Their success is based on various policy decisions.
*It takes one-to-two hours standing in line to deposit a check or withdraw cash. This policy prevents any run on the banks.
*The interest rates on mortgages range from 12-17%. This results in very little demand for loans.
*Checks written in blue ink are rejected, usually two or three weeks after they have been deposited. This saves on any interest they may have had to pay, and usually results in a fee that YOU have to pay.
*Before you can enter the bank, you have to show the two guards standing at the door with machine guns that you are turning off your cell phone. This prevents any unnecessary distractions inside the bank.
*Except on customer appreciation day. Recently the French Harbor branch of our bank hung a large flat screen TV from the ceiling, and played Rambo dubbed in Spanish. A healthy two-hour dose of Sylvester Stallone in the jungle encourages any violent thoughts that customers may have while waiting in line, and justifies the jobs of the armed guards.
*There are now several "ATMs" on the island. None have ever worked in the year we have been here. One ATM is a drive-through, and is used to allow you to park your car in the shade.
*Tellers take a break whenever a street vendor comes in with merchandise (pirated DVDs, CDs, probably-stolen watches, etc.). This lengthens the wait from one hour to two for sure.
*Gringos can't open checking accounts until they become residents. You can't become a resident without showing proof of $2,500 a month in income from the U.S. Given the stock market collapse, no gringo has $2,500 a month coming in, so all transactions are cash. This reduces the number of employees the bank needs to have on hand.
*Complaining to the bank manager gets you nowhere. When one of your deposited checks sits on the airport tarmac in the rain en route to headquarters in Tegucigalpa, and the ink washes away, you lose the money. Nada. No bueno. No dinero. Your Spanish isn't good enough to argue, and his English isn't working that day.
And don't forget the stamps. Tellers are surrounded in their stations by stamp pads, ink refills, and carbon paper. Yes, carbon paper! Every step of the transaction requires a different stamp (with a bang and a flourish) and a new piece of carbon paper. Bank books are manually numbered and recorded by hand in a ledger when they are distributed. And don't forget the stamp.
These policies have kept the Honduran banks financially sound and us, slightly crazed.
Contributed with love and frustration by Mike, the Twins on an Island's Dad