Bank Comparisons – 2008 Update

Expats.cz

(Editor’s note: this is an October, 2008 update of previous articles written by Jason Pirodsky in 2005 and 2006. You can view those outdated articles here and here.)

Banks these days. With the credit crunch, mortgage crisis and national bailouts – who really wants to put their money in the hands of the “professionals?” If out of necessity you need to move your money out from under your bed; we´ve updated Jason´s wildly popular “Czech Banks” articles. There have been some newcomers to the market, some departures and some mergers. For the most part, terms and conditions haven´t changed. My customer service experiences were a bit different from Jason´s – perhaps I expected the same treatment he received and either had too high or too low expectations for certain banks. “Go to our website” is a popular phrase – I´ve included my impressions of their websites below. Happy banking!

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Komerční banka
http://www.kb.cz/
Branch Visited: Václavské náměstí 42, Prague 1
Expat Friendliness:
Customer Service:
Charges:

Receptionist directed me to the proper numbered desks, clearly labeled “Foreign Customers Desk.” There was no numbering system, so I stood around awhile, then went over to one girl who told me to speak to her colleagues who spoke English. One was on the phone, the other with a customer. When the one got off the phone, she greeted me, and when I told her what I wanted said she had an appointment with another client. I stood there and quick threw some questions at her. She did provide some information, plus a brochure in English that not only has account info, but also investments, insurance and other banking related services. She also gave me her card and told me to call her and make an appointment.

To open an account you´ll need two picture IDs, a document with your permanent address and 300CZK to activate the account. The representative didn´t mention this, but the brochure says you´ll need a residence permit. She recommended I open a Perfekt Konto account which offers you two free KB ATM withdrawals a month; two free transactions using internet banking “mojebanka” a month; a Visa Electron card (which you´ll pay 200CZK a year for) and free electronic monthly statements. The cost for this is 49CZK a month; you can pay 85CZK a month and receive free internet banking and use of their express phone line. Other charges: to receive money from abroad in a foreign currency – 0.9% with a minimum charge of 225 CZK/maximum 1,095CZK. To transfer abroad, prices are 0.9%/minimum 250CZK/maximum1,500CZK. ATM withdrawals are 5CZK at KB bankomats; 35CZK at other banks.

Website: 5/5. Lots of information, and seems to be regularly updated. You should be able to get nearly all your general questions answered here; and there´s a special section “services for foreigners.”

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mBank
http://www.mbank.cz/
Branch visited: Anglická 8, Prague 2
Expat Friendliness:
Customer Service:
Charges:

A newcomer, mBank started in Poland and currently claims to be the largest internet banking provider there. Upon entering, a very nice man, stood up and greeted me immediately. Instead of directing me to someone else, he apologized for his English, asked me to have a seat and assisted me.

mBank only does internet banking. This is great if you have simple banking needs as there are virtually no fees. To open an account you´ll need your passport and, something with your address in the Czech Republic on it, and a residence permit – you’ll need an identification number of sorts, which your visa will provide. First three ATM withdrawals a month are free, after that it´s 19CZK each. This is true of ALL bankomats – not only mBank´s; which is good because currently they only have three locations in Prague. It´s free to transfer and receive money and you also get a free debit card. You don´t need to have minimum monthly deposits and they offer free withdrawal from ATM´s abroad – which is a pretty big thing.

Website: 1/5. Not much information in English, but they are very friendly about it. They do offer a link to their parent company´s English website. Which is nice, if you care about that bank, but not helpful if you are looking for information about mBank in the Czech Republic.

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UniCredit Bank
http://www.unicreditbank.cz/
Branch visited: Václavské náměstí 53, P1
Expat Friendliness:
Customer Service:
Charges:

A brusque lady manning a podium up front directed me to a man at the back of the long narrow room. He spoke English and was quite helpful. He provided two brochures in Czech, quickly looked up answers to my specific questions and gave me his card and said to contact him.

To open an account you´ll need your passport and 200CZK. He described for me the basic “Konto Pohoda” plan which is 64CZK a month, plus 9CZK each for ATM withdrawals from ANY bankomat in the Czech Republic. If you withdraw money from a UniCredit ATM abroad it´s also only 9CZK. You get one free deposit a month plus a free debit card (again, yearly charge of 200CZK.) He recommended I get the “Konto Mozaika” which is 99CZK a month, but allows me to choose 9 services from a menu of 19 options. These extras include things like monthly mailed statement; free ATM withdrawals from UniCredit bankomats or five additional domestic electronic transactions. However, most of them are offered free in the Pohoda plan, so unless there´s something that you´d really need I don´t see a lot of advantages to the Mozaika account. Incoming deposits are 6CZK; to transfer is 4CZK.To receive non-Euro money fees are 0.9%/minium 200CZK/maximum 1,500CZK. Currency received in Euros is 200CZK. To transfer money abroad it´s 0.9%/minimum 250CZK/maximum 1,500CZK; in Euros the fee is 250CZK.

