Czech Banks Revisited

Czech Banks Revisited

About a year ago, I conducted a survey of ten of the major banks in the Czech Republic; that article can be found here. I recently revisited all of the banks – stopping by the same branches to track any potential changes – and have come up with some interesting findings. I had nearly the same experience at three of the top banks from my findings, two banks had greatly improved, and the other half had all seemingly worsened to some extent. Fees and charges, across the board, are still much too high – I was truly surprised to find that there were no major improvements in this regard. The updated comparisons:

Česká spořitelna (Expat Center)
www.csas.cz/expatcenter
Branch Visited: Rytířská 29, Prague 1
Expat Friendliness: 5/5
Customer Service: 5/5
Charges: 1/5


The Expat Center at Česká spořitelna remains the most pleasant trip to a bank in nearly every aspect imaginable. The grand building on Rytírská with a massive interior serves as a stark contrast to the cramped spaces of some of the other banks. The staff at the Expat Center is also second to none in terms of friendliness, professionalism, and most other regards – I was truly made to feel at home, and all my questions were answered with ease.



Charges and fees are the same as a year ago – excessive. The basic account is 390 CZK per month, although all kinds of transaction fees are eliminated, including ATM charges from ČS machines. An ‘elite´ account for 550 CZK offers extended benefits; both accounts will give you discounts on newspapers, medical care, gym memberships, etc. The accounts are likely worth it if you make a lot of transaction fees (which the other banks will nickel and dime you to death over) or just want the security and service that the Expat Center has to offer. A word of warning, however: never use a non-ČS ATM – you´ll be charged a hefty 25 CZK fee with a 0.5% commission. Thankfully, ČS ATMs are quite prevalent around the Czech Republic.

Bawag
www.bawag.cz
Branch Visited: Václavské náměstí 40, Prague 1
Expat Friendliness: 3/5
Customer Service: 4/5
Charges: 4/5


Bawag was one of the few banks that I found to be greatly improved. I spoke with (I´m fairly certain) the same woman as I did a year ago, and her attitude was completely different: friendly, professional, helpful. The interior of the branch on Wenceslas Square isn´t the most conducive to customer service – a large desk in between the bank clerk and customer, and there is no place for a customer to sit down – but I was still assisted affably.

Charges, or at least the offered plans, are also where Bawag has greatly improved. As far as I know, they are the only bank to offer a combination savings and current account – along with a rate of interest for current accounts. The interest rates on the CZK are terrible (0.25% p.a. on a current account, and around 1-2% p.a. for most savings accounts depending on the type of account and amount in it), but should at least cover a transaction fee or two per year. Interest rates on foreign currency are better, in line with international standards. There are two packages for the combination account – one for 45 CZK per month with a Maestro cash card, another for 69 CZK per month with a standard MasterCard. With the combination account, money over 20,000 CZK can be transferred from current to savings to gain greater interest, although it won´t be immediately available if needed. Transaction fees still seem a tad high, although ATM withdrawals are a very reasonable 6.50 CZK at any ATM.

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Citibank
www.citibank.cz
Branch Visited: Revoluční 6, Prague 1
Expat Friendliness: 2/5
Customer Service: 1/5
Charges: 2/5

Citibank was easily the least pleasant bank to visit; a cramped office, rude and arrogant staff, and a general feeling that my presence was an intrusion. The woman who talked to me spoke fluent English, so the score for Expat friendliness should perhaps be higher, but then again ‘friendliness´ is part of the equation as well. Regardless, I was told I needed to make an appointment, even though I only wanted some brief information, and was the only customer in the office with three bank clerks. I left empty-handed.

::Updated::
I’ve been shown a pricing plan at CitiBank that appears favorable – or at least acceptable – compared to the rates I earlier quoted. With a ‘CitiOne’ account, if you keep at least 100,000 CZK in the account, the monthly maintenance fee (250 CZK) is waived. Basic transaction fees are free, as are the first two ATM transfers at any ATM (15 CZK afterwards). Offered with this plan are multiple accounts, including a savings account. It would very likely be worth it on the one stipulation that you keep 100,000 CZK in the account – otherwise, the monthly fee is much too high.

ČSOB
www.csob.cz
Branch Visited: nám. Republiky 7, Prague 1
Expat Friendliness: 2/5
Customer Service: 3/5
Charges: 3/5


The bank clerk I spoke with at ČSOB wasn´t able to assist me in English as well as the one I spoke with a year ago; still, he was reasonably helpful and competent, and able to assist me well enough. The branch at nám. Republiky, though it looks big from the outside, is actually quite cramped inside.

Rates for the basic plan with a Visa Electron aren´t too bad, with a 50 CZK monthly fee. The plan with a standard Visa is 170 CZK per month, however. ATM charges are 5 CZK at ČSOB ATMs and 25 CZK at other ATMs. Online banking is free with the basic plan, which is a plus. Otherwise, rates are the same as a year ago.



eBanka
www.ebanka.cz
Branch Visited: Václavské náměstí 43, Prague 1
Expat Friendliness: 2/5
Customer Service: 1/5
Charges: 2/5

Second only to Citibank in terms of unpleasantness. Part of that is due to the cramped office on Wenceslas, with a crowded cash desk at the front and a few desks with bank clerks towards the back. The woman I spoke with offered me nothing, not even a seat (I stood next to an empty chair while talking with her) – when she realized I only wanted information and wasn´t there to actually open an account, she told me what I would need to bring to open the account and sent me away.


The only plus among the rates at eBanka is that if you take in more than 15,000 CZK to the account per month, “you will be charged with zero fees for account holding and direct banking” and ATM charges for non-eBanka ATMs are lowered. Otherwise, the transaction fees at eBanka are the same as last year – much too high. Avoid unless you can guarantee the incoming balance.

