Czech Bank Comparisons

Czech Bank Comparisons

Note: This article has been updated, please find the latest here – Czech Bank Comparisons 2011 Update

Unless you enjoy paying corporations to hold on to your money, you´re probably not a big fan of Czech banks.  They´re all the same: you give them your money, give them more money for holding on to your money, and pay more to get your money back.  It really is a beautiful system.  Can anything be done?  Which bank do I choose?




As anyone familiar with American politics knows, sometimes decisions come down to choosing the lesser of a number of evils.  I´m here to help you make that choice.

 

In preparation for this article, I took a trip down to a large branch of each major bank in Prague and carefully studied the delicate, intricate inner workings of these organizations.  I´ve given them scores on Expat Friendliness, Customer Service, and Charges.

Ceska Sporitelna – Expat Centre

www.csas.cz
Expat Friendliness: 5/5       

Customer Service: 5/5

Charges: 1/5

 

It´s fitting to start with the only bank in Prague that has a special division designed exclusively for expats – Ceska Sporitelna.  The Expat Centre is located at the main CS branch on Rytirska, inside of a gorgeous 16th Century building.  Clearly labeled signs by the entrance point you towards the Expat Centre upstairs, where the staff is extremely friendly, competent, and of course, fully fluent in English (German and French support also being offered) – they really want to help, and were able to quickly answer any questions I had.  A trip to the bank probably couldn´t be more pleasant.

 

Unfortunately, you will have to pay for it – their WorldClass package weighs in at 390,-/month, which includes a debit card, credit card, foreign currency accounts, foreign cash exchange with no commission, internet banking, phone banking, and most notably, no hidden charges – free money transfers and free ATM withdrawals (from CS ATMs). For a hefty 550,- per month, the WorldClass Elite package gives you all the aforementioned, along with a gold credit card and access to other additional benefits – including membership to the exclusive Money Club, ‘the only banking club in Prague´.  If you can afford either package – and need the comfort they can provide – I´d highly recommend the Expat Centre.  But average expats would be right to balk at paying such high rates for a place to store their money.

You can also open a CS account outside of the Expat Centre, but without (I presume) the same level of support, and rates that are still a tad high: 100,-/month along with fees for transfers, ATM withdrawals, etc. 

HVB
www.hvb.cz

Expat Friendliness: 3/5

Customer Service: 5/5

Charges: 4/5

 

At first, I wasn´t expecting much support from HVB – I waited for 3-4 minutes while the secretary at one of the larger branches on the corner of Na Porici and V Celnice scrambled around the office in search of someone to assist me in English.  After she did locate someone, however, it was smooth sailing; the teller who assisted me was extremely friendly, helpful and competent.  If you want to take a trip to the same HVB branch, I´ll save you the only trouble I went through – ask for Roman Bily.

 
Their rates also appear to be some of the best – the basic plan (Konto Pohoda) is available for 64,-/month, which includes: an international debit card, internet, telephone, or mobile GSM banking (2 out of the 3), monthly account statements, 9,- ATM withdrawals from any ATM in the Czech Republic, and the possibility of a credit line on the account.  Two other plans are offered: Konto Rodina, which offers the possibility of having sub-accounts off of a main account for families (price dependant on the number of sub-accounts, but basically 64,- per sub-account/month), and Konto Komfort, which offers a gold credit card and other prestige (172,-/month).  Transaction fees are present, but kept to a minimum, 3,- per transaction through internet banking.  The Komfort package offers no transaction fees.

Also read:  Prague taxi driver uses fake police badge to rob foreigner in his hotel room

Zivnostenska Banka
http://www1.zivnobanka.cz/

Expat Friendliness: 3/5

Customer Service: 5/5

Charges: 4/5

 

I had an almost identical experience at Zivnostenska Banka to the one I had at HVB: at the main branch (Na Prikope 20) I waited patiently for about 5 minutes while the secretary from the front desk searched the offices for someone who could assist me.  Obviously, they´re not tailored to serve English speakers, but once someone was found, I was pleasantly surprised by a friendly, helpful, and very informative teller.  Ask for Lucie Dragounova if you go to the same branch.

 
As with HVB, the rates seemed very competitive.  Four plans at 55,-, 99,-, 159,-, and 349,- monthly.  The first two plans include internet and phone banking, with no transaction fees; the first plan gives you 2 free ATM withdrawals from ZB ATMs, and the second unlimited free withdrawals from ZB ATMs.  The catch is they only come with a Visa Electron card.  If you can live with the Electron card, which can be used most places but not everywhere, ZB has some of the best rates.  The 159,- plan offers a standard Visa or MasterCard, and still isn´t a bad deal.  One warning – withdrawals from non-ZB ATMs are an excessive 40,-.

