If you're looking for a safe place to keep your money in Cuenca, that also has plenty of banking options, Banco Pichincha fits that bill.
This bank, established in April 1906, is one of the few banks in Ecuador to survive the financial crisis of 1999 and 2000, when the sucre, Ecuador's currency, was devalued drastically.
Not only did it survive, it bought up some of the failed banks and became Ecuador's largest bank, with just over 33% of the country's banking business.
Banco Pichincha has several ways to bank, including:
At a minimum, you should set up a savings account (cuenta de ahorros in Spanish). And ask for an Xperta debit card (tarjeta de débito in Spanish). Be sure to ask for an international one. It allows you to withdraw up to $500 per day (instead of $300 per day), up to $3,500 per week (instead of $1,800 per week), and to buy up to $1,000 per week with it (instead of $300 per week) at stores like Supermaxi.
The international card is supposed to work outside of Ecuador (although we don't know anyone who's had luck with it in another country). It works on the Visa Electron network.
These days, there's no real need for a checking account (cuenta corriente), since you can transfer money to another person's account instead of writing a check. And especially since checks are expensive ($0.30 each) and the service charge for each cleared check is $2.00. Ouch!
The online banking system is much more secure than any banking system Jeff has come across in Canada.
The login system is laborious to set up, but very secure. You need to create a very long username, and then a very long password. Once that's done, you need to provide answers for several questions, asked in Spanish. Then you have to select one of several clickart graphics to be part of your login process.
The first 10 times you log in, you'll have to answer one of the questions and click on your graphic. If you continue to log in without messing up anything, you'll no longer have to answer the question and select your graphic.
But if you mess anything up, or log in from a different computer, you'll have to go through the question/graphic process again.
If you plan to do online banking, be sure to have Banco Pichincha staff set up the ability to do transfers. And don't leave the bank without an e-Key card, which is mandatory when making transfers and bill payments online.
You can set up your own bill payments by selecting one of the companies from the list in the Pagos section of the online banking page. You can pay for TVCable and DirecTV by online bill payment, although you may receive a better deal if you opt for direct debit from your bank account.
As mentioned, transfers and bill payments require an extra level of security, provided by the e-Key. After you enter all the transfer or payment information, you'll be asked for the three digit code that corresponds to the letter and number combination in the grid on the back of your e-Key.
Each e-Key's grid is different, so only the one registered to you will work when making your transfers.
Personal banking is available at the main branch on Avenida 12 de Abril at the corner of Solano (the big white building with yellow and black Banco Pichincha trim).
Go in the entrance where the stairs are, walk up to the second floor, and enter through the doors on the left. Turn right, then left and walk about 50 feet. You'll come to the cubicle of Omar Bermeo Bravo. His title is Ejecutivo de Negocios, Banca Privada.
Omar speaks some English (the bank has realized that to gain expat business, their staff need to speak some English, so they're offering English classes to staff), so you can probably communicate enough to set up your savings account, your Xperta tarjeta, and your online banking, including your e-Key.
It won't all happen that day, but when everything's ready, you don't have to stand in line downstairs. Just head up to Omar's location and take a seat.
Omar can also provide wire transfer instructions, plus place your money in certificates of deposit or other investments with the bank.
Banco Pichincha offers Visa and MasterCard credit cards, but you may not want one. Omar told Jeff that he'd have to keep $10,000 in a deposit certificate as collateral on the card, for one year. Since he only wanted it to pay online for domestic airline tickets and other similar services, he decided against it.
Even though the savings account pays much higher interest than accounts in North America, you can earn higher still by putting your money into fixed-rate or variable-rate investments.
You can even make investments over the internet, from $500 up to $40,000, for 30, 60, 90, 180 or 360 days (or more). We recommend sticking with shorter term investments, until the state of the US dollar and its effect on the Ecuadorian economy is clearer. If the USD starts to hyperinflate, Ecuador may have to go off the USD, and then you could be stuck with worthless investments.
Along with the main branch discussed above, there are several more in Cuenca. These include:
There are also branches in Azogues, Gualaceo, Paute, Loja, Cuxibamba and Cañar.
All of the above locations have ATMs, plus there are some ATMs in various other locations, such as the Mariscal Sucre Airport.
There are also subsidiaries in Perú, Panamá and Spain, and one in Miami (but only people who aren't citizens of the US can have accounts there).
Banco Pichincha in Cuenca offers just about every banking service that an expat requires to maintain a high quality of living in Ecuador.
With several branches in Cuenca, and hundreds more around Ecuador (75 in Quito and over 30 in Guayaquil alone), plus even more ATMs, and the ability to use ATMs from other banks, you're never far from your money.
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I just want to thank you both soooo much for creating this web site. I am originally from Cuenca but moved to New York 11 years ago and have not being back since. My husband and I are planning on visiting Cuenca over the Summer and this web site has helped me a lot.
When I came to the US we still had the "sucre," the bus ride cost 1,000 sucres and a pack of trident gum would cost 3,000 sucres. I am very nervous to go back, but thanks to your web site I now know what to expect.
My husband is American and Captivating Cuenca has taught him a lot about what my great city has to offer, things that I had forgotten about myself! :)
Thank You both so much! I cannot wait to visit Cuenca!!