Sunday, February 9, 2020

Bank Symbols

Czech banks have these things called symbols over here.  There are variabilní, konstantní, and specifický, variable, constant, and specific, symbols.  It must have been a Czechoslovakia thing because these symbols only exist here in Czechland and Slovakia.    

Example account number and bank code

First a bit about account numbers.  When you want to make a postal, online, or mobile payment the first things you will need to know is the account number and bank code of where the money needs to go.  Most account numbers are ten digits long.  Then every bank has a four-digit number to identify it.  

In Czechland no one thinks twice about giving out their account number.  In the USA, people would freak the heck out if you asked them for their account number.  People would assume that it would be used for identity theft and that they would loose all of their money.  Over here, the only thing you can do with an account number is deposit money in to the account.  You can't take money out of someone else's account.  It did take me a while to get comfortable with this but now it's no deal at all.

A variable symbol is an optional ten-digit number.  This is used when the payee needs to differentiate the incoming payment.  If I buy something online and opt to pay with a bank transfer, then the company will tell you to put the invoice number as the variable symbol.  That way they can identify the money I transferred to them from the all of the transfers other people made.  

When I pay my yearly waste fees, the city authorities have you use your birth number, with the slash, to identify exactly who the payment is from.  If a friend picks something up for me at the store and I transfer money, then there's no need for any variable symbol.

However, if the sender doesn't put in a variable symbol when they were given one then the receiver may not be able to correctly assign the payment.  This caused me a problem when I first moved here.  It was time to pay my Czech credit card bill.  I paid it online with the bank's website.  I put in the bank's account number and bank code, and paid the amount in full.  Later I received a telephone call from the bank reminding me to pay my bill.  I said that I already paid it, they said thanks and that was the end of it.  The next month the same thing happened again.  I finally figured out that because I had not put in the variable number the bank could not match up my payment to my account.  I had no clue what a "variable number was".  When I asked I was told that a "variable number is a variable number".  Just because the bank's customer service agent and I both spoke English it didn't mean that we were speaking the same language.  Lesson learned.  But since this only exists in Czechland and Slovakia, I surely couldn't have been the only expat to make this mistake before.  Why didn't someone explain what it was?    

So a variable symbol is optional but in reality, you need to use it frequently.  Of the three symbols, the variable symbol is the most often used.

My mobile payment screen

A constant symbol is an optional four digit number that is also used for bank payments.  It used to be mandatory but was made optional when Czechia joined the EU.  It seems to be used more when paying taxes.  If it's provided then I use it, if not then no worries.

The specific symbol is also used to uniquely identify the payer and it is a maximum of ten digits.  Again, if it's provided then I use it, if not then no worries.

In addition to the variable, constant, and specific numbers, I can also add an optional text message for the recipient and one for me when I make a mobile payment.  With all of these fields there should be no question about about who the money came from and for what.  And yes my Czech mobile banking is in English.  

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