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06 May 2008

PKO Bank Polski - Blisko Ciebie? Blisko Dupy!

This morning I went to a branch of one of the biggest banks in Poland - PKO Bank Polski - to do what I thought would be a very simple task - namely withdraw 1500 złoty from my wife's account on which I have permission to use.

How I was wrong! Here follows a rant. I hope it will make interesting reading. At the very least it should restore my blood pressure.

First I tried to use the cash point outside the bank (read ATM if you are American :-) ). Not suprisingly it said I couldn't withdraw that because the daily limit is 1000 złoty. OK fair enough, time to head inside. Now normally when I go in to a bank or post office or similar establishment in Poland I like to calculate what I call my "service inefficiency index". Basically this means calculating the ratio of staff sitting on their arse to those actually serving customers. Today I counted 6 windows with staff, of which only 1 was open despite a long queue of customers. Thus PKO this morning managed to achieve an impressively low index of 16.7% - even lower than the post office yesterday.

Fine - this meant I would have to stand in line for a while. Now I am not a particularly patient person to start with, which is why I try and do most of my banking online when possible, and I could feel my blood pressure slowly rising as I contemplated what could possibly be more important than dealing with the customers whose money is in their bank and ultimately paying their wages...

Finally I got to the front of the queue. This is when I like to do my second test of Polish customer service - does the clerk have the common courtesy to acknowledge my presence at the window while they finish playing with their bits of paper in an "I'm very busy and important" manner? Or do they manage to go as far and say "dzień dobry"?
The woman today managed a half-smile. OK great start. Our conversation went something like this:

Me - hello I want to withdraw some money from my wife's account. This is her card.
Her - umm, do you have the account number
Me - no, I just have her bank card. Is that not enough?
Her - are you on her account?
Me - yes
Her - dowód please
Me - I haven't got one, I'm British. Here's my driving licence.
Her - aah. OK Pesel then
Me - I don't have a Pesel either.
Her - in which case I don't know how to look up her account
Me - so you are saying that despite having her PKO Bank Polski debit card in front of you, you are unable to find her account? Is this not PKO Bank Polski? I am a little surprised.

[Now I should point out at this stage that unlike in the UK where you can deal with any branch of your bank without a problem, the branches of PKO Bank Polski aren't so closely interwoven. Like in the UK, the bank where you open your account is your home branch, but unlike in the UK that means that some things (such as telling them you have moved address) can only be done in your home branch personally and physically, and not elsewhere.
So it took her a lot of effort and consulting with colleagues and playing with the computer to actually find my wife's account number. Of course there was a queue of people behind me before we started, now the queue is to the door (yes, still only one till open).]

Her - [looking at my driving licence] so what is this?
Me - [surprised, given that there are pictures of cars and lorries on the back] Err, it's a driving licence
Her - do you have your passport?
Me - not with me, why? Can't you just use my driving licence?

[By this stage I have been in the bank over half an hour (including queuing time), there are 11 people behind me and I am starting to lose my patience.]

Her - sorry I can't give you any money on just your driving licence. Why don't you use the bankomat outside?

[Is it not obvious that I would not queue up like a twat if I could have used the bankomat? I managed to restrain myself from saying that...]

Me - Because I want 1500 złoty. That's a valid ID document in the UK and I thought we were in the EU here
Her - sorry, passport only
Me - in which case can you tell me your surname?
Her - why?
Me - because when I make a complaint later I want to know whom I dealt with
Her - but I checked everything and we can't pay out on a driving licence
Me - fine, but I want your surname anyway
Her - [writes down her surname]
Me - [leave bank empty handed and incredibly p*ssed off]

I don't understand why my driving licence is not good enough for PKO Bank Polski when it is good enough for the Urząd Miasta and Urząd Transportu i Kommunikacji. It is good enough for me where we have our other accounts at Bank BGŻ.

PKO Bank Polski is clearly not geared up to deal with foreigners. I have access to my wife's bank account but as a foreigner not working in Poland I was not allowed to be a shared owner of it with her, which is another stupid rule in my opinion (again no problems with Bank BGŻ).

I have written to PKO Bank Polski and asked them to explain their position with regards to foreigners. I have also mentioned this article on my blog and invited them to respond. If/when I get a response from them I will be sure to post it here.

As mentioned, I opened a bank account with my wife without any problems at all at Bank BGŻ. I even have a credit card with them, so I know that not all banks are as bad as PKO Bank Polski.

I would very much like to hear about your experiences with polish banks as a foreigner - please leave a comment!

PKO's advertising slogan is "PKO Bank Polski - blisko ciebie". Blisko ciebie? Blisko dupy in my opinion.


Biluś said...

Really funny - been there, done that ;)

Try Pekao SA - they even handle sterling!

Piotr said...