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HVB
www.hvb.cz
Branch Visited: nám. Republiky 3a, Prague 1
Expat Friendliness: 3/5
Customer Service: 5/5
Charges: 3/5

My experience at HVB was identical to a year ago – it took a few minutes for me to find someone to assist me in English, but I eventually found the same bank clerk I spoke with a year ago, who was professional, friendly, and helpful.


The packages are also exactly the same as a year ago. I´ve deducted a point as some of the other banks have improved their rates, and HVB suffers a tiny bit in comparison. Still, the basic package for 64 CZK per month isn´t bad, and a 9 CZK ATM fee at any ATM (HVB doesn´t have their own) is reasonable. Otherwise solid; see my review from last year for more info.

Komerční banka
www.kb.cz
Branch Visited: Na Příkopě 33, Prague 1
Expat Friendliness: 2/5
Customer Service: 2/5
Charges: 1/5

Komerční banka couldn´t possibly be more misleading – the setup at the main branch on Na Příkopě seems clean, and even has a friendly greeter wandering around the bank (instead of standing behind a pedestal, which is the norm at most other banks), motioning where you should go. I headed to the clearly-labeled “Foreign Customers Desk”, waited around five minutes for the bank clerk to finish up with another customer, and went up (I was actually able to talk to someone this year). I was stunned, however, to find that a) the woman behind this special desk offered me less English-language support than almost every other bank, and b) she was completely uninformed, unable to answer most of my questions. At least she was friendly this year. I was also given literature in English.


I was also pushed to get an ‘A-Konto´ account for 210 CZK, which apart from a possible overdraft and an American Express debit card (in addition to a MasterCard) offers the exact same benefits as the ‘Expres´ account for 85 CZK. In any event, the charges for most of their packages are much too high, and the transaction fees are as well. Withdrawals from a non-KB ATM are still a ridiculous 39 CZK. They do, however, offer some student accounts that look OK, including a basic account with no monthly fee.

Raiffeisen
www.rb.cz
Branch Visited: Národní třída 9, Prague 1
Expat Friendliness: 2/5
Customer Service: 2/5
Charges: 3/5

Nothing exceptional at Raiffeisen – the bank clerk I spoke with wasn´t able to assist me as well in English as the one from a year ago, and couldn´t answer most of my questions without turning to literature. She was still reasonably friendly, however.


Charges and plans are exactly the same as they were a year ago; like HVB, they seem to now suffer in comparison. The basic account for 45 CZK monthly isn´t bad, but the transaction fees and ATM charges seem a tad high to me.


Volksbank
www.volksbank.cz
Branch Visited: Valentinská 10, Prague 1
Expat Friendliness: 3/5
Customer Service: 4/5
Charges: 3/5

I found Volksbank to be much improved from a year ago – the first clerk I spoke with was friendly and helpful, and able to assist me well enough in English (and give me some literature in English as well).

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The rates and fees are exactly the same as a year ago – acceptable. The basic plan at 39 CZK per month would be better if they offered it with internet banking. The 89 CZK plan offers internet banking along with a standard Visa card. Transaction fees are still applicable with both plans, ranging from 3-6 CZK per. ATM fees are normal, 2.5 CZK from a Volksbank ATM, 5 CZK from a CSOB ATM, and 25 CZK from others.

Živnostenská banka
www.zb.cz
Branch Visited: Na Příkopě 20, Prague 1
Expat Friendliness: 4/5
Customer Service: 5/5
Charges: 4/5

Živnostenská banka offers a very nice comparison to the Expat Center at Česká spořitelna. First of all, the beautiful building on Na Příkopě is second only to the Česká spořitelna on Rytířská; both are exceptional places to do your banking. Also, although it took a minute for them to find someone to assist me (which was still an improvement over last year), once they did I sat down with a very helpful and accommodating woman who was able to easily answer all my questions.


A basic account at Živnostenská banka is 100 CZK, but with that they eliminate transaction fees. Also free are transactions from their own ATMs (though they are not as prevalent as some of the other banks); fees from other ATMs are 19 CZK. Recommended if you make a lot of transactions.


Conclusion:


As always, the best option will depend on an individual. For comfort and service, no bank matches the Expat Center at Česká spořitelna; cheaper alternatives include Živnostenská banka (if you make frequent transactions) or HVB or Volksbank (if you don´t). Bawag has also entered the realm of acceptability; you won´t get much with the savings account, but their rates are now very competitive and the service is much improved.

Notes:


– I kept the banks visited to the New Town – Prague 1 area, in hopes of finding the most expat-friendly services.


– Most banks will give you a cash card (Visa Electron or Maestro) with a basic account instead of an embossed debit card. The main difference between the two is that the cash card may not be accepted by all shops – especially online shops.


– All the banks will have some kind of minimum deposit fee, usually ranging from 100 CZK to 1000 CZK.


– Rates for foreign money transfers are about the same at all banks – a commission fee of 0.9% to 1.0%, with a minimum commission being 250 – 500 CZK and a maximum commission being 2000 – 3000 CZK. I would recommend alternative methods for foreign transfers if possible, as the banks may not have the best exchange rates as well.


– To open an account you´ll generally need a passport and one other form of ID. Some banks (Expat Center at ČS) will only require the passport, and others will request additional documents (eBanka wanted a statement from my previous account).

– Interest rates for savings accounts (in CZK) are quite low for all banks in the Czech Republic – it´s highly recommended to find an alternative method of investment if possible.


Jason Pirodsky can be reached at jason@expats.cz



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