We have gotten so accustomed in the U.S. to banks being very open about the charges they make – not because they necessarily want to be, but because they are obliged to by law.  We’re spoiled in the U.S.!  We get free checking accounts, free credit cards, and if we go on the right day, free donuts and coffee.

It’s not as simple here (and I don’t mean just the donuts and coffee, which I have never, ever seen in an Italian bank lobby, never mind finding a bank branch in a super market or even a donut shop as you can in the U.S.). Every service the bank provides carries a charge.  It’s not that they’re hidden, exactly; we do receive a long list annually of bank services and their attendant fees.  It’s just that they are so unexpected.  We see them on the quarterly statement (quarterly!) that the bank provides… for a fee of E 5.70 every two months (actually, this fee is for the stamp that attests that the account is… what?  is something!  Correct? Still there?).

There’s a mysterious fee on each statement which is called ‘interessi e competenze’, usually about E5 or 6.  I can’t figure out exactly what it’s for; as it’s levied only once a quarter, perhaps this is the fee for the statement.  Anyway.  To my mind ‘interest’ is something the bank pays us for being kind enough to let them use our money.  To the Italian banker’s mind, ‘interest’ is something to be charged on a checking account.

One gets Telepass, the Italian equivalent of E-Z Pass  for automated payment of highway tolls, at the bank (I know!  Why??!) and it’s easy to arrange to have your tolls deducted right from your account.  Back when we first started with Telepass we had to pay a monthly fee for that convenience.  Fortunately in the last few years that fee has been dropped.  However, the bank gets a commission on your Telepass charges; not a lot (about 1.50 on our last statement), but still.

My favorite charge is the one we pay every month for the privilege of accessing our account online.  That’s E2.  Each month.  However, if we make two bill payments in one month  through online banking, the fee is waived for that month.  We’re not always able to do that, as not many places are set up for automated payment in this manner.  Recharging the cell phone credit is one good way to accomplish this mission, though.

Things are better than they were.  Of the 61 activities listed for a checking account for which the bank could charge, the 2007  list of applicable charges      reports 30 have been repealed and another 13 are listed with a charge of 0.  That leaves a mere 18 activities which carry charges.  It just happens that they are the very things many people do on a regular basis – use Telepass, access the bank online, carry a debit card.  To give them credit though (ha ha), they do not charge a per-use for the debit card.

I guess we shouldn’t complain.  The banks are open Monday-Friday from 8:30 to 12:15 and again from 3:45-4:30 – that’s real convenience!  The ATM’s, which we use to transfer US money to Italy (the easiest way to do it, and what we recommend to all traveling friends), frequently work, which is handy. That’s an improvement from ‘sometimes,’ which was the best they could do a few years ago.  In fact, I’ll give a little free advertising here to Deutsche Bank – their ATM’s always work (well, almost always), even when every other bank in town is spitting our card back with a suggestion to call our bank.

Bottom line?  Banks do very well in Italy.  You might want to invest in one!