The wolves are in charge, it seems

Finally, it seems, people are starting to wake up.

I have done several posts in the past giving my view that, if you want to really protect your sheep from the foxes, you don’t put the foxes in charge of looking after the sheep.

Nor do you put some sheep in charge. They are, after all, frightened of the foxes.

And, yet …….

And yet, that is exactly what we have done.

The steps go like this:

1. Liberalise everything so you cannot check what the banks are up to.
2. The banks learn how to make more money by “playing” the systems (see recent news about LIBOR manipulation).
3. Everything goes tits up.
4. Blame the sheep for using the fields that the banks have lent them.
5. The sheep in charge, being frightened of the banks (wolves) ask what they can do to fix the situation.
6. The wolves reply that, since the sheep were to blame in the first place and, unless you want to lose the fields, you need to cough up some dosh.
7. Even better was when the wolves managed to get one of their own (e.g. Monti – an ex-Goldman Sachs player) in a position of power.
8. All head sheep say we need austerity, having been told that by the wolves.
9. Austerity means the sheep don’t get fat and so can’t be sold at market. No money coming in.
10. The wolves are laughing all the way to the bank.

Sooner or later this nonsense will stop.

In the meantime, gives a much more business-like take on what I’ve said above.

Thanks to Alex from Italy Chronicles for the heads-up.

Traffic – less: Milan Congestion Charge; Fuel Increases; Fashion Week

Perhaps it’s just me?

I’ve noticed or, should I say, it seems, that, in general, there’s less traffic in Milan. And, even with this being Men’s Fashion Week, the usual nightmares with traffic on my way home are absent.

If I’m not wrong there are a number of factors at play that could make it less.

One is the new Congestion Charge in Milan that was introduced on 16th January. Now, to go into the centre of Milan, almost everyone has to pay €5 per day. The previous charges allowed many (of the newer) cars to go in for free. Now, no. I am outside the ‘Area C’ as it is called. In fact, I never drive into this area anyway. But I’m only just outside and I did wonder if this new set of charges would mean that all the car parking in my area would be taken. It seems not. It seems that people are either leaving their cars at home or travelling to a tube station and taking public transport.

I know not everyone likes the charge and I wouldn’t be ecstatic about it should it cover my area – but it is so much nicer with less traffic.

The other reason could be the sharp increases in the cost of petrol. Last summer I was filling up the car for about €50. Last night it cost me nearly €70! That’s a hefty increase. The increase is down to the austerity measures brought in by the new government of Italy. It’s another of those ‘let the ordinary people pay for the stupidity of the very rich banks’ rule.

I keep thinking that, sooner or later, people will wake up but it seems not just yet.

Perhaps, also, because of the crisis in general, there are not so many people at this year’s fashion week?

However, whatever the reason, it does make Milan more pleasant to live in and I’m not complaining.

The game of ensuring a profit.

Let’s have an imaginary scenario – just like a game.

Let’s say I am a business. My business is to give insurance. I give insurance for a healthy profit, thank you very much. And, by making a healthy profit, I can award myself huge bonuses. It’s a win-win situation.

I can, almost, decide on any premium I choose because there are only a few of us companies in this ‘game’. I decide that this insurance is very risky – so I make everyone who wants it pay more than they really need to.

Unfortunately, some of the organisations that take on this insurance are not as good as I am. They have found themselves in some sticky situations. They rely on other companies making a profit. Unfortunately, those other companies don’t always do that.

Now, I want the insurance business. But I don’t really want the risk of the other companies underperforming.

It’s a difficult situation. I mean, I want the organisations to keep insuring with me and they’ll only do that whilst the other companies continue to exist. If all the other companies went bust there’d be no need for my insurance. So, I need to keep the other companies in business – even if they have to sack many of their workforce; even if they have to reduce the pay to the workers that are left; make cuts in everything – just to ensure the company can stay in business. I don’t really care at all. It’s just important that the other companies continue to survive.

So, recently, I’ve had a few of the other companies that have been having a few difficulties. Obviously, my premiums to cover the organisations rises and I make more profit. Which is great. But it’s no good if the other companies go to the wall.

So I have come up with a very cunning plan.

Some of my employees, who have all become very rich working for me, have agreed to go and ‘help’ those companies survive as I want. Of course, we need to keep this below the radar as much as we can. So keep it quiet, please. It’s just our little secret.

You may know one of those employees (or should I say EX-employee). He goes by the name of Mario Monti. He’s going to make sure that that particular other company continues so that I can collect huge amounts of money. He’s going to do exactly what I say he should do.

