Saturday, June 25, 2011

Dutch banking

A key part of moving to a new country is getting a bank account set up.

In many places deciding who to bank with can be a tough decision because there are so many options. Fortunately, that's not a problem here, as there's only one bank in the country that has a web site and online banking available in English. So ABN AMRO it is.

Coming from Canada I actually find this somewhat amusing, since Dutch-based ING is pretty well established in Canada as a primarily web based retail bank offering services in English. But here in their home land it's Dutch or nothing. That's too bad, because I've kind of always liked the angry Dutch guy in the Canadian ING ads.

Of course, I do see opportunity in this situation, since I am the GM of a digital marketing company that builds web sites in lots of different languages on behalf of our clients. In fact, for one of our clients we're currently building a site that will be rolled out in over 80 regions. So if any Dutch bankers read my blog - call me, we can help.

There are many other interesting things about the Dutch retail financial sector that I'm still learning. Like how credit cards aren't really credit cards. And how the PIN card works. I'm sure I'll write about these later but, to be honest, I haven't figured them out myself yet. Which is a little scary, since I am using a Dutch credit card now.

But the one other adventure with Dutch banking that I just had for the first time today was dealing with online banking. Apparently just entering your account number and pin code isn't enough here. You also need to have your e-dentifier with you, to insert your card into when you log in, so that you can verify exactly who you are.

Now, this isn't the worst idea I've ever heard. It's a nice bit of added security. But it certainly does hamper the convenience of online banking. Now that we're in a "what you want, when you want it" digital era restricting the use of online banking to situations where you've actually got to have, on hand, a clunky device that's larger than most SmartPhones feels somewhat regressive. But, like the lack of English web sites, this feels to me more a market opportunity for competition than it is a real problem.

The other added challenge of the e-dentifier is that it doesn't come with instructions in English. That shouldn't be surprising, and the English portion of the web site should explain things, but it doesn't do that terribly well. After plugging the e-dentifier into my laptop with the supplied USB cable, I couldn't get it to do what the site said it should be doing. Only when I searched for other information did I learn that I shouldn't have plugged it in. The USB connection is completely unnecessary. So, why does it come with a USB cable? I have no idea.

But I eventually figured it out. I'm all set up and am semi-aware of my financial situation. Just one more step in getting set up in our new home.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Sunday morning garbage in Amsterdam

A bit of a negative post today. Sorry to be a downer:

Amsterdam is such a beautiful city. I simply don't understand why they can't come up with a better way to deal with their trash.

On Sunday morning Colleen and I headed over to Dirk, our local supermarket, to take our recycling in. When we got there, we discovered a great pile of garbage strewn around the bins.

This is a result of the standard Amsterdam proces of garbage collection, whereby people just put plastic bags out on the street, for it to be collected periodically. Clearly, this process doesn't work very well.

I understand that just putting the garbage out on the street in plastic bags is a standard way to deal with it in many major cities around the world. It just seems so unhygenic and nasty. What about bins? What about garbage cans?

This is a picture perfect place. I don't really get why this garbage situation can't be easily solved.

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Way to Work

I love my ride to work in the morning.

First, just riding to work seems terribly civilized. You arrive refreshed and more relaxed than normal. Of course, it doesn't hurt that I arrived here in June, not in the middle of winter.

One of the first things I pass is a mineral / fossil shop. It's been closed for most of the time that I've been here, so I haven't been in. And I can't imagine that they do a lot of business, being a rather niche category. But it's a wonderfully interesting shop window full of odd bits. I often think of my nephew Cameron and his passion for rocks and geology when I'm passing here.

Right after the fossil shop I cross over a canal. The water is so calm and peaceful. And on the way home there are often people out for evening boat rides with their friends, having little picnics as they go along.

A bit further along I pass the Rijksmuseum. I haven't been in here yet. I'm waiting for visitors, so I can visit with them for the first time. But I hear that it's pretty amazing.

In front of the Rijksmuseum is the apparently iconic I amsterdam sign. All day, every day, there are people posing on the sign. I don't know the history of it, but it's at the end of a long pond in a park. A nice piece to ride through on the way to work.

The bike lanes are so civilized. They're well marked, with their own traffic signs. Bikes seem to have the right of way over vehicles and pedestrians here. I've been told that on your bike you're in the right, even if you're in the wrong.

 I cross another bridge just before work. Lots of tourist boats going out for the day. This bridge is a little higher, requiring a bit of a push at the end. (OK, a very small push. But with no gears it requires a small pedal.)

And then, I'm at work. The office is located at Max Euweplein, beside the Hard Rock Cafe and the Amsterdam Casino - So pretty touristy. There's a big outdoor chess board. In this photo there's no one playing, but during the day you get pretty big crowds. Or, at least, pretty big crowds for people watching an outdoor chess match.

All that takes between 5 and 10 minutes. Quick and easy. And, on a sunny day, it's a great way to get to the office. I'll let you all know more about the commute when winter comes and we've moved a bit further away.