Website: 5/5. Excellent – tons of information about the accounts; as well as advantages to each account and who it would be good for.

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Česká spořitelna (Expat Centre)
http://www.csas.cz/
Branch visited: Václavské náměstí 16, Prague 1
Expat Friendliness:
Customer Service:
Charges:

Based on Jason´s glowing review – I have to say I expected a bit more. First, the building at Rytířská 29 is currently being reconstructed so the Expat Centre has been relocated to the 5th floor of Václavské náměstí 16. The woman I spoke with said they should be back in the old location at the end of the year. There was no one in the room when I arrived, so I wandered over to the woman at the far end who looked like she wasn´t busy. She provided a brochure and went over the possibilities. She answered my questions but that was about it. It seemed like she was just going through the motions; whereas I got a more interested response in a couple of the other banks. However for ease of foreigner banking Česká Spořitelna wins hands down. At the Expat Centre you are expected not to speak Czech and all their services are clearly explained in English, French and German.

To open an account you need your passport and 1000CZK. You´ll need to keep a minimum 1000CZK in your account as well. Their WorldClass package is 390CZK a month. For that you can transfer and receive money for free, you´ll get two savings accounts, and the possibility to have one of them in CZK and the other in a foreign currency. ATM withdrawals are free from CS banks. From other banks, you´ll have to pay 0.5% plus 25CZK. Need to keep a minimum balance of 1000kc and need 1000kc in each account to open. To transfer money in Euros is 220CZK/other currencies it´s 1% with a minimum of 220CZK/maximum 1500CZK. To receive foreign money it´s 100CZK for Euros and 1% with a minimum charge of 100CZK/maxiumum 950CZK for other currencies. They also offer a WorldClass Elite package – which I wasn´t offered. In addition to the WorldClass package offerings you get a gold credit card and fee discounts on items like mortgages and investments.

Website: 3/5. All their information in English, and updated regularly. However, specifics on various accounts as well as prices aren´t listed.

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ČSOB

http://www.csob.cz/
Branch visited: Václavské náměstí 32, Prague 1
Expat Friendliness:
Customer Service:
Charges:

The visit started out promising. Signs in English directed me up the stairs and to take a number, with the menu on the number dispensing machine also in English. Unfortunately the woman I spoke with spoke little English, and didn´t really want to answer my questions. She said I could find it all online and gave me a Czech brochure. The total sum of information I got from her? You need a passport and another picture id to open an account, plus 200CZK.

Website: 5/5. I´m giving ČSOB a 3/5 on the expat friendliness scale because of their website. For example – I found all this information about their basic account – ČSOB Konto: You´ll receive one incoming payment and two ATM withdrawals for free each month. You´ll get two payment cards. The monthly fee is 40CZK. The yearly fee for the debit card is 200CZK; you´ll get charged 6CZK for ČSOB ATM withdrawals and 30CZK for withdrawals from other bank´s ATM. To receive payments the cost is 6CZK, to transfer is 3CZK. To receive a transfer from abroad is 1% with a minimum fee of 150CZK and a maximum of 1,000CZK. If you have an incoming payment of less than 50,000 EUR there´s only a flat charge of 150CZK. To send money abroad it´s 1% with a minimum of 250CZK and a maximum of 1,500CZK.

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Raiffeisen 

http://www.rb.cz
Branch visited: Václavské náměstí 43, P1
Expat Friendliness:
Customer Service:
Charges:

Hotter than heck in there and the UniCredit up the block was obviously designed by the same firm. Woman at the desk quickly pushed me to another very friendly helpful woman. All our business was conducted standing at the front desk, but she was very helpful and I got the information I needed. She didn´t have any literature in English, but went to the trouble of printing a brochure out for me, gave me the Czech one as well and a large booklet (in Czech) that lists all their fees and such for all their accounts. She then told me I´d need to make an appointment with an English speaking banker and gave me the phone number to call.

You need your passport plus 500CZK to open an account. Depending on how much you deposit each month depends on your fees. If it´s less than 20,000CZK, you´ll pay 25CZK a month for the account. For ATM withdrawals, the first two each month are free, after that it´s 9.90CZK from RB ATM´s and 40CZK from other banks. To transfer money it´s 4.90CZK and free to receive it. Foreign transfers are 220CZK if it´s in Euros, other currency is 1%, with a minimum of 300CZK/maximum of 1,500CZK. If you deposit more than 25,000CZK, there is no monthly fee and other service charges are waived. If you meet the conditions of their Extra or Premium Loyalty programs, they´ll even pay you 10CZK a month for your business.

Website: 3/5. There is a lot of information in English – but not a lot of specifics regarding accounts – unless you want an online-only account – their eKonto. However, there is a note saying they are working to get more information on their accounts and services in English uploaded.

