Opinion, by Doug Gray, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – Shortly after carnival in the Sendas at Largo do Machado, I witnessed a group of Americans trying unsuccessfully to withdraw money from a huddle of four cash machines by the entrance to a supermarket. As they rotated between machines, each giving one of several cards a try, their frustration grew before culminating in simple despair. Not one of them managed to get any money out, nor apparently had any idea of how to resolve their empty-walleted situation.
Now, I have no idea who they were banking with (nor of course if they weren’t horribly overdrawn in the aftermath of typical carnival overspending), but this is a scene seemingly repeated time and again at banks throughout Rio.
Why, especially during high season when hundreds of thousands of tourists arrive in the city, does the government or the banks themselves (when there are fortunes to be made in withdrawal fees), not ensure as much compatibility as possible between banks? Withdraw money, spend money, and make money. Everyone is happy.
Having frequently had people from England come over to visit since arriving here three years ago our advice to them has always been the same – get your hands on as many Reais as you can before you leave the UK, keep them safe, and hope to use the cash machines while you’re here as little as possible. Accounts with even the big British banks such as Lloyds and Barclays can be a nightmare for trying to get money out of Brazilian ATM machines.
Living in Flamengo, withdrawing money never used to be such an issue; there were HSBC banks at either end of the neighborhood and they were often the best bet for successfully getting cash from most UK banks. Now with both shut the options in Flamengo are Banco do Brasil, one of two state-owned banks, Unibanco and Bradesco, with an Itaú further down towards Praia do Botafogo. Not one of these banks, even with a Visa symbol on the outside of the machine that matches the one on the UK card, will allow me to make a withdrawal from the overseas bank account.
Furthermore, my Brazilian HSBC card will also not work in any one of these ‘rival’ bank machines, and getting money out becomes quite an ordeal. Shouldn’t it be a constant for every bank everywhere in the world that people should be able to access, withdraw and spend their money as easily as possible? Isn’t that the whole point of having Visa on your cards and machines, to ensure compatibility across any network?
With the World Cup and then the Olympics arriving on the horizon in the coming few years, tourists not being able to access their money could become something of an embarrassment if what would appear to be a simple problem is not addressed.