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Mizuho Wank

This weekend saw, finally, the completion of the merger of Fuji Bank, Dai-Ichi Kangyo Bank and the Industrial Bank of Japan. The new entity, Mizuho, is the largest banking group in the world, with combined assets of 145 trillion yen - which certainly sounds like a lot of money. Don't ask me how much exactly, because I'm hazy enough on the difference between American billions and British billions (especially given that most Brits seem to use the American system without realising it), let alone willing to bet on what system the English-language Japanese media use.

Very often with impressively large yen figures, you find that dividing by the UK exchange rate gives you a rather less impressively large amount; I've lost track of the number of times I've found myself reading that some junior level bureaucrat has been caught embezzling an obscene amount of money ("12.5 million yen! bloody hell!") with which to buy racehorses, only to do the maths and realise that in fact we're talking about a considerably less earth-shaking figure ("hang on - that's only 65 grand") - more Robin Hood than Nick Leeson. Sure, £65,000 is considerably more than most people make in a year and is certainly not to be sniffed at - it's just that it's no wonder that these kinds of fraud aren't spotted more regularly at the Japanese Foreign Ministry; your average career bureaucrat could drop more than that on a single sushi business lunch without rippling the surface of the Special Emergency Guest Luncheon Fund.

But I digress. All of that aside, you can rest assured that 145 trillion yen is most likely a very large figure in whatever mainstream Western currency you feel happiest patronizing larger-denomination Asian currencies in.

Which makes it all the more frustrating that, over this last weekend, the largest banking group in the world was unable to open a single one of their ATMs for business. Not one. And now that today is Monday, the merger is completed and normal banking hours are upon us once more, does my old DKB card work in the local legacy Fuji ATM? Does it bollocks.

The merger was announced (wait for it) nearly three years ago. Now I will readily admit that I might be somwhat biased here, having spent the greater part of this Sunday cycling fruitlessly around Tokyo trying to find a legacy Fuji, DKB or IBJ ATM that would allow me access to my own money so that I could pay my rent - which of course has to be paid in cash because this is Japan and it's only the 21st century, after all - but I would nonetheless put it to you that after THREE YEARS of intensive planning (for there is no other sort in this country), it would not be unreasonable to assume that they could have had the collective brains to ensure that their ATMs worked as advertised.

In the end, what did I do? Went to the 24hr Citibank in Shinjuku.

I don't want to come across as a raving prick or anything (no more than usual, anyway) but I think it says something about the appalling state of retail banking in Japan when it's easier for me to get a cash advance, on a credit card, from a foreign bank with minimal presence in Japan, which I do not even have an account with, than it is for me to make a withdrawal from either of my common-or-garden debit accounts with the largest bank in the world, with 6,000 branches and ATM lobbies nationwide.

Rant over. And thanks to Christine for buying me lunch today - I'll pay you back as soon as the ATMs are working again...

Posted by chris at April 1, 2002 11:53 PM | Permalink

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