Tuesday, February 11, 2020


The other day day we closed our accounts at Banco Promerica

We hadn’t intended to, in fact we just wanted to reactivate one of them, but the process for doing so was made to sound so utterly painful  including, bizarrely, the official requirement to leave the bank and go for a walk outside for approximately an hour and half — that in the end closing out completely was (marginally) less hassle. Either way it was going to be worse than an afternoon at the SAT. 

Back in the late 90s, as Banco Uno, this was unquestionably the best bank in Antigua. Yet nowadays it has become everything you don’t want from a retail banking service, yet there still seem to be a few customers who, like us, have held on bravely/foolishly through the name and standard changes, first to Citi and then to Promerica. 

Whilst waiting in the barely-furnished limbo zone we exchanged nods of recognition with a former Vamos candidate for alcalde who cheerily greeted the cashiers as if they were his children's nannies, and later (much later it seemed) overheard someone identifying himself as the financial envoy of Antigua’s wealthiest family. 

These people will surely recall how the staff at Banco Uno used to greet their valued customers when they walked in instead of being made to palm a shred of paper with a queue number on it.

In London I bank with Coutts & Co, the Queen’s bank. My account there is possibly the one thing I have that is an out and out status symbol. When I signed up as a teenager I was immediately allocated a ‘private banker’ in a morning suit. These days I still have such a contact at the bank, but he’s less of a fusty old gent and does even more useful stuff for me like answer emails and is backed up by a team that can handle any issue I throw at them 24-7 via telephone. 

Such attention doesn't come cheap, but they have always been broadly tolerant of my foibles, and as for my mother, she was probably just about the worst customer any bank could hope for, yet they were always solicitous and diplomatic (almost to a point) with her. 

So, let’s just say that when it comes to banking I’ve been royally spoiled. Yet even measured against the lofty standards set by the aforementioned establishment, Banco Uno did tend to impress. When we were building our first house here in the late 90s they too gave us a personal banker, who would zoom out to us to deliver a chequebook at a moment’s notice. 

My business partner visited us here in 2000 and met Gustavo, our asesor at Banco Uno (over drinks at Dog and Fox), and was soon showing an interest in opening an account there himself, even though he had no intention of moving to Guatemala. This was because they had this rather nifty way of flushing clients' savings into offshore Panama accounts at what was then a truly impressive rate of interest. 

Promerica now occupies the site of what was Lloyd’s Bank when I first came to Guatemala. This was the only obvious foreign presence in the sector at the time. 

At some stage in the mid-noughties there was a bit of a rush on Central American banks with Citi picking up Banco Uno and almost immediately applying more American levels of service. 

But at least they still seemed to have a basic idea of what they were doing. The current batch of Promerica personnel are staggeringly devoid of initiative. They reminded us of the chronically under-trained waiters one occasionally comes across in Antigua: the ones that don’t seem to know which side of a plate is up. 

On the subject of By Royal Appointment, my dentist, from my first tooth until his retirement and knighthood about ten years ago, was also the Queen's dentist. I was rather proud of this, in part because he was my dentist first and because aside from being exceptionally good at his profession (I've never had so much as a filling), he was also extraordinarily simpatico. 

I believe that he also dealt with the oral necessities of Charles and Phillip, but recently, when media images of Pizza Express's most famous customer and his almost stereotypically British lower gnashers became commonplace, I thought...surely not him as well? 

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