She was right. Maybe a driving licence is a proof of identity in the UK, but most probably not in the EU and surely not in Poland. It is just merely a driving licence. If you are foreign you should have yr passport with you or yr national ID card which you don't have in the UK so maybe that's why you use DL. And it's the same in the UK, sometimes they don't want yr national ID card, only passport is valid.

There was money withdrawal involved so it's rather a common sense to have had a valid and more important document with you such as a passport.

PKO PB is THE WORST BANK I've ever had a 'pleasure' to deal with. It's even worse than HSBC in the UK (having in mind that bank sector and banking in the UK is a nightmare). Change the bank, no kidding, it still retains some communism feel
and approach and is maybe good for pensioners. BPH might be one to switch to.

BritInPoland said...

Thanks for the comment Piotr but I disagree with you that a driving licence is not sufficient - like I said in my post, how comes it is good enough at other places in Poland (e.g. when I registered my motorbike here) and at other banks (e.g. Bank BGŻ)?

In the UK we don't have national ID cards, and I am not going to carry my passport with my day-to-day.



Shaunj said...

Hi Ben

This for me typifies many "foreignors" experiences in dealing, not only with Banks, but any large institution in Poland. I don't get why a passport is needed everywhere you go either. Maybe Ireland and England should issue identity cards like the Poles have, which easily subsitute for a recognised ID. You never see them carrying their passport around but expect us to.
I recommend Mbank ( Everything can be done online and you don't have to deal with lazy employees as they have hardly any offices. :D Perfect!

Chris said...


Thank for all the info in your blog. My wife (Polish) and I (Brit) are moving to Poland in July. I've found out more useful information about Poland in 30 mins reading your blog than in countless hours of searching the internet and asking my wife (A true woman, who doesn’t know anything about 'man' stuff and doesn’t want to know either – quite a refreshing attitude).

I have lived in Germany and in Italy and find the prospect of Poland, and more importantly Polish, rather unnerving. I’ve seen your comments about learning the language, so there’s hope for me .

Your reaction to over bureaucratic systems and unhelpful service is very similar to mine. Perhaps it’s better that I don’t speak Polish very well as I quickly get irritated by pointless rules. I just have to remind myself that it’s their country and they can run it anyway they like. (and that’s how it should be really). I am confident that this aspect of Polish life will improve over the coming years; commercialisation brings a realisation that there is a need for improved customer service – otherwise people just go else where.

Overall I’m looking forward to the experience and will read your blog with great interest from now on.



BritInPoland said...

Hi Chris

Thanks for the message - sounds like we have similar personalities! Regarding the language sure there's hope - it's scary at first it's true, but it just means a bit more effort at the start and then you'll be up and running before you know it.

Where are you planning to move to?


Chris said...


We are moving to a small village just outside Piaseczno, about 30 mins south of Warsaw. We’ll be there next week to finalise buying a house. Another disadvantage of not speaking the language has been that my poor wife has sorted everything herself. My lack of Polish has meant that she has organised the whole thing, and you know how complicated it can be!

I have to say that the Polish system of only having one lawyer makes absolute sense and I can’t understand why, in the UK, we always have two. I expect that a Brit lawyer would say that he is representing you, but in Poland it seems that one lawyer can ensure both parties’ safety and make sure that the law is followed – much better.

I am determined to crack the language so will be looking for a school in the area once we settle down. I saw your link to the University in the USA and I’ll give that a go too.

One item for anyone in the area; I’m in a band at present and it’s going to break my heart to leave. I’m thinking about putting a band together once in Poland and would love to hear from any expats and locals who would like to jam / gig or just have a laugh.


BritInPoland said...

Wish you luck with everything. Not sure I agreee regarding the lawyer thing - they aren't really lawyers and don't look after you at all - they are just public notaries who record the transaction and get paid way too much for the privilege. You have reminded me - I must blog about when we bought our house....

Shame you will be so far away from me down in the south of Poland - would love to jam now and then!

Yennefer said...

Hi Ben,
I'm on the opposite side - a Pole living in Ireland (Republic of) and all I can tell you is this: this is not her fault, it's yours. it's called a "culture shock" and everyone has to go through it. And so have I.
Considering the banking: don't know how it works in the Uk, it's definitely not too good in Poland, but it's a total nightmare in Ireland. You can't transfer money from one bank to another and so on...
Driving License is not a valid ID in Poland - just as it is in Ireland and UK. Also, just to let you know, when I am abroad (ex. UK and RoI) I am REQUIRED to carry my passport with me at all times.
And I know how hard it is to get used to a new country and new customs but take it easy and good luck. Poland is not the most foreigners friendly country in the world, but it's not the worst either :)
And by the way - PKO branch in my hometown is the best bank, but this varies from town to town. Just find the one that suits you.

Shaunj said...

Yennefer, Hi I am Irish.
This has really confused me. Since when has Irish law stipulated that foreigners must carry their passport with them at all times?
Now I haven't lived there for 2 years so perhaps things have changed without me hearing about it????

