hollandazed-thoughts-ideas-and-miscellany

ADVENTURES IN INTERNATIONAL FINANCE (by Mary & Tom Russell)

Mary Russell

Probably the most hotly-anticipated title in our opening line-up is Cole Wehrle's An Infamous Traffic. Certainly, we're very eager to bring Mr. Wehrle's design to the public, and are putting steps into place to ensure we'll be able to keep up with the demand as much as humanly possible.

Photo of what The Precious might look like. These fake precious were found on Amazon for $1.95 + $3.82 shipping for a total of 10. Yes, only 10, not the nice little pile as seen in the photo.

Part of keeping up with that demand is to make sure we have plenty of wee little wooden cubes, as each copy of the game comes with twenty of them. We figured the best bet would be to buy a bunch of cubes, pre-sort them, and plop them into their little ziploc bags. Then we could send the bags over to the printer, so rather than him having to fuss with counting out cubes while trying to fulfill the deluge of orders, he'd just need to gently toss one of the bags in there.

The question remained, of course: where we were going to get the cubes? We started asking some American suppliers for quotes, the lowest of which worked out to five cents a cube, and that's not even taking the shipping into account. That's hundreds of dollars on cubes alone, which of course we weren't thrilled about.

But then we thought to ourselves, "Hey, Winsome's games have well over a hundred cubes each. There's no way John Bohrer is spending that much money on cubes." John being, among other things, a very savvy and cost-effective business man. So, Tom sent John an email, and asked where John bought his cubes from, and what the pricing was like. John referred us to a German company, HEROS.

We reached out to HEROS to ask for a quote. At the volume we were requesting, the cubes were slightly less than one cent each-- so, over five times less than the domestic price. Even adding on the €33 (~$37) freight shipping from Germany, and a €25 (~$28) charge for ordering such a "low quantity", we were still looking at a cost of about 1.3 cents per cube.

This sounded great, and we placed our order. We then asked the rep at HEROS if they accepted paypal or credit card. No, neither of those; the payment would need to be made by bank transfer and it had to be in Euros. "Oh my goodness," said Tom to Mary,  "we're going to make an international bank transfer. We're like grown-ups now. International financiers!"

We got the invoice a few days later. This had the International Bank Account Number (IBAN; this is of course the account number for HEROS at that bank) and the SWIFT code (which identifies the specific bank).

Our bank actually looks more like the inside of a shoebox.

First Attempt

The next day, Tom left work early so that the two of us could go to our local bank before they closed at five. We arrived just before four o'clock.

The fellow at the desk, who is usually the one to assist us, said that while he couldn't do the transfer, the bank manager could. A few minutes later, we were shown into the manager's office, and we explained that we needed to transfer a certain sum to this account in Germany, and that our dollars needed to turn into Euros somewhere in that process. We hadn't met the manager before, having only seen him in passing while waiting in line, so he didn't know us the way his tellers did. Probably because of this, the manager was weirdly suspicious of us. We think maybe he thought we were trying to import drugs or something? Which, you know, if that was our thing (which, n.b., it isn't), probably there's a better and more discreet way to go about that than wiring money to Germany of all places.

But we really got the third degree. What was our name, what was our address, how long had we lived there, where did we work, how long had we worked there, what did we do there, what did the company do, what was our social security number, et cetera. Which, you know, we didn't mind it necessarily, sure, let's take precautions or whatever, but it was a little weird and off-putting, and the capper to all this was that after going through all this, and typing our answers in, and scrutinizing our driver's licenses with a magnifying glass, the manager announced that it was now 4:15 and that it was too late to make an international bank transfer. So maybe he could have told us that before we spent twenty minutes sitting there awkwardly?

The manager let us know that the service wasn't available on Saturdays (our normal banking day), and with Tom unable to take any time off on Friday, it was decided that Mary would come back to the bank the next day to get the thing done.

Second Attempt

The manager wasn't there the next day, and so Mary had to deal with the assistant manager. The assistant manager looked at our invoice, and said that there was no information identifying the bank and no information identifying the recipient. "Where's the account number?" Mary pointed to the spot with the account number. "And there's no SWIFT code." Mary pointed to the SWIFT code, but the assistant manager was resolute that that wasn't what it was, even though it said "SWIFT", and was followed by a colon, which was followed by the code. "I don't even see the name of the bank," he said.

Mary called Tom at work to report all this. "I'm pretty sure it's all on there," said Tom. He pulled up a copy of the invoice while he was on his lunch break and double-checked. "Yep, bank name is right there. I just did a google search to confirm that that is indeed the name of the bank. And then there's the SWIFT code."

Third Attempt

Mary went back to the bank the same day. For some reason, after telling the assistant manager that her husband verified that this was indeed the bank's name, the account number, and the SWIFT code, the assistant manager took it at face value. (Which, what the heck, assistant manager? Everyone knows that Mary is way smarter and way more reliable than Tom is.) But then there was another problem: what was the address of this HEROS company?

Mary called Tom while she was at the bank, and then gave the phone to the manager. "The address is on there, at the top," he said.

"Are you sure that's an address? It doesn't look like an address."

"It's German. They put the number after the street name, and the city after the postal code." (Unlike here in the States, where the number comes before the street name, and the postal code after the city.)

"Are you sure?"

"I mean, I'm pretty sure."

"Can you check?"

"I mean, I just did a google search, and that's the address that comes up."

"We really need you to check with your contact at the company. To make absolutely sure."

And so we sent an email to the rep at HEROS. We got a response on Monday (Labor Day in the United States, so the bank was closed) in which he confirmed that, yes, that is their address, that this is the street address, and this is the city. He was very understanding about the whole thing.

