Chinese Banks: The Sweet Taste of Revenge

Posted in Chinese Bank Rants, Personal Anecdotes at 11:01 pm by Benjamin Ross

Yesterday I went to the bank to pick up some money my boss had sent me from the US to pay for my Chinese visa. The expected total was to be 1120.6 RMB. I filled out the transfer forms, and the teller informed me she would be giving me 1226.8 RMB. She wrote down the total on the form, counted out the cash, and handed it to me. I was a little surprised at this apparent oversight, but assumed it was a simple currency exchange miscalculation on my boss’s end. I took my cash, and was on my way.

Half an hour later I received a call from the bank teller. She told me the bank had made an error, and had given me too much money. They asked when I could come back and return the extra 116.2 RMB.

Normally this would have been a no-brainer. Yes, at times in my dark past I have been known to purchase pirated DVDs and steal wireless Internet, but I have always believed money should be returned in the case of an honest mistake. Then another thought occurred to me. I remembered sign which has perturbed me since the first time I was able to read it. It reads like this: 当面点钱,离开不负责 and can be found in big letters at every bank in China. It means “Count your money at the teller window. Once you leave the window we are not responsible.” In other words, “If the bank makes a mistake, you have to bite the bullet because it’s your own damn fault for not catching it in time.” And bite the bullet I have done, like the 3 separate occasions when Chinese banks have given me counterfeit 100 RMB notes. According to the policy, which is posted on the sign, there was nothing I could have done since I had not noticed it at the time the transaction took place.

If by chance this particular bank had given me less money than I should have received, and I hadn’t realized it at the time, there is no way in hell they would have given me my money back. It would have been my own fault for not counting the money on the spot…as is clearly indicated by the sign.

It was my thinking that it is only fair that the rule work both ways. 离开不负责 does not distinguish between the 2 parties involved. It simply reads “leave, no responsibility.” Once the customer walks away from the teller window, all responsibility is absolved. If the bank makes a mistake that favors me, and they do not catch it on the spot, I should be able to keep the money, as well as a clear conscience.

The next morning I sent a text message to the bank teller to inform her that I would not be returning the bank’s money.

“There is a sign in your bank which clearly says, count your money on the spot or else we are not responsible. This is your bank’s own regulation, and I plan to follow the regulation accordingly. I am not responsible for the money you miscounted.”

She replied, “Yes, I know we have that sign, but this is not about the sign, it is about honesty. If you do not return the money, there is nothing I can do, but I know I gave you an extra 100 RMB.”

I replied back, “This is not about honesty. This is about policy. If you had given me 100 RMB less than I should have received, and I had come back a half hour later, you would not have returned my money. That is the regulation. If there had been no sign and no regulation, I would gladly have returned your 100 RMB, but since you have this regulation, I am going to follow it.”

She replied, “If we had given you less money, it would have been caught on the security camera. You could have reported it or called the police.”

My urge was to respond with a big fat 狗屁 (bullshit, literally “dog fart”), but I decided to give it a rest. She sent one more last ditch effort to appeal to my conscience, but to no avail. My mind was set. I was not going to return the money.

I have been running through the episode for the past 24 hours, and can’t help but think that I did the right thing. I really could care less about the 116.2 RMB, but I certainly could not live with myself had I allowed the bank redemption for their mistake, knowing full-well that if the tables were turned, I would have been screwed with no remorse. Had this event happened in an American bank, or a Chinese bank without the warning sign, I would have returned the money without second thought. But when you’re living in an untrusting world where everybody is out to cover his own ass, sometimes you have to cover your own as well.

continued on 4/30/07 in Revenge of the Bank


  1. Josh China said,

    April 18, 2007 at 11:31 pm

    I think it was good of you to point out the reason for your refusal and to engage in the dialog with the teller. However, I think you made a mistake there (in as non-judgmental a way as I possibly can given that I’ve used the word mistake).
    You’re aware that they won’t change the policy over this incident. Keeping the money only creates a combative provider/customer relationship which (by her using the exact same “eye for an eye” logic you’ve employed here) enables a teller to justify her mistakes when they result in the bank’s favor. Were you the bank’s only client, it would be an arguably appropriate burden to shoulder if you so desired. Unfortunately, your actions are affecting the way that teller (and every other employee that hears the story) views and treats the public. In turn, your bank’s level of customer service influences that of the industry as a whole.
    In addition, there is always the possibility that a mistake in the bank’s favor goes into the bank’s till, but a mistake in the customer’s favor comes out of the teller’s pocket. And I don’t read you as the kind of guy who would say “Screw her. She should be more careful next time.”
    So you see, Ben, it’s all your fault that the customer service in Chinese banks is so deplorable. As far as I can tell, the only way for you to make up for this heinous act is to send me that 116.2 RMB post-haste. With interest.

