently, since “Gregory” is not printed on my checks, she refuses to let he have access to cash.
- My only solution is to call my bank, and have them wire transfer it to another branch. But that will take 24 hours, and will cost me $20. I go through a run-around of calling another branch further south where I will be the next day; making sure it will be open on Saturday morning so I can actually get the money at that agency; then calling my agency again and requesting the wire transfer. This all takes over 30 minutes. What I can’t understand is why, if I can call my bank and have them wire transfer money to someone (anyone, apparently, as long as that person has a passport or formal ID) at another location, can’t I get money out for myself by calling my bank?!!!
- Finally, just to show that Credit Agricole is not the only bank that is giving me the French red-tape special (but certainly the worst so far), I visited BNP Paribas to finish setting up an account I had opened on my last trip. The manager was apologetic as he told me the account was refused – he had submitted the request as a resident account (even though I was not a resident) and it had been refused because I did not provide any resident papers. Yet when I was there over the summer, we had discussed all the supporting paper s I would need form my American banks since I was opening a non-resident account. The manager even suggested I open an account with a resident family member (like my Dad, perhaps) and surreptitiously use the card with their name on it. Are you kidding? I can’t even use a card with my name on it!!!
So the saga is not over. It’s just less painful when I’m not in France, not dealing with it.
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