Let’s face it. The banks, in the pursuit of huge profits, permitted loans to everyone. And investment banks set up the CDS scheme – which, from what I can see is completely unregulated. Eventually it all caught up with them. Now, some high-powered (ex-)employees of those very banks are running Greece and Italy. Obviously, what must not happen is for everyone to stop paying the debts, which generate huge profits for the people running the CDS industry. If they stop paying the debts then the CDS industry goes down and the whole system collapses taking with it, erm, well, the people who’ve been earning bigger and bigger profits and bonuses whilst making everyone else suffer a lot.

I mean, that would be a bad thing, right? Right?

An end to the world crisis?

If you’re working for a company, for example, and you feel something is wrong (or something is wrong), going on strike, on your own, doesn’t actually work very well. In fact, you are likely to be sacked.

That’s why Unions were born. With Unions, all the people go on strike, meaning that it is not good for the owners of the company. Therefore, the idea being that the owners of the company and the Union come to some sort of agreement.

But it doesn’t seem to work in all circumstances and there are risks, of course.

But I was just wondering, if we think of a country as an individual and think of the owners of the company as the banks (and, therefore, the money markets) ……….

What would happen if all the countries got together and said that they had all decided not to pay the debts – i.e. they went on strike?

I mean to say, if one country does it, they have a rough time for a number of years. But if every country did it, all at the same time?

Doesn’t bear thinking about, right?

Or, maybe it should bear thinking about?

I go to the bank…………and again…………and again.

Being our holiday, and F having given me a money box (a Shaun the Sheep one, in case you were wondering), we decided to save all our loose change at the end of each day. We’ve been dong it for about two months.

Surprisingly, it was quite heavy.

And, on Saturday, we decided to count it all. It was surprisingly good and came to much more than we had thought it would. I had also been putting €5 notes in there too, so the haul was nice.

In coins, we had just short of €300. Now, although this is nice, paying for a €50 meal with 50 cent coins may not be welcome by the restaurant owner. So it seemed quite reasonable to get it all changed for notes.

In the UK, this would have been a bit of a pain. First I would have gone to the bank to get some special bags, then I would have had to bag it up, and then take it to the bank. Any bank, of course – although they might insist on their bags. Here it isn’t like that.

It’s worse.

I suggested to F that I would go today (this was written yesterday – or most of it). He said to try the tobacconist first. I mentioned it to them (one of my regular tobacconists) – and they would have been interested but they were shutting up for two weeks. F seemed to think that this might be a problem – but didn’t explain why.

Yesterday, as I didn’t have bags, I put the coins into rolls of paper – similar to the ones that are given to shops. Obviously this was my own, made-up, paper rolls – not nearly so neat as those used by the banks but, at least, I could write the amount and the type of coins on the outside, once they had been rolled up. It took forever! The coins kept slipping sideways until I got the knack of doing it.

But now they were all rolled up in blue paper (it was the paper I had to hand) and each one marked with the coins contained and the total amount inside. What more could the bank want?

And so, this morning, I went to the bank. As there is one just across the road from me I thought I would try there. It is Banca Intesa or Intesa San Paolo or something. anyway, one of the bigger banks in Italy, with branches everywhere. In fact, there is another branch on the opposite side of the piazza that I (almost) live on! So, opposite the one I first went to.

First I had to get into the bank. All banks here have a series of doors to get it. This is to prevent robberies by a mass of people I suppose. You have to enter something similar to an airlock! The door behind you has to close fully before the one in front of you will open. Funnier still is the ‘no guns’ signs that I have seen in banks – but, then, this isn’t the UK, I guess.

So I get inside the bank after repeatedly pressing the ‘man’ sign to find that, in fact, you had to press the small green button (that I mistook for a green light). But I’m in! There is hardly anyone around – this being 11.30. A nice young lady comes forward eventually. I explain in my terrible Italian, that I want to change some coins.

Apparently this is not possible. Why? Because, at 11.30 a.m. on a Monday morning, there are no bank tellers. Apparently, she explains, they will be here this afternoon – from a quarter to three to a quarter past four!

You have to remember, banks here do not work like they do in the UK. In the UK (more or less), the account holder is the customer. Here, you have to be grateful for a bank at all – and you should treat them as the customer. Certainly the opening hours are, more or less, from about 8.30 or 9 in the morning until about 1.30 p.m. and then for another hour or so in the afternoon!

I asked if I should try the Banca Intesa branch opposite. She said that sure, I could try – but she looked doubtful.

Of course, I am, somewhat determined (some may say pig-headed) and so off I go, across the piazza, to the other, grander and newly refurbished, Banca Intesa. At least, here, I thought, they will have cashiers.