  2. Joe United States said,

    April 19, 2007 at 1:46 am


    The passing of counterfeit notes by banks is difficult to justify and frustrating.I think I understand the point you are trying to make, and it should make you smile that the tables are finally turned and you get to come out on top, but have you really come out on top. You are 116.2 RMB ahead, but is that enough for you?

    Although I don’t know you, I think you might be enjoying a Pyrrhic victory. Is the 100 kuai worth your integrity? Maybe the bank’s lack of integrity in their day-to-day dealings justifies your response, but isn’t your integrity worth more than 116.2 RMB? If a person you don’t know dropped 116 RMB on the ground and didn’t notice it, wouldn’t you pick it up and give it back to them? If the answer is no, then I’m sorry I wasted my time responding to your blog. In that case, have a great time getting rich 116 RMB at a time.

  3. Benjamin Ross China said,

    April 19, 2007 at 7:51 am

    The point I was trying to make is that no integrity was sacrificed in this situation. Under normal conditions, I would always give money back in the case of an honest mistake. For example, when the grocery store accidentally gives me too much change, I always give them their money back. And if somebody dropped 116.2 kuai in the street I definitely would give them their money back as well. But imagine if you had seen that other person before, and they had picked up your money and kept it when you had dropped it. Not only that, but they justified it by wearing a shirt (I know this is a stretch, but it’s for point of example) with a warning that said. “If you drop your money and don’t notice it, I can pick it up and keep it.”

  4. Emily China said,

    April 19, 2007 at 8:42 am

    This reminds me of an ethical dilemma my father posed to me.

    Let’s say you own a store. A woman comes to the store and buys a few, small items. She pays with a crisp, new $20 bill and you give her change. As she is walking out the door, you realize that she actually gave you two twenties that were stuck together. She doesn’t realize her mistake.

    So the question is:

    Do you split it with your partner?

    I disagree with Josh, my wonderful and all-too-ethical (read”broke”) husband. Go ahead and keep the 116.2 RMB.

  5. Xiao Zhu Australia said,

    April 19, 2007 at 9:40 am

    Bravo Ben, I support your stance. Last month, a bank teller gave me an extra 20,000 yuan which I returned after receiving his phonecall. It’s about time someone told banks not to push their customers around.

  6. Bart China said,

    April 19, 2007 at 10:21 am

    Joe: during the first two years of my time here, I would’ve agreed with you. Doing the “right thing” should help you sleep better at night. However, I slowly began to realise that everyone is out to cheat everyone else in this country, and it was 100% one sided because I was living by my Western ideals, while the locals were living by a whole different set of rules. It’s like a death by a thousand cuts – eventually you realise that always being the victim just isn’t working, so after a while, the only way to survive is to savour every little victory you can – but without resorting to lying or cheating yourself. If I were in Ben’s situation, giving the money back would feel like snatching defeat out of the jaws of victory.

    Having said that, I have occasionally been given too much change when shopping at small shops, and I always return the difference. On the other hand, the Chinese banking system is merciless. Why show any mercy to them?

    Ben, you can’t change China by doing “the right thing”. Cherish this victory and savour it… you may never have another opportunity like this!

  7. Cate United States said,

    April 19, 2007 at 10:46 am

    Ben – return the money. You’ve made your point and you have taught the bank and the teller a lesson. The bank will probably deduct the RMB100 from the teller’s salary. For us, RMB100 means very little. But for a country where the average monthly income is around RMB1000, that’s alot of money. It’s all fine and dandy for us to philosophize about our grievances, but she may lose 10% of her salary.

  8. James Chiang China said,

    April 19, 2007 at 12:09 pm

    Ther’s a story happened 2,500 years ago in ancient China. Anyboby could translate it in English?
    晏子将使楚。楚王闻之,谓左右曰:“晏婴,齐之习辞者也,今方来,吾欲辱之,何以也?”左右对曰:“为其来也,臣请缚一人,过王而行。王曰,何为者也?” 对曰,齐人也。王曰,“何坐? ”曰,“坐盗。”
    晏子至,楚王赐晏子酒,酒酣,吏二缚一人诣王。王曰:“缚者曷为者也?”对曰:“齐人也,坐盗。”王视晏子曰:“齐人固善盗乎?”晏子避席对曰:“婴闻之,橘生淮南则为橘,生于淮北则为枳,叶徒相似,其实味不同。所以然者何? 水土异也。今民生长于齐不盗,入楚则盗,得无楚之水土使民善盗耶?”王笑曰:“圣人非所与熙也,寡人反取病焉。”

  9. James Chiang China said,

    April 19, 2007 at 12:35 pm

    I try to translate some, but it is not very good.
    Yàn Zǐ ,an ambassador of Country Qi, was sent on a diplomatic mission to Country Chu. The emperor of Chu wanted to insult he.
    The emperor of Chu showed Yàn Zǐ a thief. The thief was a people of Qi and caught stealing in Chu. The emperor asked Yàn Zǐ why the people of Qi behave so bad. Yàn Zǐ answered,” the orange planted in south is very sweet, but planted in north is very bitter. Why? Because of the circumstance.
    The people of Qi in their native country behave good and they in Chu behave bad. So, we can say it’s not the people of Qi bad, it’s the Country Chu bad.”

