(Note to any of my blog readers who might have criminal intentions. You see pictured below a photo of a lot of money. This money is already in the bank -- please read my blog post to verify! You missed your opportunity to steal a lot of money from me. I've never before had big naira like this in my flat -- I promise you -- and I likely never will again! And this money is gone, so don't even think about it.)
There's not a lot of anxiety involved when I go to the bank in the States, it's just another errand to mark off my to-do list. But here in Lagos it's a different story: I try to avoid banks whenever possible. Robberies are quite freqent in the banks, and robbers target people coming and going from banks. I've blogged before about Nigerian money. Money is a challenge here, as we don't use credit or debit cards at all due to fraud concerns. We don't have a bank account here; we change dollars to naira at money changers who tend to set up shop at little market areas around the major hotels. These money changers are just sitting there with suitcases and cupboards jam-packed with money and there's no obvious guards around. I asked my driver about it once -- why were robbers targeting banks with their armed guards all around and not these money changers and he just laughed and said "oh, they have their security." So I guess they are there, just not so in-your-face about it.
As much as I try to avoid banking here, at times I can't escape it. I had a banking experience recently and it was so different from banking in the States, that I thought I should blog about it. I am chairing the USA's participation in a very large charity event, which you will undoubtedly soon read about here. This past week we concluded our ticket sales and we had collected a lot of money which we needed to deposit in the charity organization's account. The largest bill in Nigeria is for 1000 naira, which is currently worth about $6.65. This is the largest bill in a totally cash economy -- so that makes for some seriously fat wallets. And when we're talking about selling charity event tickets at $50 a pop, the bills add up.
There's always considerable reluctance to count money here -- it is so dirty and germy. Have you heard the expression "filthy lucre"? With Nigerian money, that is literally true. But the contact couldn't be avoided: I counted, recounted, stacked and rubber banded 1000's in piles of 100,000 and 500's in stacks of 50,000. After piling the money in a tote bag, I disinfected my hands and all hard surfaces that had been in contact with the bills.
The bank branches I've been to here have this special security door at the entrance that's a narrow, hollow tube that looks like it could beam you up to another dimension. It's kind of incongruous because it seems so high-tech compared to everything else in the bank. Anyway, I walk up to it and the guard asks me what's in my bag -- "cash or personal belongings?". "Cash," I say quietly. He says ok and asks if I have a cell phone. "Why ask?" I wonder -- everyone in Nigeria has a cell phone. People who live on the street and don't have a toilet or a bed have a cell phone. But he lets me enter despite my cell phone possession and I push the button for the tube to rotate and I walk inside. I don't know if the tube is a metal detector or what exactly it's checking for. But I pass its scrutiny and the tube rotates and allows me entrance into the bank. I learned the first time I made a large deposit that it's not done at the regular teller window. I don't know what the cut-off is for back room deposits, but I made it both times. I'm motioned down a narrow hallway to a room with a peephole and a lock. After the guard on the inside checks me out through the peephole, he opens the door and I enter a room with walls lined with wooden tables and many stations of activity. I wish I could have taken a picture of the room, but I'm sure they wouldn't have liked that much and since there were several men with guns in there I decided against it. Some of the tables have people with suitcases and bags full of bills. I'm asked to sign in at a log book on the table by the door. I write my name, account number and the amount of my deposit. The guard points to a worker at a table and I dump out the contents of my tote on the table in front of my money counter. The only mechanized element to the deposit process was the money counting machine. When I made my second deposit, before the guy started feeding my bills through the counting machine, he put on a particle mask. "Not a bad idea," I think. The machine verifies my thorough money counting -- all my ticket money accounted for to the last naira -- what a relief! He flips the stack of bills under a special light that highlights the special markings on the bills that inhibit counterfeiting. He restacks the bills and he puts official bank wrappers around the stacks and then stamps them. After we agree on the final deposit amount and complete my deposit slip, he takes my money piles (now the bank's money piles) over to another table where he hand-writes the deposit amount in another log book. After a minute, another bank worker helps him carry the money to another table and yet another log book which is duly inscribed with the deposit amount. So that's three hand-written log books and absolutely no computerized entries at all. There's a 3-part carbon copy deposit receipt and I receive one of the copies to verify my deposit before I sign out on the log book at the door. After my exit through the security door, ("Beam me out, Scotty!") I anxiously head for my own car where my driver is waiting and we take a hasty exit from the bank's vicinity. I was sooo relieved when all this money was counted and deposited without any loss or incident!