All-American Bureaucracy

Those of us who travel the world and feel at home anywhere frequently run into hoops someone is trying to make us jump through.

No, your medical degree is not accepted here. No, you can’t work here as a lawyer even if you take some classes to familiarize yourself with our [enter current country of residencesystem. No, you can’t be a teacher either, for the same reason. Ok, maybe a substitute teacher at an hourly rate, barely making minimum wage. No, your driver’s license is not good here even though you’ve had a flawless record in every other country you ever lived. No, you don’t have credit. No, you can’t have credit. No, you can’t open a bank account unless you first deposit $10,000 in cash. Oh, yes, money-laundering (so make sure you can prove where that money came from). No, you can’t get a credit card even if you make it a prepaid one. And so on, and so on. We may start taking this personally, thinking it’s our gender, ethnicity, skin color, accent… But honestly? I think most of the time it’s just good old-fashioned bureaucracy at work.

Yesterday I ran into one of those hoops–this time curtesy of investment bank & financial services provider Charles Schwab.

Let me backtrack a little bit. In 2008 I joined Amazon in Luxembourg (Amazon’s European HQ). One of the perks of my contract were so-called RSUs: special stock options that were managed, you guessed it, by Charles Schwab Financial Advisors. I left Amazon about 18 months later but kept the account going because, you know, it was my account with my name and address on it. I moved to the States, always keeping the account, always updating it with my current address and contact details, and always with money in it. Four years later, in 2013, I returned to Europe and duly informed Schwab. No big deal, new address, fill out this W-8BEN, done. Or so I thought. In December that year they blocked my account. They didn’t inform me or anything: my access was simply blocked and I had to call them to find out what was going on. Turned out they needed proof of my identity, address, and various other forms of bureaucratic nonsense. Remember: I wasn’t a new, potentially risky customer. I’d been with them since 2008, they knew who I was, I had previously lived in Europe, I had money in the account etc. etc. Didn’t matter. I had to provide copies of passport, utility bills, bank statements from 2 different (non-Schwab) banks. Oh, and also? I couldn’t just black out my balance on those bank statements: they wanted to see it all. Privacy, anyone? Not only did I have to send it by fax; they also wanted the originals. As a good, responsible customer, I did as I was told.

Until Friday. Yet again, my account was blocked. I first thought that it had been hacked because my password wouldn’t work, but I even tried to reset it–no luck. So I called. Only to be told: Oh, I see, you work for Amazon. Well, Amazon have terminated their relationship with Schwab, and we’re going to need you to fill out this new form, you know, to convert your account to [insert nonsensical account name here]. It didn’t matter that I hadn’t worked for Amazon in several years. At least they sent the form via email so I didn’t need to wait around for a letter to arrive. But guess what? That form looked suspiciously like the form I had to fill out in December, complete with W-8BEN, asking for copies of passport, utility bills, bank statements…

I am so sick of this. Companies making customers jump through hoops because certain boxes need to be checked. Say about Amazon what you will, but they understand customer service. And you know what? I have a sneaking suspicion why they terminated their relationship with Schwab.

Needless to say, I sent Schwab a very nice email telling them that I will close my account if they can’t convert it using the information they already have. Let’s see who wins.

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