Adventures in banking


MY PHONE rang in the middle of our Mérida vacation last month.

It was Tanitzi calling from our bank back home.

You’re overdrawn, he said, by more than 2 million pesos, somewhere in the neighborhood of 150,000 U.S. dollars. Holy Moly!  I exclaimed — or something along that line.

Here’s how that happened: Via the bank’s website, a week earlier, I had scheduled a transfer from checking to a mutual fund. There are two little spaces on the website where you can either write the cash amount or the number of shares you wish to buy.

One or the other.

They are in Spanish, of course. Monto or títulos. I knew the difference, but I suffered a moment of dyslexia or lunacy. Instead of writing the amount in monto, I wrote it in títulos.

There would have been no problem had each share been valued at one peso. But they weren’t. Not by a mile. I had ordered a whole dump truck full of shares.

And worse than that, I slipped right through a glitch in the bank’s award-winning website that permitted me to purchase that dump truck with money I did not have in checking, to put it mildly. The website should have told me the purchase was impossible.

What it did was take 2 million imaginary pesos from the checking account and put them into the mutual fund, leaving me with a very fat mutual fund balance, imaginary, and a very negative checking account balance, quite real.

Would you like me to cancel the transaction?  asked Tanitzi. Of course, I replied. Duh, I thought to myself. Does Woody Allen like little girls?

This is where it got even messier. The mutual fund only allows transactions twice a month, and I had almost two weeks to go before a cancellation was possible. And a negative balance in the checking account gets walloped with a 300-peso fine every single day.

That adds up to a two-week fine of about 350 U.S. dollars. Plus having a temporarily useless checking account, frozen like an iceberg.

Tanitzi grasped the bind I was in, and said he would see if he could get the daily whammy reduced. I did not hear back from him, and I was not optimistic.

On returning to the Hacienda, I did what I usually do when I have a serious problem with a large corporation. I go straight to the top, baby. I sent a registered letter to the bank’s general director in Mexico City — and waited.

The two weeks ended, and the transaction was reversed, and the $350 fine was waived, all with no word from the bank. Till a few days ago when Tanitzi phoned from the nearby state capital and asked if he could come visit. Sure, I said.

We met today at a coffee shop here on the downtown plaza. He said the general director had shared my letter with him, and that they had made changes to the website. We chatted a spell. He left his direct phone number and email, and said he would help with any investment needs in the future. Nice guy. I liked him.

I like the bank too. HSBC.

I only switched to HSBC last spring after a decade with Banamex.

* * * *

(Note: Tanitzi is his first name. It’s a name of the indigenous people of this state. Though young, he has a degree in finance, handles investments, and has a large corner office at a big branch in the state capital. He’s my kind of Mexican.)

21 thoughts on “Adventures in banking

  1. Oh, oh, oh! Cheese ‘n crackers!!! That’s like getting a call from the bank telling me my check to the IRS had bounced. Heart failure and I was in New Hampshire. It was one of those kinds of crossed wires in the end, but Holy Moly, in the interim I had visions of striped clothing 🙂


  2. You’re very lucky. Had the bank been difficult, and had the mutual fund gone down in value, you would have learned a very ugly lesson in leverage, as you essentially managed to buy the mutual fund on margin.

    But writing to the top guy was smart, and I’d imagine that very, very few Mexicans ever do such a thing. Heck, few Americans do.


    Kim G
    Boston, MA
    Where we’ve made more than one such “fat-finger” error, but fortunately have not really suffered for them.


    1. Kim: Since it was all imaginary pesos, I’m not sure I could have gotten hit in any way more than the fine for the negative checking balance. But maybe…

      I learned to write the CEO of any business that was giving me troubles decades ago. It invariably gets results. It’s like magic. The major hurdle, especially down here, is getting a specific name. Just writing to “president” or something like that is not nearly so effective.


      1. Since you had a real overdraft, I’m sure you had real shares of the mutual fund. (After all, double-entry accounting must balance, so that overdraft had a positive entry somewhere else.)

        I’m surprised the bank let you create that kind of overdraft. Here in the USA, the transaction simply would not have gone through, and the website would likely have notified you immediately (unless you had a sufficient line of credit with the bank, tied to the checking account). So had the mutual fund had a bad day or something like that, this whole tale could well have had a MUCH sadder ending. But I’m glad it didn’t.


        1. Kim: Well, sure, the transaction should not have gone through. That was the website glitch I slipped through. Apparently, they have fixed it, from what Tanitzi told me.


  3. What a great customer service story.

    Like you, I write letters to CEOs quite often. Usually, to compliment a stewardess or a store manager. Many a perk has come my way as a result.


    1. Steve: Yes, and can you imagine a bank officer in the U.S. making a house call? Probably would if you were Donald Trump, but I’m not Donald Trump.

      It has never occurred to me to write to a CEO about something positive. I guess I have always figured that doing a good job should be standard operating procedure.


  4. Mexicans have quite a challenge with websites as a general rule. It is nice to see you brought them up to gringo standards in a professional manner. I’m sure they rationalized that it was worth $350 for this knowledge to prevent this kind of error from happening again. It could save their bacon someday.


    1. Andres: They do have trouble with websites, even ones that look good. I always struggled with Banamex’s site, and it’s one reason I abandoned them. Well, mostly abandoned them. I still have the account and keep the minimum in it to avoid charges. It’s connected to BanamexUSA in California. That comes in quite handy as a money route, but my main man these days is HSBC.

      I often read of Gringos down here having trouble with banks and money transfers, etc. I have never had those problems, and I’m not sure why other people do. It’s easy if you do it right.


      1. “It’s easy if you do it right.”

        So you are suggesting if there is a mistake it is not the bank’s mistake? One thing I have found to be true in Mexico is one person’s experience is not necessarily going to be that of the next. Glad you have had such great luck.


        1. Señor Calypso: I’m saying that if you have good karma, plus if you set up a route that works, money can sail down here smoothly. In 14 years, I have never had any trouble at all. Zip. Nada. No matter the amount.

          Here’s my route:

          If you have money, and I know you do, put it all in mutual funds at Vanguard. Then open an account at BanamexUSA, which has free checking accounts for folks who retire in Mexico. Connect your Vanguard account with the BanamexUSA account for easy transfers.

          When in Mexico open a separate account at Banamex. You can switch money easily and free from the BanamexUSA account to the Banamex account using a toll-free phone line. I have debit cards from the California account and the Mexico account.

          I opened the HSBC account last year primarily because the Banamex branch here where I live is usually jammed with people, plus the HSBC website is superior. It’s easy to switch cash from the Banamex account to the HSBC account via Banamex’s website.

          It works seamlessly, and always has.

          More info on moving to Mexico is here:


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