BritInPoland said...

actually she said excluding RoI and UK. But are the Irish banks really that bad?

Shaunj said...

Ah read Ex for example instead of except. Apologies! Irish banks are like all banks> A pack of bastards.

Yennefer said...

Hi Ben,
Yes, I said excluding :) as it was a requirement in all other countries I used to visit / live in.
As for the Irish banks: they have changed a lot in the past two years BUT still you get people walking into the branch, asking for a withdrawal and saying "I have no ID. I know it's me" ... my boss did it once. And he got the money as he was persuasive enough...
Yes, you can't transfer money between different banks and it takes 5 working days to clear the cheque. And in some banks you'll get only ATM card (that you can't use in shops etc...) for 6 MONTHS!
I could go on for ages... but I just get used to it. I neither can or will change it so it's not worth me going on about the same thing over and over.
And -WOW- they introduced internet banking 18 months ago. Woohooo, one step for a man... ;)

ukpolska said...

I have to agree 100% with piotr on this one, as it is quite arrogant to assume that our driving licences are proof of anything outside of the UK, as is the case in many other countries that I lived in.

And really if you have lived here for eight years as I have, it is common sense to take your passport with you when dealing with Government, banks and such like.
When in Rome!!!

BritInPoland said...

Hi Ukpolska, thanks for your comment. I understand what you and Piotr are saying, but I don't understand why it is arrogant to assume my driving licence should be valid there if it is valid at the urząd transportu and at Bank BGŻ? Surely it should either be valid everywhere or be valid nowhere?
And as I have said a couple of times, I don't and am not going to carry around my passport day-to-day. I stupidly thought popping in to the bank would be a 5 minute job as it is with Bank BGŻ. If I wanted to do anything more than get some cash out of course I would have taken my passport.

TomK said...

Hi Guys,
I had a great laugh reading all this. I am a Pole living in UK and I can tell you why you have to carry your passport with you all the times :)
Basically Passport verifies your identity and so does Polish ID card. Because UK and Ireland doesn't have an ID card the only form of identification is your passport. Driving license is not a valid form of ID in respect of the law. The reason why driving licence was sufficient enough in Urzad Komunikacji is because Urzad Komunikacji is the authority dealing with Drivers IDs etc like DVLA in UK or DMV in the US. On the other side almost every time I want to withdraw money in a bank in London I am often ask to for 2 forms for ID, so I wouldn't say its something unusual.

polandian said...


This is so typical:)) It's hard to do things even if you're Polish.

But is it better on British Isles?

I went through hell of opening account in Jersey, where I worked briefly.

I had a passport, I had a letter of recommendation (!!?) from my employer and it wasn't enough. I didn't get through the bank reception desk - in Barcalys, HSBC and NatWest (only these provide services for ordinary people there).

I ended up having my wages delivered to friend's account. Yes.


Gordon said...

Hi I had an account at PKO and had a huge nightmare of Long queues, rude and untrained staff, and charges for everything - including doing nothing.

I decided to close my account and politely asked them to close the account. I was sent upstairs to a large office and asked for all my account information. I put everything I owned from PKO onto the desk. She firstly cut up my card then looked at the computer. After a while she told me that I had to travel back to the city in which I opened the account.

Unwilling to pay extra train fares to close my account, I refused to accept this decision. She then had no problems closing the bank account over the phone, Handed me a piece of paper to take to a cashier to collect the balance of the account.

After another hour stood in a queue I was told that the account no longer existed and therefore I couldn't have any money.

This made me furious and it took 3 days and about 7 hours waiting around and arguing with staff in the bank before they finally agreed that, it was indeed my money and returned it - howeverit was not the entire balance. When I questioned difference I was told you cannot have an account open with a balance of zero, and that the account was due to close next week. Unbelieveable as they couldn't give me the money before as the account had already been closed!!!

I was so angry that I refused to move from the cashier until I either saw the top manager or my small some of money was returned.

Only after much argument did I get to speak to a manager who blamed the entirety of banks problems on a collection of incompatible computer networks.

It took at least another week before they finally returned the 18 grosy.

I recomend that no one should go anywhere this bank.
WBZ or mbank both have excellent customer service and completely free accounts.

Anonymous said...

I got an account at Millenium, or however you spell it, with nothing but an American passport. Since then, I carry my passport around at all times. What's the worst anybody can do? Rob me and sell my identity to the Russian mafia? That pales in comparison to the inconvenience I'd face if I felt like making a bank transaction without a passport.

I'm a Pole who lived in America half her life and is now back in the glorious homeland, by the way.

Nice to meet you, excellent blog.

Anonymous said...

these stories of woe are so familiar. I'm so annoyed that my bank, where i deposit about 7000 zl per month, refused me an overdraft of 500zl. sure, i don't have a residence card, but should that matter? i have a flat worth half a million which i could use as collateral, but they still said no. i'm closing the account on principle. goodbye millenium, hello mbank.

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