After my sorry attempt to open a French checking account back in April (see French Banking System Round 1) I was all ready to polish my French and brave the bank agents in Perpignan. However, after another chat with the very amiable English speaking agent at Crédit Agricole in Paris we decided it would be much simpler to stop by his office on our trip to Paris planned for mid-June. As he explained, since each region and branch has different rules you still may not be able to open an account in Perpignan no matter how good your French is. So yes, we took the easy way out.
But “easy” is a relative term. True, the transaction required only enough French to get by the reception clerk at the lobby entrance at Crédit Agricole, however, the amount of information and documentation needed is truly astonishing. I thought writers were simply embellishing the tale when talking about the mountain of paperwork required, but no, it is all true.
As Nicolas (our agent) explained to us they have a policy of “knowing your customer” to comply with European standards. This means that they need to have proof of where your income is derived and well as proof of your permanent residence. For us that meant sending him a utility bill from our home in DC, three months’ worth of statements of our US checking accounts and investment accounts as well as our last tax return.
Once in his office he started entering our data on the computer requiring additional information such as the value of our home and when and where we were married. We did not, however, have to provide the actual marriage license. After he has our lives all summed up, the printing process begins in which a good thick inch of paper is run through the printer. Granted, this is two copies of every form, one for us to sign and the other for our records which is put in a neat gray plastic euro-style sleeve.
Then the signing begins. A dozen documents all in French, each kindly explained to us in English then initialed by both of us on every page with full signatures on the last page. The documents included acknowledgements of details such as how we want to be alerted of our weekly balance, a separate form for notices should our balance fall below a specified amount as well as a final form stating that we signed all the previous forms. All in all over an hour at his office to set up a simple secondary checking account.
As Nicolas was not allowed to take cash and we, being foreigners, had no means of writing a check in Euros, the initial funding of the account required us to find a Crédit Agricole branch in Paris and deposit cash. The first branch near his office was actually closed on Mondays, meaning we had to first go back to the hotel and find the address of another branch, preferably before it closed for lunch. The agent at the second branch showed me that I could actually make the deposit using their self-service deposit box, patiently reading out the numbers of my new account to me as I wrote them on the deposit slip, in French of course!
Now all that was left was to finally receive the coveted carte bleue so that we could buy gas on Sunday at the automated gas station. The actual cards take five days or so to be created and are returned to Nicolas’s office. He can then send them anywhere we want. The accompanying pin numbers, however, have to be sent to our home address listed on the account, which happens to be DC. This could be a potential problem if you don’t have someone collecting your mail back home.
Nicolas had told us that the cards had to be sent separately, one for each of us, by registered mail thus requiring each of us to sign. Somehow their security system broke down on this point and they actually came by a courier service and were stuffed in our mail box in an large plastic envelope marked with symbols banning it’s use for cash or credit cards.
The checks, however, did come by registered post requiring a signature. So now it’s official, we can buy gas on Sunday!