Komercni Banka
www.kb.cz

Expat Friendliness: 3/5

Customer Service: 1/5

Charges: 2/5

 

At first glance, Komercni Banka would seem to be expat friendly – the branch next to the Powder Tower on Na Prikope has a special, clearly labeled desk for Foreign Customers.  However, after waiting five minutes for the only teller behind the desk to finish with a customer, I was inexplicably told to ‘see another cashier´ as she walked away.  The problem, however, was that the other cashiers weren´t able to provide much support in English; the two I tried to speak with glanced blankly at the empty Foreign Customer desk before attempting to help me as best they could.  I was given some leaflets (in Czech) and pointed towards their website.

 
The website, surprisingly, is easy to navigate and contains all the information you need.  And their rates seemed good at first – a basic plan for 19,- per month (39,- if you want any support in English) – but I began to grow suspicious as I ran down the list of charges.  Monthly ‘maintenance´ fees for an account (40,-), internet banking (44,-), and phone banking (55,-); fees for every type of money transfer (10,- at a branch, 3,- via internet banking); a yearly fee for lost/stolen card insurance (276,-); and of course, ATM fees (6,- at a KB ATM, which is fine, but 35,- at any other ATM, which is excessive).  Plus a spate other charges, including a hefty cancellation fee; I have no idea what a typical monthly statement would look like, nor do I have much of a desire to find out.  Unless you´re very careful, you´re likely to be nickel-and-dimed to death.

Bawag
www.bawag.cz

Expat Friendliness: 3/5

Customer Service: 1/5

Charges: 1/5

 

I was the lone customer in the main Bawag branch on Wenceslas Square one afternoon, and apparently that was one too many for the Bawag staff.  Not that they were particularly rude, but they clearly didn´t want my business; I was greeted by three cashiers who spoke English, and handed a list of services in English (surprisingly, they were the only bank besides CS with any English documents on hand – though it was just a few pages from their website printed out).  But any specific question was responded to with ‘it´s all in the documentation´, along with some cold smiles and nods.  After a minute or two, I got the idea and left.

Also read:  Prague taxi driver uses fake police badge to rob foreigner in his hotel room

 
I take it not many individual customers use Bawag, and with good reason.  At first glance, the rates for an account seemed quite good.  No charges for opening an account, maintaining the account (no flat monthly fee), or closing the account, with free monthly statements.  But things became clearer after I read through the 10-page laundry list of fees.  A 700,- yearly fee for a debit card was just the tip of the iceberg.  Bawag charges a flat rate of 30,- for any withdrawal, plus a 20,- flat rate for an ATM withdrawal, plus a .45% commission on ATM transactions. You could easily pay more in a single transaction here than the monthly rate at another bank.  ‘Nuff said.  You probably couldn´t do better if you just want a place to store your money, but I´d be hard pressed not to recommend the convenience of a mattress or floorboard instead – that way you wouldn´t have to deal with the Bawag staff, either.

eBanka

www.ebanka.cz
Expat Friendliness: 4/5

Customer Service: 3/5

Charges: 3/5

 

The eBanka staff was pleasant and helpful, and fully fluent in English.  The only problem I had was with the branch office on Wenceslas Square, which is quite small, cramped, and understaffed.  eBanka´s calling card is e-Banking, but now nearly every bank offers internet banking.  Still, they may have one of the better systems, and I´ve heard praise from various satisfied customers.

 

The fees and charges at eBanka seemed quite high to me.  Monthly fees of 67,- for personal account ‘maintenance´ and 75,- for direct banking.  A yearly fee of 490,- for a standard Visa or MasterCard.  ATM fees of 7,- for an eBanka ATM, 30,- elsewhere.  And quite a few more.  However, all of this changes if the income to your account is above 15,000,- monthly.  Maintenance and direct banking fees vanish, and all ATM fees are lowered to 7,-.  If you can guarantee that you´ll be receiving 15,000,- into your account each month, then eBanka is worth a shot.  Otherwise, I´d stay clear –  the fees and charges are likely to drown you if you´re not careful.

Raiffeisen
www.raiffeisenbank.cz

Expat Friendliness: 3/5

Customer Service: 3/5

Charges: 4/5

 

The staff at the Raiffeisen branch on Narodni was friendly and reasonably fluent in English, though they seemed a bit unprofessional.  The young woman who assisted me was chewing bubble gum at the time – not something that would affect my banking, just something I found…curious.  She wasn´t able to answer some of the questions I had, either.