Fourth Attempt

This is believed to be the flag of the possibly fictitious country of Deutschland

On Tuesday Mary went back to the bank, and this time dealt with the manager again. Mary explained what part of the address was which, finally glad to be bringing our long national nightmare to a close. But the manager saw a couple of problems.

First, there was no account number.

"It's the IBAN," Mary explained. "It's the International Bank Account Number."

"Yes, that's the International Bank Account Number," said the manager, "but what we need is the actual bank account number."

"It is the actual bank account number. That's what it's called, an International Bank Account Number. We googled it."

The manager rolled his eyes but decided to accept it. Then came problem number two: "You say that this place 'Lam' is the city, but there's another city name here, 'Deutschland'."

"No, Deutschland is the name of the country."

"I thought you said the country was Germany," said the manager, his eyes beaming, having caught the notorious suburban drug traffickers in their own web of lies.

"Deutschland is what Germany is called in Germany. Germany is what we call it; they call it Deutschland."

The manager looked at his computer screen, at the form he was filling out. "So, do I put down 'Germany' or do I put down 'Deutschland'?"

"I have no idea," said Mary. "I guess either would work."

"Are you sure Lam's not the street? Because there's a long number in front of it, so I think maybe that's the street."

"That number is the postal code. Lam is the city. Deutschland is the country."

"Can I talk to your husband?" (Which, what the heck, bank manager?)

Mary called Tom up, a little exasperated, and turned the phone over.

"There are a couple of problems here," said the manager. "First, we can't find the bank account number."

"It's the IBAN," said Tom. "International Bank Account Number."

"Oh, okay, thank you, Mr. Russell. Also, we're trying to figure out the address.

Tom went through the address: this is the street address, this is the city, and this the postal code.

"I thought the city was 'Deutschland'," said the manager.

"No," said Tom. "Deutschland is the country."

"I thought Germany was the country."

"Germany is called Deutschland in Germany."

"Oh, I didn't know that," said the manager. "I also need the address of the bank we're sending it to."

Well, that much wasn't on the invoice, and a quick google search revealed a number of potential addresses. And so, we had to email the rep at HEROS again, explaining that we're really sorry, but could he possibly tell us the address of the bank? He was out of the office, and it took him a couple days to respond. He was very happy to provide us with the bank address, and found it a bit amusing when we told him the bank manager didn't understand what "Deutschland" was, but he was also clearly amazed by the whole thing. "I'm wondering why this is so complicated for them." 

We were wondering that too. Our friend Brian Train offered one possible explanation: "American banks are funny. It's as if they first have to become convinced that a) there are countries outside the USA, and that b) these countries have places of business that are very like banks."

Now, you're probably wondering: why don't you guys go find another bank, especially after all this hassle? And while this particular chain of events was irritating and ridiculous, the fact remains that most of our banking involves depositing money into the account, and taking money out of the account, and for that, one bank really is as good as another. While we didn't have a great experience with the bank management, the tellers have always been helpful and friendly and willing to go the extra mile. Plus, the bank is a three minute drive from our house, so the location is very convenient.

Fifth Attempt

Fifth time was the charm, and the transfer was made. There was still some lingering confusion on their part as to whether "Deutschland" was a city or a country, but otherwise it went off without a hitch. Our expectation is that the next time we have to do one of these, we can get it done in only three visits, easy.

 


5 comments

  • Ah, the local bank. Such fond memories I have of exchanging US$300 for Canadian dollars at my bank, only to find myself standing speechless at a grocery store checkout in Montreal six hours later with a wallet filled with German Deutschmarks. Good times.

    Colm McCarthy

  • Great history Tom!!! It was really fun to read. One thing, have you considered changing your bank account to other office/company? and in such case, take care that the manager knows where is Germany and how to do International wires! :-D

    Gonzalo Santacruz

  • I can certainly relate to the bureaucracy of using banks to transfer money between countries, as I was doing so back in the 90s with different countries in the Former Soviet Union. Indeed, dealing with a company that won’t use online financial services is quite rare nowadays. As Brian mentioned, probably easier to make a friend in Germany, send him the money, and have him purchase your supplies. Good luck with the new company!

    Steve Alta

  • That’s a funny thing about these blocks, too – it’s not the wood itself that is costly, but the labour of making large wooden bits into small wooden bits.
    In effect, you are paying for the absence of wood, that is, where the saw cuts to make the cubes have been, much as people who buy Aero bars are buying a confection predicated on the absence of chocolate.
    Very post-modern, that!

    Brian Train

  • What a passel of ignoramuses. I have found with most tellers that anything more involved than a deposit, withdrawal or basic cheque-cashing will get you a look like you have bugs in your eyebrows. But managers are supposed to be better than this.
    I wired payments to my ex-wife in Japan via bank transfer month by month, for years, Canadian dollars to yen, and never had any problem except for being grumpy about the per-transaction fee of $45… but that’s just me. Perhaps we are more cosmopolitan in Canada.
    Perhaps one solution to this, if you’re going to do this often, would be to get a Trusted Associate in Germany, someone you can Paypal US dollars to and have them do the banking bit for HEROS in Euros (and then treat them to a gyros), paying them and telling them to ship it to you.
    I do recall getting a couple of inquiries from European gamers on BGG about EU distributors for your products, to avoid the heinous postage rate from the USA; it would be a matter of trust but it would cut out parochial middlemen, who just want to talk to your husband anyway (?!?).

    Brian Train

Leave a Comment