Ahead of the pack...
Last week I shared with you our experience getting Multibanco (ATM) cards from our new Portuguese bank. While frustrating, we have learned that there are some things the Portuguese got right.
I guess you would call me an early adopter. I am not an “innovator” as they are called on the technology adoption curve … the first guy to buy everything. But when I become aware of a new technology that I think will save me time, I tend to utilize it fairly early. This reminds me of a funny (I hope) story from about 25 years ago. I was sitting at a bridal shower for my nephew’s fiancee. Since the party was being held in a hotel meeting room (there were a lot of people) we were seated at round tables for six. I was sitting with my mother, aunts, and a friend of the bride. Somehow the topic of depositing money into an ATM came up. My 80+-year-old aunt said she would never trust such a system. She would always go into the bank and make sure the teller deposited her funds to the proper account. The friend of the bride, looking a bit confused, said “There are people inside a bank? You actually can go inside a bank?” Her only experience with banking was through a machine. Human contact was not necessary … and thus we come to Multibanco.
Ahead of Their Time
The Multibanco system was launched in 1985 when just 12 machines were installed in Lisbon and Porto. This small country now has more than 11,000 machines installed (more than 1 per 1000 residents) and it is the primary interface for all routine banking transactions. Unlike ATM machines in the States or much of Europe, the system is used for more than depositing and withdrawing funds. In Portugal, you can go to any Multibanco machine and:
Pay your utility bill;
Buy movie or concert tickets;
Recharge your highway transponder;
Make inter-bank transfers (e.g. pay your rent);
Get an instant bank statement;
Pay your taxes (Social Security contributions, Income or VAT);
Recharge a prepaid cell phone, and more.
Paying a Bill
I had been told by several people that banking was “expensive” in Portugal. It was common to charge monthly maintenance fees of 5-6Euros to maintain an account. We were fortunate to have only no-fee accounts in the States so I inquired about such fees during one of our visits to the bank. I learned that during our first 12 months there were no monthly bank fees (better than a free toaster-oven). There were never fees associated with routine transactions using the bank app installed on our phones (and in English...yeah!). There were also no fees associated with using the Multibanco system.
To pay your electric bill you select Pagamentos de Serviços e Compras (Paying for Services and Goods). You enter the Entidade, a 5-digit Reference number that represents the company being paid. You also enter the Referência or bill number and the Montante (amount). You confirm the payment and receive your receipt. Keep in mind, you can do this at ANY Multibanco machine…not just the one at your bank.
I also found depositing cash into the machine rather interesting. Does anyone know of a US ATM system that handles cash this way?
Patience is a Virtue
I will close with one real-life Multibanco observation. The amount of time a customer spends at the Multibanco machine can be a bit longer than in the States. As someone may be paying multiple bills as well as getting cash, they may take 10 minutes standing in front of the machine. Also, of course, there are people that are less familiar with the machines or a bit older. (I probably shouldn’t have written that “older” bit.) I was waiting outside our bank one day observing such a queue. An older couple seemed to be paying all their monthly bills as well as checking account balances. The folks in line simply waited. I recall thinking about the honking of horns that such a delay would have evoked in the States…and smiled.