 
Raiffeisen does have some very competitive rates.  Three plans at monthly rates of 45,-, 80,-, and 125,-.  The first plan gives you a Visa Electron card and a choice of one direct banking service (internet/phone/gsm).  The other plans give you all three direct banking services as well as a standard Visa or MasterCard.  Transaction rates range from 3,- to 6,- for direct banking transactions.  ATM rates: 5,- for the first two withdrawals at a Raiffeisen ATM, 9,- after that; 19,- for the first two withdrawals from a non-Raiffeisen ATM, 25,- after that.

CSOB

www.csob.cz
Expat Friendliness: 4/5

Customer Service: 3/5

Charges: 3/5

 

I found the CSOB branch at Namesti Republiky to be expat friendly, with most of the staff able to communicate to me in English.  Information was easily obtained, with CSOB´s history pointed to as a main reason to open an account with them.

 
Their rates are solid, if unspectacular.  The plan with a Visa Electron card starts at 50,-/month, but for a standard Visa card, the rate jumps to 179,-/month.  ATM fees are 5,- at CSOB ATMs, 25,- elsewhere.  Transaction fees range for direct banking range from 3,- to 6,-.  The amount of charges on their price list, and how hard it was to locate any specific one, make me somewhat wary, but overall their charges seemed to be fairly standard.

Also read:  Prague taxi driver uses fake police badge to rob foreigner in his hotel room

Citibank

www.citibank.cz
Expat Friendliness: 4/5

Customer Service: 2/5

Charges: 1/5

 

The staff at the Citibank on Revolucni was completely fluent in English and able to assist me, although like Bawag, I got the feeling they weren´t thrilled to do so despite the fact that I was the only customer there.

 
The rates at Citibank are possibly the worst of any bank I visited.  A flat 200,- monthly fee for a personal account along with the usual other charges.  14,- ATM withdrawals, along with transaction fees ranging from 6,- (internet transactions) to 18,- (through a branch). 

Volksbank
www.volksbank.cz

Expat Friendliness: 1/5

Customer Service: 3/5

Charges: 3/5

 

The staff seemed friendly at the large branch on Valentinska, but offered no support in English.  A few leaflets, pointed towards their website, and I was out the door.

 

The Volksbank plans seem decent – a basic plan at 45,-/month (only a Visa Electron card and no internet banking), mid-level at 89,-/month (Visa or MasterCard and internet banking), and the ‘exclusive´ 199,-/month plan.  The middle plan looks competitive, but the Volksbank transaction fees feel a bit high to me: 12,- for outgoing transactions, 6,- for incoming.  ATM fees of 2.5,- for Volksbank ATMs and 5,- for CSOB ATMs are great, but it goes up to 25,- for all other ATMs.

 

I also visited GE Money Bank, which offered me no English language support.  Their website is also devoid of any English content besides corporate info, making them fairly irrelevant to this article.


Conclusion

A few notes on some constants with the banks – to open an account, you´ll usually need a passport and one other form of identification.  At CS, only a passport is required, and at Citibank, a mailing address is required in addition to the passport and I.D.  Foreign transfer rates seemed to be fairly constant at most of the banks – around 1% commission.  Foreign ATM rates were also somewhat constant, ranging from 80,- to 100,- per transaction.  Savings accounts are offered at most banks, but the APR is usually extremely low.

 

The scores for Expat Friendliness should give you a good idea of how well you´ll be able to find an English speaker in any given bank.  Customer Service is somewhat random, and can change based on the branch and time I visited.  Personally, though, there are a couple banks I have no desire to ever set foot in again.  You´ll also note that I haven´t given any bank the highest score for rates – personally, I think they´re all too high.  Overall, though, it´s going to come down to the customer – how frequent you use the account, what you use it for, how much support you need, etc.

 

So does that make it all a crapshoot?  Not at all.  There are some clear winners and losers here, and though I can´t really vouch for those I haven´t banked with, I can suggest some fits for particular customers.  If money is no object, then the Expat Centre at Ceska Sporitelna is for you.  If money is the only object, Raiffeisen, Zivnostenska Banka, CSOB, and Volksbank are all worth looking at, with Raiffeisen, perhaps, leading the pack.  If you can maintain a monthly income of over 15,000,-, then eBanka is a solid option.  But overall, I think HVB might be the best bet – competitive rates, a basic plan with a standard Visa card instead of a Visa Electron, and a solid flat rate for withdrawals at any ATM.  

Jason Pirodsky can be reached at jason@expats.cz



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