News broke this morning that Scotiabank, which calls itself Canada’s most international bank, will cut 1500 jobs and close 120 branches, mostly in the Caribbean, Mexico and South America where operations are said to be “under-performing.”

After visiting several Scotiabank branches in Peru, I think “under-performing” is an under-statement!

Last month I attempted to withdraw the equivalent of $100 Cdn from three different Scotiabank ATMs in Cusco and Arequipa. Signage near the ATMs displayed the logos of several networks that my card is affiliated with and the branch manager at my TD Bank in Toronto had assured me that my debit and credit cards would work in South America. When a third Scotiabank ATM rejected me for no obvious reason, I got in line to deal directly with the lone teller at the Plaza de Armas branch in Cusco.

There were two women in front of me and both appeared to have relatively simple transactions. Neither appeared to want cash and yet the teller chatted with each for several minutes before vigorously stamping multiple pages in their bankbooks and wishing them a good day.

I had been in line about 15 minutes by the time I stepped up to the counter. I explained as best I could in Spanish that my debit and Visa cards had been rejected at several ATMs and that I’d like to withdraw the equivalent of about $100 Cdn from any one of three accounts. I’d even settle for a cash advance on my Visa card if that would be easier. With so many options, this should be a pretty simple transaction, right?


You can do your own Google search but I highly doubt you’ll find ‘Scotiabank’, ‘South America’ and ‘simple’ being used in the same sentence.

After acknowledging that Scotiabank’s ATMs don’t always accept foreign cards, the teller assured me that if my account contains sufficient funds, he could complete the transaction manually. That was a relief.

I should have known that “contains sufficient funds” is code for “I’m somehow going to check your balance.” I don’t know if Scotiabank can actually check the balance of a TD account, but whatever the teller did it sure took a long time. I would have taken a seat except there was no seating in the tiny two-room branch.  I did take several peppermint candies from a dish on the counter.

Once the teller had finished perusing multiple screens on his computer, he sauntered to the back room to get the approval of the branch manager. I could see the manager through a small pass-thru and she was talking on the phone. She would remain on the phone for about 10 minutes. The teller stood and waited for the full 10 minutes.  Once the manager got off the phone, the approval slip was signed in about three seconds flat.

All this time I stood and waited at the counter. So did five people who had formed a line behind me. When the teller returned to the counter he presented me with yet another slip to sign, presumably acknowledging the conversion rate from Canadian Dollars to Peruvian Pesos, and I then waited while he requested the appropriate amount of cash from the cage.  The manager manned the cage.

Once the money was turned over to the teller, counted not once but twice, smoothed out, and placed in the teller’s cash drawer (heads up, facing the same direction), I was asked to produce my passport, sign and initial several more slips, watch as the teller inspected my signature, compared it to my passport, showed the final transaction to the manager, and finally triple-counted my cash.  The final act of this elaborate tragicomedy was when he asked if I’d like the cash in an envelope.  Yep, if you have an extra minute to spare, they’ll fold and place your 100 bucks in a shiny, two-color envelope.

By this point the line behind me had dwindled to one person. I didn’t notice where the other four of five people went but I assume they just gave up and left.  If they were only in need of $30 or $40, I’m sure they could have fished it out of the fountain in the adjacent town square quicker than Scotiabank could have supplied it.

While the bank would have collected about three bucks in service fees, I suspect our little interaction actually cost them $10 to $20 or more.  Factor in the cost of the teller and manager, the physical paperwork, a photocopy of my passport, the branch overhead, not to mention the lost revenue from five people who walked out the door, and there’s little wonder the colour red is on more than Scotiabank’s signage.

Nice job, Scotiabank. You’re (not) richer than you think!

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