Today I went to the bank to cash a check. While this seems like it should be a simple act… it was not. Here in Chile, to cash a check, you need to go to a branch office of the bank from which the check was written. So, if someone writes you a Banco de Chile check, you need to go to a Banco de Chile. If someone writes you a Banco de Desarrollo check, you need to go to the Banco de Desarrollo. In my case, someone had written me two checks form Banco Itau. I had never even heard of this bank before—but a quick internet search told me where they were located.
Arriving at the bank, my id and the checks in hand, I stood in line. Luckily, there was some helpless, non-Spanish speaking man trying to make a transaction. To pass the time, I helped translate for him. When it was my turn at the checker, I was informed that the client who wrote me the check did not have sufficient funds. Instead of paying me and then fining the client, I was sent on my merry way. Except, sans-cash my way was not at all merry. In fact, I was down right annoyed!
What good is a check if the bank will not pay me? Isn’t accepting a check supposed to be safe? Shouldn’t I have some money to show for the hour I had spent in line and waiting?
Apparently, in Chile, no.
I was about to leave, quite annoyed, but I decided that perseverance might work. After all, it was the end of the work day (2 pm) and I hoped to go home with money. First, I asked the man in charge (who happened to be the one I was helping with translation earlier) how I could register a complaint or law suit. I was promptly informed that it would be against the person who gave me the check not the bank. I then asked what the point was of a check if it was not going to be respected. He admitted that things in Chile do not always work like they do in the US and that he was sorry that under the law I had no rights. He continued to explain that it was in the bank’s discretion to cover the costs and charge their client or not. They did this based on their history with the client and a general feeling of whether he was good for it or not. In this case, up until this moment, the answer was not despite the fact that the client in fact worked at another bank. Apparently being employed is not enough of a motive to trust someone.
After brainstorming, with myself, I asked for the phone number for the person who made this decision. In this case, the person making the decision was in Talca (5 hours away) and at the branch where the account was opened. I was not given the number, but said man did get another call. I also passed the location of employment and the cell phone of both the person who owned the account and his wife. No one responded.
In the end, after another hour of bargaining, the bank decided to cover the checks (a grand total of just over 110 USD). This would not have happened if I had not been so persistent. This would likely have not happened if I had not been American. This mostly would not have happened if I hadn’t already gone out of my way to translate for the people earlier, thus them having a more positive disposition to me. Still, in my head, it should have happened right away and now I am going to have to think twice before accepting checks.