Here are stories about banking in Panama

After the disturbing news that they are freezing ALL accounts at Banco Universal, I decided to give you some insight into how Panamanian banks treat their customers.

Here’s one expats plea:

“Our Corporate, Personal, and Employee bank accounts all reside at Banco Universal. The financial institution has been FROZEN by the newly appointed banker Ricardo Fern├índez, director of the Superintendency of Banks of Panama (SBP), according to the announcement by the country’s president, Juan Carlos Varela.

Ricardo Fern├índez?s recent FREEZING of all financial activities at Banco Universal will severely impact our successful business operation and the personal lives of our employees.”

The poor guy doesn’t know what to do, but hey, he wanted to live in Panama & what’s worse, open up a business there.

Here’s a rundown from an Italian expat who’s been living in Panama for a while:

“I have now accounts in 3 different banks, just to be sure I can always access some money.

I had started with HSBC as I thought it was an international bank, but that was wrong. The service was not at international level. Than it changed into the hands of Bancolombia, becoming Banistmo. I hoped service would get better but it did not. My wife and I had each an account and while I was abroad, they changed the online access to a system with tokens (small electronic devices that create a onetime pass-number). As these things needed to be delivered physically and I was not there, I moved most of the money in my account to another bank while I could. Just left a few cents to make sure the account was not empty. There is no word anywhere that a Banistmo savings account must have minimum deposit or movements, but when I came back I found out that the account had been closed without a word of information. This is Panamanian bank service.

We had another common account which work fine to pay in the shops with the debit card, but some fine day I recognized that I could not fund this account nor withdraw money anymore via internet. I emailed with Banistmo for many weeks, called the help desk, went to the offices, but there was no way to have this repaired.

Meanwhile they have closed shop in Boquete, everything physical has to be done in David now. So last week I closed this account. Now we have only one account left with Banistmo which does not make me feel very safe given the previous experience. I agree that is impossible to understand what makes Panama a “world financial center”. if you exclude the money laundering that some banks obviously do. The service level is far below of what I am used from other industrialized nations. Paying bills or transferring money to any 3rd person is incredibly complicated. Making automated periodical payments seems to be Chinese to them. In order to pay my DSL bill regularly without forgetting it, I have to do it via my credit card, as Banistmo does not offer any possibility to do it automatically. It is a far cry from what I was used in Europe.

Regarding slow and complicated application to open an account with a new bank: I have recently opened an account with BAC when I saw at pricesmart that BAC offers a “free” credit card. This was the fastest application I have ever seen here. Although it was not flawless because initially they had not told me that you need two accounts in order to fund the card and that you have to do the transfers manually, so the first month I had to pay hefty interest. And it is not really free because there is a “fraud insurance” to pay. Without it you would be fully responsible for any misuse in case of loss or theft of the card.”

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