No exchange

It’s probably a good thing that the UK did not join the Euro, given what has happened to the latter currency and its uncertain future. For all that, it is the currency of Britain’s key trading partners, and must be what any bureau de change trades in most. Or so you’d think.

Today I needed to give €60 to someone who is about to travel from Scotland to a country in the Euro zone. Easy, I thought. I’d go into the nearest bank and hand over some £50 or so and get the necessary banknotes. Job done.

Not a bit! In the first bank, a very nice lady at the counter looked simply stunned when I asked her for the currency. This was a request that had clearly never crossed her desk before. She was most solicitous, but this didn’t extend to having any solution. She absolutely couldn’t imagine how a bank would change Pounds for Euros. The whole concept was new to her. She would definitely look into this, totally, but only when her manager returned. I started to ask when that would be, but realised this was a waste of time and moved on.

Into the second bank, just across the road. Yes, the nice man behind the counter had definitely heard of Euros, and was absolutely willing to believe the transaction could be done. He had no idea how, but there was a supervisor somewhere who, he assured me, understood even the most obscure banking transactions and would help me, no doubt about it at all. So off he went looking for the supervisor. He returned, some ten minutes later, with the very keen supervisor, who was clearly willing to expand his horizons. Yes absolutely, Euros could be provided. First, was I a customer? Of course, I said, I’m here and am ready to do business, in other words a customer. I wasn’t a regulator, if that’s what he meant. No, no – did I have an account in this branch? No; in this bank, yes, but not this branch. Pursed lips, whistling noises, furrowed brows. Could I prove I was an account holder in that other branch? I could. OK then, he was willing to take on the Euro adventure, just this once.

So how much did I want? €60. More pursed lips and quiet whistling noises. No can do €60. €100, probably; €200, definitely. But alas, no €60. Well, I’ll be in Ireland again before long, so I can accept the €100. Off he goes on a search for this bit of currency. Another 10 minutes of my life lost. Triumphant return, clasping a sealed envelope said to contain the elusive currency; though for some reason, I mustn’t open the envelope there and then, which I was about to do, feeling the need to check it out.

Well, half an afternoon later I am able to give my friend the €60. But for goodness sake, does this really have to be so difficult? Do we really never change currency any more? It is true that I don’t, normally; I just use an ATM at my destination. But there must be others who, occasionally, need to get some foreign exchange before they travel, or to give or send to someone. Was I really making such an exotic request?

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13 Comments on “No exchange”

  1. MunchkinMan Says:

    To answer your question: YES. They’re well trained, aren’t they, the Brits? It’s in the blood, hard-wired, genetic predisposition, and all that: Repel ALL THING EUROPEAN!!

  2. Steve Button Says:

    Think I’ve spotted where you went wrong here. You expected that Banks exist to provide a service to their customers and the wider public. They may have done so in the distant past but not any longer.

    A frequent traveller to Ireland where that ‘funny money’ is used, I nip out at lunchtime to the local W.H. Smith ‘Post Office’ or the nearby Marks and Spencer to buy my Euros. All done and dusted in under 5 minutes.

  3. eoinmadden Says:

    I had a similar expierence once in Oxford, visiting 3 banks before I could find one that would change some notes for me. And I was merely changing Scottish pounds to English!

  4. Delarivier Says:

    A friend of mine based in London needed a bank draft for US$100. He went into a London bank branch (which shall remain nameless, but it’s one of the big UK banks). He was told that there would be an extra charge of £17, and (staggeringly) that they couldn’t just give it to him there and then but would have to deliver it to his house (some obscure money laundering regulation) so he would have to take an entire afternoon off work to wait for it to be delivered.
    My friend’s response was somewhat unparliamentary, and needless to say, he told the bank that this was not an option.

    So I went into my local AIB branch in Dublin on his behalf to buy the $100 draft. The transaction took me 90 seconds and cost €4.50.
    Says it all, doesn’t it?

  5. Kenji Lamb Says:

    I live in a reasonably-sized town north of Glasgow, with a fair selection of banks in the town centre (not as large as Aberdeen!). I recently visited five, looking for the best exchange rate for GBP > Euros, and it all seemed to go smoothly. They simply entered the requested figure into their keyboard and gave me a quote.

    I wonder how common an experience that is…

  6. Anna Notaro Says:

    I don’t think I agree with the premise of this post, the recent Euro crisis does not necessarily prove it was best for the UK not to join ‘in the long run’, having said that the best way to change pounds into euros for UK residents is by using the post office online services http://www.postoffice.co.uk/travel/travel-money It is rather efficient and convenient. I would never step into a bank for this, unless I had some masochistic tendencies, that is :)

  7. andyboal Says:

    The Post Office is excellent for this. In Belfast they always have euros and dollars in stock, but for large amounts and other currencies you might have to come back the next day to collect them.

    They’re especially good if your bank has an arrangement to let you draw cash in foreign currencies from your current account at the Post Office eg the former Alliance & Leicester side of Santander.


  8. per eoinmadden, one can’t expect UK to join a single currency when they don’t have one within their own flipping borders. “What’s that mate? It says Ireland on it” (sigh…)

  9. Vince Says:

    I find my Laser does the deed in the hole in the wall.

  10. OMF Says:

    That’s pretty bizzare. You can go to obscure bank branches in South Tipperary and still expect to be able to change money into Sterling and Dollars at least.


    • That’s what I thought. But UK banks seem to be much less willing to do informal foreign exchange business. I’ve also just tried to get a US-dollar denominated bank draft, and this has proved every bit as complex. I started trying to get one on Thursday, and I’ve still not succeeded. No problem in any high street branch in Ireland.


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