|Letter I was handed at Bank Leumi last week|
Elder of Ziyon has just posted an article based on his friend's experience of having her Chase credit card rejected in Israel. In the light of this I thought it worth reporting what happened to me last week when I went into my Bank Leumi branch in Tel Aviv to get a new cheque book (I have a foreign resident's shekels account that I use mainly to pay standing orders for my apartment and to get cash from machines).
I actually found my personal representative ZZ who (although like the dozen other workers had nobody with them) told me I had to wait. After 10 minutes ZZ called me over and said simply "you cannot have a cheque book because we are closing your account - you have 28 days to transfer your money because you do not have a minimum $50,000 in your account". Now, for those who do not know how Israeli banks operate, I need to point out that even a modest account like mine (which has never been less than $8,000 shekels equivalent in credit in 9 years) pays enormous fees - including commission on every single cheque, standing order payment and cash machine usage as well as uninvited correspondence. In fact, my typical monthly fees are around 180 shekels ($45) for things that would cost nothing in a UK account. Moreover in 9 years I have received the grand sum of about 10 shekels in interest despite part of the money ($3,000) being in a 'savings account' that has never been touched.
So why suddenly - and without any warning - were they closing my account? ZZ printed out the above letter with the explanation (they never sent me this letter and had I not by chance needed a new cheque book I would never have known, so my account would have been closed without my knowledge and my money would have been seized). I have since found out that the 'risk compliance pressure' on Israeli Banks has come from the US Government who do not want their nationals having foreign accounts for fear of them being used for money laundering and terrorism; I do not understand why having lots of money in such accounts (as opposed to little) makes the 'risk' lower rather than higher and nor do I understand why British citizens should be penalised. It turns out that all the other Israel banks are introducing similar restrictions which means I will have no Israeli shekel account and no obvious means of paying my bills.