Italians love to assert that they’re a nostalgic people. In fact, with their cobble stones and family dinners, being tied to the past is one of the qualities that, from an ever-changing-all-the-time American perspective, can truly be heartwarming. Except when that nostalgia extends to your local bank.
Monte dei Paschi di Siena was the first bank to open its doors to the public way back when in 1472 (in fact, it’s thought to be the oldest bank in the world). Back in those days, you could send a check to France – horseback – and your funds would arrive and most likely could be cashed by the Prince next door (if you happened to have one). Banking with them today, you still need a Prince next door to expedite your transactions. MPS, when faced with growing competition and modern technology seem so wholly perplexed, they fall back on their Medieval ways; in a way to sort of stump the competition (their motto: one step behind our customers!).
Let’s start with the global picture: Banks are getting together faster than Berlusconi and his call girls and yet, you still can’t deposit money in Milan and find it in your account in Rome. Try cashing a check, and you need the Pope’s blessing on a Leap Year. My recent check from a Roman bank took 9 days to clear, 13 for me to actually use the funds.
In Piazza dei Navigatori, they spent 6 months refurbishing the spanking new branch. With great expectations, its doors opened up right to a vision -- of 1982. The three counters turned into 2, one on most days. Countertops were removed so we no longer can fill out our forms – but that’s not a problem, there are no forms. You have to wait your turn, just like at the Post Office to fill them out; adding about 4 minutes per transaction. While you wait, you discover that the 14 seats are now halved. At the ‘long transaction window’ they simply did away with them, so you stand there while perusing your dozens of mortgage forms.
With so many people milling about, they no longer allow you in the door. If there’s a line, you wait outside – rain or shine. They won’t allow you in to grab a number so you can go run a few more errands in the meantime – because there are no more ticket machines. Now you have to vie for your place in front of the little old ladies who creep up in front of you, just like at the panetteria. While the men pretend you just don't exist, except the old lechers who try and stand belly to belly with you.
They’ve managed to fill out the employees with pretty young things. They toss in the male ‘elder’ (one I’ve known for over 25 years) to provide an actual understanding of the business. He is interrupted about every 40 seconds to go help out the fanciulle who stare up doe-eyed. I think it's actually good for business. Going up to the counter, and you get the impression that you just walked onto a variety show, veline and all.
I had to make a simple deposit. My clerk actually got up, made photocopies of the deposit forms, pulled out the scissors, and ecco fatto! If I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes, I would not have believed it. Asking for a credit card, the hostess – errr – bank clerk disappeared. For so long, I thought she quit over the pressure. Much later, she hemmed and hawed before telling me to “come back in a few days and maybe they’ll have the forms in.”
Trying your luck with the Bancomat outside is like trying to win the lottery. It’s operational about 1 day a week. When it works, you find they’ve added about 4 new steps to making your transaction, such as donating to Aquila’s rebuilding or long distance adoption, before you can even insert your code.
All this great customer service combined with the infinitesimal interest rates and extortionate taxes and misc. 'charges' (that are the highest in Europe), and the mattress is looking like a pretty terrific option. Now how’s that for nostalgic?
*Monte dei Pacchi = Mountain of Ripoffs / un pacco actually means a package, but when used in as “Mi hanno tirato un pacco” it means, 'They've totally ripped me off."