When I moved to Mexico I refrained from opening a Mexican bank account for several reasons, one of which was that every time I looked into a local bank the size of the crowd and the length of the lines made me think that they must be giving away large bags of money.
Needless to say, the massive presence of the banking public dampened my enthusiasm for establishing a financial footprint in Mexico.
However, I started helping some gringos with their Mexican construction projects and realized a local account was a very necessary part of the process. So, the account I opened was with HSBC because my Canadian friend is with the same bank in Calgary and we thought this would simplify the wire transfer process.
This was before I found out that all banks in Mexico are not created equal.
The couple of times I have tagged along with a Mexican friend to Bancomer, the withdrawal process was a straightforward transaction preformed at a teller’s window. Present your ID and a bank card and, voila, you get money.
So when I tried the same thing at my new bank, I was stunned to discover the process is quite different at HSBC. The teller was not about to satisfy my fiduciary needs with simply an ID and a bank card.
I was told that the line I had been standing in for the last 20 minutes was not the correct place to initiate the withdrawal process. I needed to go stand in the line in front of the five desks that had two overworked people slowly servicing the waiting crowd.
After 20 minutes of waiting my turn, I was finally seated in front of an older woman with a pleasant smile. When I told her I needed to withdraw funds she handed me a form and pointed to four of the 20-odd little boxes on the sheet and told me to fill in the appropriate information.
After my third attempt to fill out this form in exactly the correct manor required by the bank, she quickly filled out the fourth one and had me sign the damn thing. She then closely scrutinized the finite differences between my signature on the form and the one on my FM3.
She informed me that the two signatures did not look unerringly alike. After looking closely at both my signatures, I had to admit that no, one did not look precisely like the other. My signature is a scrawly mass of looping lines with a few squiggles thrown in, so each rendition is ever so slightly unique in its own way.
My ex-wife was the only one that could ever reproduce my signature perfectly each time; I should have brought her to the bank.
After signing my name several times on the back of the envelope that contained my banking papers, she seemed convinced that the gringo before her was totally incapable of producing a perfectly consistent signature and was not trying to perpetrate a fraud.
She then signed one of the little boxes at the bottom of the form, clipped a photocopy of my FM3 to it and told me to go back to the teller line. This bank thing was beginning to eat into my day.
After a surprisingly short 15-minute wait, I was at the window presenting the two pages required for the withdrawal. The teller looked at the form and then spent an inordinate amount of time focused on the photocopy of my FM3 as if it were a steamy piece of erotica.
He then shared some revelation with the teller next to him and they both laughed, probably at my expense. He filled out a form of his own, applied several officious looking stamps and had me sign a small slip of paper that had been run through the time stamp machine.
After putting both of these papers in their proper pigeon holes, he pulled out a bank check and ran it through an imprint machine three times, in three different directions. He handed me the check and told me to go back to the person at the desk and have her sign this hopefully negotiable instrument.
At this point I did not bother with the line; I walked right to the lady with the pleasant smile and handed her this critical link to my slowly devaluating pesos. She signed the check and I returned to the teller’s window, hoping that this would be my last walk across the bank.
The teller had me sign the back of the check, which he then ran through the time stamp machine and smacked it with a bright red stamp. When he opened the cash drawer and started pulling out stacks of pesos, I knew I was tantalizingly close to the final act of this protracted transaction.
What I assumed to be a simple withdraw generated five pieces of paper all with some type of stamp and several computer entries, required three signatures and an hour’s worth of time. I really did not mind the time, after all this is Mexico, but the cumbersome procedure for a simple withdrawal was incomprehensible.
In the years since that first encounter with HSBC, I have discovered that any Mexican bureaucracy can take the simplest of actions and generate mountains of paper, miles of steps and a sea of colorful stamps while sucking up my time like a black hole.
But what the hell, the beer is cold, the weather is warm and life in general is great.
Bodie Kellogg describes himself as a very middle-aged man who lives full-time on the west coast of Mexico with a captured tourist woman and the ghost of a half wild dog. If you wish to give him cold beer, large sacks of money or a piece of your mind, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.