The banks here are open seven days a week.
You'd think this was fantastic. But it's because these financial institutions can't keep up with the number of customers going through their doors during regular business hours.
While the simple solution would be to hit the ATM for cash, but more often than not, they've already been drained dry by other customers so you have no choice but to line up.
And as I have described before, utility companies don't have their own accounts system and would rather the banks collect the amounts owing for them.
So that's why there's a line up. All the time.
Once you walk through the door, press the button for a number. And in my case just after 4pm on a Sunday, it was number 549. They were serving number 502.
The ATMs I visited earlier were flat out of cash so I had to wait.
There is a TV screen showing financial news to keep you occupied, but I dozed off instead.
And just before 5pm my transaction was completed in two minutes.
There are other banking hassles. For instance, transferring money from one branch to another is practically unheard of. According to a friend of mine, the branches don't talk to each other; you have to go to the other branch and tell them you want to transfer money, instead of them calling each other. They are the same bank, after all.
When I got here, my employer I insisted I use its bank to get paid by direct deposit. And to pay my utilities I had to set up an account with another bank. ATM cards are almost like credit cards. The average person probably has accounts in three different banks.
Also wiring money out of the country is a big undertaking. The only bank that will do it is Bank of China, and it's a 100RMB service fee on top of the transaction. A colleague transferred US$600, but doesn't know if it got to the States or not.
Internet banking is painfully inconvenient too. You can't just go onto the website and register. You have to fill out an application form at the bank. And once it's approved, then you can get Internet access to your bank account. But even then, I don't think you can even pay bills online or transfer money.
If China wants to become a strong economic power, it also has to have a more efficient banking system that is flexible, accurate and customer service-oriented.
The Construction Bank of China has pledged to add more tellers at windows during peak hours, but more needs to be done at the national policy level so that we all don't have to line up, seven days a week just to do some simple banking.
Or you could just do what another coworker did: Get a safe and be your own banker.