September 23, 2010

Batty banking

I have had nine months to familiarise myself with Australian personal banking. It took a while to get used to the different terminology, but I thought I'd cracked it: my so-called Savings account is really my current account, which I use for everyday spending; I have an Online Saver account where I save money for holidays or big special items or rainy days; and I have a credit card, which means someone else pays.

My everyday account (Savings) was called an Access Advantage account. Simple enough to remember: I can access money easily to pay for groceries, for example. In some correspondence, however, I noticed that it was called an Access Cheque account. The first time we went into our branch in the City we asked for a cheque book (it wasn't offered automatically) because we didn't have any cards at that early stage and we thought we might need it. It wasn't a proper cheque book: it had our bank account number stamped rather than printed on the cheques and our personal banker handwrote our names on just three of them. It was obviously very temporary, but we have never received a proper one since. Still, no matter.

Things started to unravel a few weeks ago when I received a new Access Visa Debit card. Great, I thought at first. Chip and pin, a great step forward: no more dodgy swiping, and I'll be able to buy things over the phone or on the internet without running up my credit card. In the accompanying letter from my bank, the card was trumpeted as 'a more convenient and secure card... at no extra cost to you' (their bold font). Gee, thanks.

To access my money, and the added security, I have to press 'Credit' when I make an EFTPOS (Electronic Funds Transfer at Point of Sale, a secure and real-time payment method that's been used for years in Australia) or ATM transaction, even though the bank's letter was at pains to point out that my new card is not a credit card. 'Don't worry, you're using your own money', it reassures me. 'Remember to press "Credit"', it repeats. OK.

The first time I used my new card, in my local supermarket, I inserted it into the EFTPOS machine instead of swiping. 'Cheque or savings,' the sales assistant asked, as always.
'Er, credit,' I faltered. Silence.'This is a new card, and I've been told to press "Credit",' I added.
'There isn't a "Credit",' she pointed out, helpfully.
'No,' I deliberated. 'Maybe I'll just press "Savings", like I always have.' It worked, and we were able to eat that night.

On the back of the letter from the bank there were some FAQs:
What if a store's card machine won't let me press 'Credit'?
That's OK, you can still press 'Savings'; but you won't get all the extra benefits of pressing credit.
How do I get cash out in store?
You should press 'Savings'.

Is anyone else bewildered by this? There certainly seem to be a lot of confused people on the checkouts.

Having done a little research, and spoken to a man at the bank, I shall attempt to clarify one or two points.
Woolworths and its associated stores are not prepared to pay the fees involved in conducting transactions using the Visa Debit system, so will only use EFTPOS. This is why I don't have the 'Credit' option in my local supermarket, but I do if I shop in Coles in Morningside, who I must conclude are prepared to pay the charges. And then presumably pass them on to their customers at some point.
• In fact, there are no 'extra benefits of pressing "Credit"'.
• The benefits of the debit card are that I can make transactions online and abroad.
• I can't get cash out at the supermarket checkout if I press 'Credit' because technically with Visa Debit the purchase transaction is only authorised at the time, and then has to clear.
• A 'chequing' account, as the bank man called it, is anything other than a savings account (or maybe we should call it a saver, to avoid further confusion), but it doesn't mean people have cheque books, although I could have one if I wanted one. The 'Cheque' button doesn't work for me in Woolworths because I am set up to use 'Savings', but technically the two buttons do the same thing, that is, take money out of my 'Savings' account... but, of course, that's not where my savings are because they're in my online saver account.

Ah yes, we're back where we started.

Yours, Baffled of Bulimba

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