In the final stretch towards leaving, I needed to make sure I’d have enough foreign currency to get by. I was looking for the cheapest ways to change money, and I knew that Chase was going to charge 3% on any foreign transactions on my cards, so I wanted to avoid that. I called my local branch and asked if they changed currency. They said they could. I asked if there was a fee. They said no. I went to the bank and withdrew $1500 in Chinese Yuan. The branch didn’t have the currency on hand, so they submitted an order for it, which was supposed to show up in 1-2 business days. The receipt showed a rate of .1766. I went back to my office and checked the exchange rate on the market: .155. They had marked it up by 10%. As soon as I realized this, I went back to the branch to cancel the order, and arrived 20 minutes after the receipt was printed. I asked to cancel the order, but they said it had already gone through and that the best I could do would be to exchange it back when the money arrived, hopefully at the same rate, though I had my suspicions.
The next day I got a call from the bank saying my money had arrived. I showed up and told them what had happened and that I wanted to cancel my order. No money had actually exchanged hands yet, so this shouldn’t have been an issue. They said their hands were tied and that the best they could do would be to exchange the money back at a rate of .146, which was another 10% fee to me. So if I wanted to get my money back into USD, it would have only come out to $1250, a cost of $250 and profit of 20% to chase for doing nothing at all. I laughed and told them that was ridiculous. The manager was there the whole time because she was trying to figure out how to do it, and eventually she and I were face to face having a discussion.
Her point was that I had ordered the transaction and that it was my choice to do so, and that there were no fees in the strict sense of the word. She said her hands were tied and the system wouldn’t allow them to do anything.
I countered by pointing out that their rates weren’t anywhere to be found until after the transaction was complete, so it was impossible for me to know I was getting the rate I was, and thus I didn’t have the information to make an informed decision. I had returned within 20 minutes to cancel the transaction, which is a reasonable time period. I said that charging 10% above market rate is indeed a fee, whether you call it one or not, because it is an additional charge above the market rate of the transaction, and that I had been lied to before making the transaction, making it even more difficult to have all the correct information before making the choice. I told her that Chase had been striking out with me on a few things lately with transactions that were akin to robbery, and that while I do indeed have the choice to bank with them, that choice was becoming increasingly expensive.
The moral of this story is that when changing currency, you need to be very clear on the terms of the transaction before you agree to it, and it’s not always best to do it in the U.S. before going overseas. I found out later from friends that changing money in China is easy and with much more competitive rates.
I also learned that Chase is no longer to be trusted. It was only a $150 loss, but it was a last straw. Chase is not an institution I can trust to help me make good financial or business decisions, and if I have to watch every transaction because I’m worried about getting charged outrageous prices, then it’s not a place where I feel comfortable keeping my money.