The Trailing Spouse Learns Banking

Submitted by an Expat Focus reader

Early on in our relationship, I decided to impress my would-be husband. I enrolled in a course on financial issues – learning all about bull markets, bear markets and share prices. I spent 12 weeks sitting in the hall of the Australian Stock Exchange learning about dividends and options. I am not sure whether or not it impressed him when I casually mentioned that the market seemed a bit ‘bullish’ but, at any rate, I learned some of the jargon. After we were married though, my lack of knowledge as far as financial issues are concerned became glaringly apparent. I think it is one of those left brain /right brain things. He was the financial whiz. I was the literate one. He used a calculator. I picked up a book.

When we had children the division continued. He helps with maths homework; I help with English homework.But problems occurred when my husband started travelling more frequently. Organising our finances was tricky, although internet banking helped, as did phone banking. My husband could sit in his hotel room in Delhi, transferring money, paying bills or organising our finances whilst I was in Hong Kong. The problems got worse though when he started working for longer and longer periods of time away from home.

I had to pick up more of our family’s financial responsibilities and, for someone who had not done any banking for over fifteen years, it was ridiculous how unknowledgeable I had become.

This is not to say that I was one of those trailing spouses who spent their time rearranging their wardrobes or learning how to string pearl necklaces – I was busy doing my PhD. It was just one of those areas that we had divided up according to skill set. Admitting to others that I didn’t know what I was doing was embarrassing.

My husband asked me to pay off a credit card bill by cheque. I dutifully wrote out the cheque, took the credit card slip down and went to the wrong bank to pay it all off!

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Transferring money from one country to another became terribly confusing when combined with different currencies, bank accounts and even hours of operations. The bank in Australia was different to the bank in Hong Kong and because we were en route to the UK it all became tangled beyond belief.

My solution? I went to our bank in Hong Kong and sat down with one of the Customer Relationship Managers. He patiently unravelled things, transferred money, organised for bank accounts to be closed down and for our credit history to be transferred to new branches. He provided me with the name of someone in the UK that I could talk to and ensured that everything was streamlined. I knew my husband could have done this – he is a banker – but the problem was he was far too busy with work to spend his time doing this and he needed me, as part of our family team, to pick this up. His head was elsewhere and my head wasn’t in it!

Thank goodness for Kevin. Yep, that is his name. He did a marvellous job and solved all of my banking insecurities simply and efficiently. Did he laugh at me? No. Did he talk down to me? No. Did he help me? You bet!

The moral? Do take the time to go explain all of your banking needs to an expatriate bank – particularly if you are moving and travelling regularly. Establish a premier relationship with one person so you don’t have to regularly re-explain things. Make sure that you contact your bank before you move so that they can help you set up your banking for you in the next country. And make sure that you aren’t left out of the banking loop. Make sure that you do know how to do your banking and that you do understand how your finances are structured. It will make it easier for everyone.

This is just one of the many lessons learned by this trailing spouse and one that could make your life substantially easier if you are ever in the same position!


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