I didn’t really know what to write about tonight until I tried to do some investing for our community association and ran into yet another roadblock. Last May I pitched a proposal to our Board asking for permission invest some funds into high-yield, low-risk municipal bonds. It took me three months to win Board approval because of concerns about how best to manage the funds. Then I spent another month setting up the investment account. After I became Board chair in September, our general manager sent in the forms to change account ownership for our bank accounts over to me and to our treasurer. In October, I found out that the account change request was lost in the mail. In November, I spent hours working with this U.S.-based bank to change over the account owner, open a certificate of deposit for some of the funds, and wire funds from the bank to the investment account. Today the funds finally posted to the investment account, and I was anxious to invest the money and be done with this project. I just found out tonight over the phone that the brokerage needs our association’s tax identification number and froze the account until they receive it. We’re a not-for-profit entity, but we still need to provide our tax number. I couldn’t give it to them over the phone. I have to fax a form to them, and then I have to wait another 24 hours until they unlock the account so I can invest the money and finish once and for all. That is, unless I discover yet another roadblock along the way. You never know.
If you live overseas and manage your finances and investments abroad, you inevitably face immense frustrations. For example, if you own and rent a home in the U.S. while living overseas, insurance companies will not exclusively insure rental properties. We had to purchase renter’s insurance for our personal affects first and then obtain property insure for our properties. When we set up our brokerage accounts, we needed to provide a U.S.-based address even though we don’t have a physical address in the U.S. Banks, brokerages, and other institutions invariably require signatures on a wide range of documents, and they only occasionally do they allow faxes. You can’t send any official requests by E-mail. Most official business must be done by snail mail, which can be severely impeded depending on where you live overseas. Many documents require notarials, so you have to go through the additional exercise of having to notarize documents overseas through public notaries who may not speak English. That’s easy enough to do in Korea, a modern country, but it can be extremely difficult if you live in a remote location. Time difference is also a major source of frustration. Currently, we live 14 hours from the East Coast of the United States. I typically have to wait until at least 10 p.m. to do any business with U.S. institutions. Between snail mail, which may never reach its intended recipient, and international calling, managing your finances remotely overseas can be a major pain.
In the case of our community association, this frustration is magnified because the account owners change frequently whenever Board membership changes. If signatures are required, you have to obtain them before the Board member leaves (I found out I have to catch two previous members before they leave in December and get their signatures on some account owner change forms). If someone had told me it would take six months to do this investment project, I might have declined to tackle it. Knowing now that it can take months to complete business transactions overseas and that I would need to gather obscure pieces of data, such as the birthdate of the person who opened the account many years ago, I might have spared myself the frustration. Now that I’ve been through the frustration and I’m close to finishing, I’m going get this project done as soon as possible.
In short, thank goodness for the Internet. The Internet has made finances so much easier to manage overseas, mitigating the frustrations brought on by dealing with financial institutions from abroad. Automatic electronic direct deposit and bill pay is your best friend when you live overseas. I think I would go crazy if I had to manage our finances over the phone and by mail.