12 Nov 2016

Currency Exchange (part 2)

We were recently given a €500 note from a customer during a conference in Ireland. I didn't know such notes existed until I was holding one in my hand. Like notes of any currency that aren't in pounds sterling, I have a sense of unreality when handling them and even after mentally converting them into something I use and understand (£445 in this case #thankyoubrexit), they still feel strange and toy-like.

Anyway. We gave the customer his change and I emailed his receipt an hour or so later. By the end of the 3 day event, a small stash of €50's and €20's had joined the €500 note in a plastic wallet along with 3 £20 pound notes which we shouldn't technically have accepted, but arrived via our lovely client who pays us to work for her and who really needed her remaining Euros for beer.

Back in the UK a few days later I go into town with Manchild to bank the euros. We have sterling and euro accounts with a well known high street bank who shall remain nameless. The woman behind the glass screen is very pleasant. Yes of course you can pay euros into your euro account. I shall take them for you now.

It takes ages. Several people get served at the till next to us and leave. An alarm of some description goes off twice behind the glass screen. It's bearable for us, but deafening for the cashiers, judging by their faces. Then there's another problem with the magnetic lock on the bank's front door - it activates and locks the customers inside while a queue forms outside of people who can't get in. 'Are we hostages?' asks someone. No, thankfully not. The bank is not under seige. The branch manager appears and the alarm stops for the second time as the door is released. Great.

The branch manager then retreats through a locked door and reappears behind my cashier. Apparently my request requires her assistance. Another alarm sounds. The cashiers can't find the source and it's on OUR side of the glass this time, not theirs. I eventually walk up to a self deposit hatch and shut the lid which had been left slightly ajar by the last user. The alarm stops. Hurray! Says everyone in the queue. Do I want a job here? smiles the cashier. No, I just want you to bank my Euros so I can leave and get on with my day I think. Manchild wants a chip and pin card account and we were planning to make enquiries about it here. Do you trust these people to look after your money? I whisper. Absolutely not. He replies. They don't have control over their own front door.

OK. Now there's definitely a problem. The bank cannot accept my €500 note. It is not a forgery to their knowledge. There's nothing wrong with the note itself, but there's no button on their computer that they can click on to book it in and register it as received. Clicking the €100 button 5 times isn't allowed. They have to account for each individual note they take receipt of and as there's no button for my €500 note, they can't do anything with it. Sorry about that. They suggest another bank.

Irritating. I can't argue because if the branch manager doesn't know what's happened to the €500 button and accidentally made hostages of half a dozen people when no one had a firearm then I'm not sure shouting at anyone here will help. I grumpily thank the cashier after she checks there's nothing else she can help me with today, then leave while the door still opens.

I try an alternative bank which is equally unable to help, especially since I'm not even a customer of theirs. The Post Office won't exchange the note because they would be unable to sell it on. They suggest a travel agent who is likewise unable to take it as they would also struggle to sell it on. The bloke there is confused that our own bank can't help especially when we've gone to the trouble of opening a separate euro account to make these kinds of transactions possible. I am also confused and ring the Irish venue who hosted our meeting to ask if they routinely deal in €500 notes (just in case Google is lying) - and they do. This is reassuring. Then I ring the business helpline of the bank who shall remain nameless and am informed it's a national policy NOT to accept €500 notes. Ever. Even if you have a Euro account. No, I don't know why that is or when we made that decision. Sorry.

Aaaarghhhhh. What sort of stupid system is that? This explains the missing €500 button though. Some software engineer has been paid to disable it. Maybe they should make this clear to customers, I suggest to the helpline person? And maybe the bank staff who are happy to offer the service and bill us every month for using it should be aware of its limitations?

Anyway. We reverse the problem by making it not ours. We we send the note back to the customer and debit his account and (here's the clever bit) offset the change we have already given him at the registration desk against his flight expense which pretty much matches his claim, bar an additional €4 which is now my fee for fannying around all morning. Result.

But still annoying. And kind of fascinating. Having a note of currency that you are unable to pay into a bank account of that same currency kind of emphasizes that there's nothing intrinsically valuable about it in the first place. The only thing that makes money have value is that a bunch of people all got together and decided it did. Then it's a self fulfilling prophecy - in both directions. So if people get together and collectively decide that a particular note is no longer bankable, then so be it. (Although they could have told the rest of us).

Don’t hoard treasure down here where it gets eaten by moths and corroded by rust or worse! - stolen by burglars. Stockpile treasure in heaven, where it’s safe from moth and rust and burglars. It’s obvious, isn’t it? The place where your treasure is, is the place you will most want to be, and end up being. (Mat 6:19-21)

Yayyy! Go Jesus. Except stockpiling treasure in heaven is a rather abstract thing. Even for Christians who claim to believe in and live by this stuff. If we can't see the immediate short term effects of investing in a particular cause, then it's harder for us to get excited by it. The principle works for other things though, so the logic should be transferrable. We understand the value of an athlete avoiding pizza before a competition or putting up with morning sickness in order to grow a baby. We just need to think a bit longer term than a 25 year mortgage or (insert own example of longer term thinking here).

Don’t store up treasure for yourself in €500 notes because these ultimately can't be sold on. Didn't I mention it while I was there? All earthly kingdoms will crumble eventually so the Euro will inevitably follow the Roman Denarius, the Sudanese Dinar and the Franc into oblivion. Sorry about that. However my currency's performing really well so invest in that instead. Just take whatever money, time or skills you have and use them for things that straddle this world AND the next one. Grab those opportunities- they're everywhere if you look properly. And I don't need much to make it happen because my interest rates will blow your mind. I can take the smallest act of kindness or courage and multiply it beyond anything you thought possible because your thinking is small and I am big. I take your little trinkets of paper and metal or 1s and 0s on a computer screen and expand my kingdom one life at a time when you faithfully give to a cause bigger than your own immediate comfort. You make heaven touch earth in a million tiny ways when you choose to forgive someone who hurt you, hug your gobby teenager, write to your MP or buy a Big Issue. Tell your mates. My treasure holds its value indefinitely and I'm always looking out for new investors. 

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