And, true enough, they did! Two of them. Both occupied with clients at the moment. I see, like the post office and other places, there is a queuing system, done by printed ticket. I look around for a machine, expecting something like ones you see in the post office! I don’t see anything. There’s only me anyhow, so maybe it won’t be necessary, I think. But, to be on the safe side, I keep looking. I see a thing that looks more like an information box or cash dispenser. I go over, on the off chance, as, anyway, this is the only thing that looks remotely like a machine to print a ticket.

Sure enough. This is the ticket dispenser! I am, at once, both relieved (to have found it) and slightly peeved (at how stupid I am not to have seen it before). I get a ticket.

It seems I wait ages. However, it is air-conditioned AND they are playing some light pop music (although I forget which song – although I could sing along with the chorus, so it was a song sung in English). It’s not an unpleasant wait.

Eventually I get to go to a counter.

Unusually, this is not a stand-up counter but one where you sit down. However, this IS a cashier – my Italian is good enough to know that.

I don’t sit down. I ask the guy if I can change the money here. He asks if I have an account. I don’t and, in my best English, which, to be honest, is a life-saver more often then it isn’t, ask him what I should do, ignoring the fact that I’m not an account holder.

He explains that I need to put the money in these special containers. OK, I say. No problem. He gets out two. This will hold about €10 worth, if that. I explain I will need a lot more than that. He goes to chat to a colleague who is hidden behind an opaque glass screen.

He returns.

Apparently they can’t change it for me because I’m not a customer of theirs. I protest – but you’re a bank, I say. Apparently that makes not one iota of difference. I protest some more. He is Italian. We have the blank face and usual shrug of the shoulders. It’s not that they can’t, it’s that they won’t. In other circumstances, I would have been more persistent but, maybe, I am succumbing to the Italian disease of giving up when faced with a ‘can’t/won’t do it’ shrug. Or maybe it’s because I really couldn’t be bothered and had better things to do.

I told F. He said he would do it the next day. But, being me, I hadn’t quite given up.

Just after a quarter to four, I went to the bank across the road. The same bank I had been to in the morning where they had no cashiers.

There was one guy being served – and one cashier open. I waited. For some reason I felt more hopeful about this, in spite of the fact that it was the same bank, just a different branch. This branch was not sparkly new. It didn’t have music playing. It was air conditioned – but then, of course it would be.

It was my turn. I explained what I wanted. He started to open my carefully prepared packages – he saw my face. He explained that they had a machine. We could just put all the coins together. He and I spent the next ten minutes undoing my 3 hour work and mixing it all back up. He put it all in a plastic bag.

He asked if I knew how much it was. I got out my piece of paper. ‘No, don’t show me’, he said. And walked off with the money. I laughed. This would be a test of both my counting and the machine.

I could hear the coins being tipped into something. After a few minutes he returned. He wrote down the number and showed it to me. I showed him mine. They matched. We both laughed.

He gave me the money. F said I should have asked him why the other bank could not do it and yet they could. I explained that I didn’t know enough Italian. But, to be honest I didn’t care. OK, so I wasn’t so persistent with the other branch – but I did get it done in the end – and that’s the important bit, really.

The other branch just had lazy, good-for-nothing people!

It’s like stepping through a portal into the Dark Ages.

It’s a simple thing, really. I want to pay a bill. I have my bank account details and their bank account details. I need to make the payment today.

In the UK, I would go to a (any) branch of my bank and make the payment (if it wasn’t online). This would be a simple thing. They would check, via computer, that I had enough funds. They would make the payment by the computer. I may have to sign something or use my bank card. The payment would be made and, within a couple of days (or the same day if the same bank) the payment would be done. Easy.

Ma, siamo in Italia (but, we are in Italy). I go to the nearest bank. The same bank as mine but a different branch. No, they can’t do it. But they can send the slip that I fill in, to my branch, who will make the payment. Or I can pay it by cash and then they can do it from there. This, I remind you, is the same bank, with branches all over the North of Italy (maybe, even, all of Italy!). It’s just not my branch.

OK then, I say, can I withdraw the money from my account and do it that way. Apparently not. You see, my money is only at the branch I have the current account with. But, what she can do, if I fill in the form, is to fax the form to my bank and they will do it today.  Fax!  Perhaps carrier pigeon would make the whole system run faster.

Wait, I think, they have computers.  But, not, it can’t be done.  So, I ask myself, what is the point in banking with a ‘nationwide’ bank if you can’t do much except withdraw money from the cash machines?