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HSBC

http://www.hsbcpremier.cz/
Branch visited: V Celnici 5, Prague 1
Expat Friendliness:
Customer Service:
Charges:

Best visit of them all! Want to have a lot of money so I can bank here. I was offered a drink when I was asked to wait by the man at the front podium. Comfy chairs in their “lounge” and a TV turned to CNN. I was quite enjoying my sit, when a banker actually came out to help me. She apologized for a lack of room space (all their private “cubes” were occupied) and brought me into the board room. Turns out you need at least 1,000,000CZK to open an account here. Not so much for the average Joe. HSBC in the Czech Republic is more of a corporate bank, and not so much into the personal accounts. The representative did say she believes more personal banking services will be offered here in the future. If you have the need for multiple international accounts, in a variety of currencies, the HSBC Premiere is worth looking into. There´s no monthly fee; you can transfer money between HSBC accounts (in any currency) for free online; they offer investment services as part of the package and you´ll have free ATM withdrawals worldwide from HSBC ATM´s. If you already have an HSBC account and are moving to the Czech Republic; it would be worth your while to investigate them here – they´ll probably make your bank move very easy. At any rate; the representative was wonderful, I wish I had a million crowns to put in her bank, and she even asked if I wanted a cup of coffee anyway before I left!
Website: 4/5. Lots of general information – low on specifics. It seems to be more of a worldwide website applicable to all the countries they service; with limited information for the home country.

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Citibank

http://www.citibank.cz/
Branch visited: 28. října 11, Prague 1
Expat Friendliness:
Customer Service:
Charges:

After an extremely lukewarm welcome; a very pleasant girl assisted me. She was able to answer all my questions and provided me with a small brochure in English. There was nothing exceptional about the visit; but it was all completed in a satisfying way.

To open an account you´ll need a passport and visa; plus 1,000CZK. Monthly fees are high – 299CZK, if your account has less than 500,000CZK in it. If it´s more, great – then the account is free. There´s no charge to withdraw money from Citibank ATM´s; other bank´s ATM´s will cost you 25CZK. To transfer and receive money either online or by phone is free. You´ll get a Citibank Maestro card free, and there isn´t a yearly charge for it. You´ll need to keep at least 500CZK in your account. To transfer money abroad the charge is 1% with a minimum of 300CZK/maximum 2,000CZK; to receive foreign currency however is free.
Website: 5/5. Everything is in English; including complete information about all their products and services as well as a price list.

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Volksbank
http://www.volksbank.cz
Branch visited: Soukenická 2
Expat Friendliness:
Customer Service:
Charges:

Probably the worst experience. Two people were in the office – the girl didn´t speak English so sent me to the man in charge of the currency exchange window. He wasn´t a banker so to speak, so attempted to help me with his very limited English, while asking the other girl for information and translating it for me. Really didn´t get any information. I think you need a visa to open an account; and you have to have an account open for three months before they´ll give you a debit card. I left with a nearly 20 page stapled stack of papers listing their fees.

Website: 3/5. I learned that Volksbank operates an international desk (I believe this is located at Lazarská 8) for French, Spanish and Italian speaking clients. Seems it mainly focuses on small businesses and the real estate sector but it does say they´ve recently established a retail branch too. I also got information about their accounts. Their basic is the Fit Konto. For 45CZK a month you´ll receive a debit card (annual charge: 200CZK;) ATM withdrawals from Volksbank are 2.50CZK and they seem to have a deal with ČSOB as you can withdraw from their bankomats for 5CZK. Anyone else it´ll cost you 30CZK. To transfer money is 18CZ, to receive it is free. To receive a transfer from abroad is 0.5% with a minimum of 100CZK/maximum 750CZK. To send money abroad it´s 1% with a minimum of 300CZK/maximum 1,700CZK.

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Overall Impressions
These people will nickel and dime you to death if you don´t watch it, or have a high balance or minimum monthly deposits to offset the fees. Internet banking is the cheapest way to go. Nearly all of the basic prices and fees mentioned here are based on internet banking; not in-branch banking. The lack of non-Czech language brochures was surprising. This experience confirmed something I´ve noticed about trying to get information here. People don´t offer it to you – you have to ask. This is fine, if you know what to ask.

But if you are unsure; information isn´t often freely provided. If you have simple banking needs – go for mBank. If you have major banking needs, a need for foreign accounts or will require a lot of banker assistance – go for Česká Spořitelna. If you will be doing a lot of global banking or have investments and the like, the international recognition and presence of HSBC will probably be useful for you. I like that UniCredit allows you to choose what you want so you are only paying for services you´ll actually use. Most of the basic plans are the same, but CSOB´s fees seem to be a bit lower overall.

Hopefully this information will be useful in your search. Be sure to visit a couple of your top choices and let the representative know what your specific banking requirements are in order to get an account that matches your needs and won´t break the bank with fees.