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.

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(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.)