However, I really need to pay it and so I fill in the form. She telephones my branch to confirm that I have a current account there (I wonder what is the point in computers here?) and asks for the fax number so that she can fax it through.

So, she will, by now, have faxed it through. Someone at my branch will have typed it into the computer and then the payment will be made in God knows how many days.

And then I went outside to withdraw money from the cash machine – which, if I didn’t have enough money in the account, wouldn’t have let me have it.

I am puzzled as to how this country actually works at all. Sometimes, it’s like stepping through a portal into the Dark Ages.

Banking in Italy, foreign cheques, banking online

I have a cheque to pay in to the bank. It’s drawn from a UK bank and in sterling (obviously). I want to pay it into my bank here, in Milan. The bank is through the Post Office as it’s the cheapest around (we don’t get free banking here, guys).

I go to the PO and take my ticket. This is much, much better than the old days. Previously, going to the PO was a nightmare, queuing not really being an Italian thing. But now you have to have a ticket, just like at the deli counter in a UK supermarket. When your number shows up at a counter, you go to that counter. All very civilized here.

As it is holiday time and nobody is back yet, my number comes up straight away. I go to the counter and hand over the cheque, explaining that I want to pay it into my account. The nice lady (who is, by the way, bloody useless) looks at the cheque. Reads the cheque (except she can’t read English). I explain that it’s a cheque from England and in sterling and that the bank on the cheque is a UK bank. She turns it over. The back has nothing on it. She returns to the front of the cheque. She reads it all again. She has a discussion with another teller (who I’ve never seen before, so I guess is new here). They discuss it but I don’t know what they are saying.

She says we should go to the wonderful lady (WL) at the end counter. She is wonderful because she a) speaks a little English, b) seems to know what she is doing and c) is extremely helpful to us whenever we go.

So WL looks at the cheque. She has a conversation with the nice lady (who then darts back to her counter, never to be seen again. I think she was just glad to be rid of the problem. WL and I have a small (because my Italian is very poor) discussion about the cheque. Other PO employees come over to join in. A man who looks like the manager of the PO also joins in. WL checks the general terms and conditions to see how, or even if they can, accept a cheque that is not Italian and, worse, not in Euros. But the Ts&Cs are too general.

She suggests that I go to the main post office in town. I ask if we can try here and because she is the WL, she says OK

She tries entering the details via the computer. Unfortunately, but obviously, the computer wants the value in Euros. The cheque is in pounds. She goes away.

I look at things. Leaflets, posters, etc. I wait. I wait some more. I cannot see where WL has gone. I move up the counters to see if I can see her. She is on the phone at the back.

I wait some more……!

She comes back with a form. A different form to that used for paying in. Not a normal duplicate form but it may have been faxed to her.

She explains that it may take up to a month to clear. This is no surprise. I had read about this on another blog/site. I say that it’s OK. She says it may take less, as if to apologise for how tardy they are here.

She fills in the form and gets me to sign it. Then, because it is not a duplicate form she has to take a photocopy so that I have a copy of it.

And that’s it! Well, obviously, I now have to wait to see how much I get charged and how long it takes. We shall see and I will try to remember to post the results on this blog.

Then she tries to get me to sign up to online banking. I think she thinks that it may stop me coming in so often :-). I explain that I’ve tried but it seems difficult. She fills in a form (absolutely every transaction you do requires a form).

I sign the form. Then, on her computer, she shows me what site to go to to register. Apparently I will get a telegram with a code that will finally allow me to bank online. She gives a long list of terms and conditions with prices. And she writes a helpline number on top to call if I have problems and suggests that, maybe, someone will speak English there.

I go home. I try. It doesn’t work. It doesn’t like something. I think it’s my Codice Fiscale (like National Insurance Number – but used for everything here – almost to the point of being required for supermarket shopping) but I can’t be sure.

I read some of the charges. I note that, even if I pay a bill online, it will still cost me 1 Euro. I can’t wait until the banks here are in foreign hands and there is some real competition.

That was all yesterday.

Today, I go back. I explain that I couldn’t do it and that I tried to ring the helpline number but nobody spoke English and it was too difficult to explain my problem. I ask if we can try it here – on her computer.

We try. She gets the same message. And then we have a whole conversation about whether I am a resident. I’m not. Not yet. I’ve applied but it takes three months! I only did it for the car (that I now need to sell).

She looks on my initial application for the bank and sees that I’m not a resident. But then finds that, on the computer I am classed as a resident. She suggests that I try the alternative registration option of non-resident. We start to try it but it requires different information that she doesn’t have.

I say I’ll try it at home. I did. It works. It says I will get a telegram (I think). This will be interesting to see if it works. I’ll let you know.