11/14/2009

"Foreigners" Getting a Credit Card in Taiwan

Banks in Taiwan generally refuse "foreigners" credit cards. I guess they're afraid they won't be able to recoup money (I would think this line of doubt should be extended to any customer, regardless of his or her skin color). Taiwan's constitution states in Chapter I, General Provisions, Article 5: "There shall be equality among the various racial groups in the Republic of China (Taiwan)." But it doesn't seem to have had much bearing on this issue. The card hawkers who set their tables up at the doors of Taiwan's department stores, outside theaters or even on sidewalks seem to shiver with fear when they see a "foreigner" approaching. I've discussed the absurdity of this with a local friend who works for a bank in Taiwan, a bank that also denies people access based on their skin color. He told me: "We really don't have any way to make locals pay us back any more than we do 'foreigners'. Credit cards should be issued on salary, whether people have collateral, appear normal, etc. But I just don't want to rock the boat".

About a month ago, I was leaving Costco (Cheng Ho branch) in Taiwan. Chinatrust Commercial Bank had set up a booth at the door. Their sales rep., seeing my Taiwanese wife out in the lead, immediately came up to her with an application in hand. My wife, who hates credit cards, turned him down flat. When I had caught up, I said: "I'll apply. What's the process?" These words sent the Chinatrust Bank rep. into a stuttering state of confusion. Aghast, he told me:

"You're a 'foreigner'! It's not possible". Actually, I figured this kind of response was on the way. Several of my friends have been turned down at Chinatrust Commercial Bank on their credit card applications based on race. One friend, who speaks Chinese, was even offered a card. After he'd finished the application, the teller informed him, upon conferring with her superiors:

"We can't give you a credit card because you're a 'foreigner'".

Naturally, the whole "you're a foreigner" stuck in my craw. After considering my options, I decided to write to Costco and explain the situation - namely, they were cooperating with a bank that discriminates against out-groups. I asked: "Do you really want this attached to your brand"?

The next day, and for a week following, I received a flurry of email replies from Chinatrust Commercial Bank, who assured me that their bank didn't discriminate. They told me: "It was just a big misunderstanding. We'd like to process your application pronto". They were even willing to send a rep. over to my office at my convenience. When their rep. did show up, a VP no less, he explained: "It was just a big misunderstanding. They're afraid to speak English!"

"But I was speaking Chinese," I countered, "just the same as I am speaking Chinese to you. Plus I can name people who have been told they couldn't apply at your bank because of the color of their skin".

"It's just ignorance," was the reply. "BTW, let me have the name of the rep. so he can be punished".

"That's not necessary [especially if he's following company policy]." I liked the guy and didn't want to get into it. I could see he was trying, and that he didn't agree with what had transpired.

My application was passed seamlessly. I didn't even have to, oddly, submit information about my salary, assets or what have you. Some of my friends have pointed out that I was just being bought off. I can't really verify this. When I emailed Chinatrust back about statistics, in particular, how many "foreigners" have credit cards at the bank, I received no reply whatsoever. In fairness, I suppose it would be violating the bank's confidentiality code and undercutting security. I do, however, now have another credit card, my first Taiwan-based credit card. Did I receive it to shut the f*&^ up? Maybe. I still believe that it could mean that Chinatrust has had to rethink how it deals with its customers. If so, this is great news.

Let me know if you've had problems with Chinatrust Commercial Bank in getting a credit card. They have stepped out into the light to clarify their position. This post, or an email to the bank, might speed things along.

Note: I've been contacted by advertisers in February, 2011. They would like me to put up this link. I don't have a problem doing so as I've been posting for years out of my own pocket and time. Plus, I don't find their company troublesome in the least. If you do find this concept to the contrary, please let me know. Anyway, here goes: it's for a credit repair company.