Ignoring Spot (the exchange rate, not the dog)

“So you mean to tell me that whenever I withdraw money in a foreign currency, the official exchange rate can be ignored and any amount of money can be taken from my account?  And I have no way to determine what that rate will be before I withdraw the money, and I will have absolutely no recourse!?”

“Um. . .  Yes.”

Withdrawing money abroad is a lot eaiser than it used to be, but it can still be a pain in the ass.  There is a bureaucratic maze of non-responsibility that leaves your money at the mercy of unknown forces.  I was once overcharged $40 (CAD) on a €200 withdrawal via some kind of exchange rate.  I had an interesting set of conversations with various representatives of various organizations.  One of thethings that I learned was that the ATM exchange rates are set by Cirrus, which is a mysterious force that, apparently, can not be compelled to do anything, by anyone.

There is little recourse for a problem with a bank machine, and I found that my bank would have had more legal teeth to protect my money if it had been stolen, rather than having been illegitemately taken as a result of their own system’s fully documented mistake.

The woman on the phone told me that I could pay some amount of money to launch an inquiry, but that said inquiry would not even guarantee a response from the party in question.  I thought she was joking, “You mean, now that I have been overcharged $40 — and as far as I’m concerned, that money has been stolen from me — you are suggesting I pay more money for a service that I won’t receive?  You want me to give you more money for no reason?  Why would the ATM people launch an investigation if I they have no legal obligation to do so, and will get paid anyway?”

She did not have an answer for that, but I think she had genuinely been trying to help me.  I wonder if at some point she suddenly realized that she’d advised me to give more money to the people that had robbed me so that they might think about giving me my money back.

Whatever the case, some weeks later I found a correction in my account for the amount I’d  been overcharged.  I like to think that whoever I’d been talking to on the phone had managed to take the recording of our conversation to the right people that were sitting at the right tables and managed to get everything fixed.  I said some things about the nature of the role a bank need take in a consumer’s life that very likely sounded very scary to a financial executive.  I like to think my words could have triggered a collapse of the existing financial system… and if that had been the choice before me, I would have happily given up those forty canadian dollars to witness the end of our ridiculous monetary system and the sudden impoverishment of those who enrich themselves upon it.

Hell, I’d spend $40 just to see the look on their faces when they realized that all that money they had was now worthless, and that they would now have to live at a luxury level akin to (or far below) their former servants and employees.  Wash your own clothes, ass-hole!

But they didn’t.  They just gave me my money back.

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