    Ben, are you the thief? :)

  10. Danielle Germany said,

    April 19, 2007 at 7:33 pm

    Hey you people please stop misunderstanding Ben!!! He has just given the bank a lesson, which EVERY bank should learn!!!!! F&&& the so-called “customer always comes first” policy! It only counts when it does good to the banks. When it is the other way round, who cares about us “god-like-customers”???? Ben i back you up. You have done a marvelous job! If it was like 100,000 RMB, i am sure you would have reture the money. But just 100 Kuai, who cares? I absolutely understand you! I am also searching for such a chance for revenge:) Sometimes the service trades are just too vicious… They need teachers like Ben……

  11. Peter Denmark said,

    April 20, 2007 at 8:04 pm

    I agree with Bens choice and arguments. Only minus I see is what cate said about deducting the 10% from the bank lady’s salery.

    Personally I would return the money, but hey, I live in Denmark, where we don’t get screwed THAT much by the banks, so what do I know :-)

  12. China Law Blog United States said,

    April 21, 2007 at 1:21 am

    I would say you should make the bank abide by its policy, but my fear is that the payment will come from the teller for whom this will be quite a lot of money.

    When I was living in Chicago, I used a well known house cleaning company and two Polish women who spoke no English would come out and clean. On maybe their third or fourth time, they put my $300 sweater in the wash and completely ruined it. I called the company and said that the sweater should not have been washed (it was definitely not in the wash pile) and I wanted them to buy me a new one. The guy said no problem, he would dedect $150 from each of the two women’s paychecks. I called back ten minutes later and said forget the $300, you are f-cking fired. Somehow or other, I think my story is somewhat analogous to yours. You want to get back at the bank and I side with you on that, but you had better first make sure who is giong to be the one actually getting hit.

  13. dezza Hong Kong said,

    April 24, 2007 at 12:02 am

    well done ben! i would have done the same thing. Now run, don’t walk to your nearest (newly opened) foreign bank. You won’t see signs like that at HSBC, BEA, Citibank:)

  14. Coree T. China said,

    April 24, 2007 at 6:57 pm

    You can choose to follow your own policy or to follow the bank’s policy. If those policies are the same, then no problem. But if you follow the latter policy over the former policy, then you’ve done yourself a disservice.

  15. marcelproust Australia said,

    April 27, 2007 at 6:20 pm

    I bet it comes out of the teller’s salary. She doesn’t choose the sign about counting your money, even if she might profit from it sometimes. Tricky call. But I know what someone else said about otherwise living the death from a thousand cuts. You just better be careful if you ever go back to that bank again!

  16. Anonymous Hong Kong said,

    April 29, 2007 at 11:17 am

    Return the money, Ben. It doesn’t seem to beright to keep the 116.2 RMB.

  17. Troy United States said,

    May 7, 2007 at 2:13 pm

    Counterfeit money from a bank…..?
    If you can’t trust a bank to give you legal tender then who in the hell can you trust ? You would think that of all people , a bank would be checking it’s bills prior to distribution.
    Just my 2 cents !

  18. Lawrence (小杜) China said,

    May 9, 2007 at 11:13 pm

    I’m betting it comes out of her salary, thats why she asked you 2 or 3 times…
    Its China, and thats how things work. So, really, a pyhrric victory.
    Suggest go back to the bank, and ask the teller if she has to pay for it…, then decide what to do.

    (And yes, we’ve all been screwed over by fake RMB notes from the bank if we’ve been here long enough…)

    Luckily for me, the local xin bai ke is more than happy to take them off my hands, thus completing the cycle.

  19. Heilong Ireland said,

    May 24, 2007 at 5:20 am

    Dont worry ben its the chinese way, they know sometimes you win sometimes you lose, that day she lost. People are used to getting ripped off in china. Remember it is the girls mistake and thats how we learn.

  20. 本是个贱货 China said,

    June 7, 2007 at 9:45 pm

    老子怎么就从来没有见过中国银行ATM机里面有假钞呢 老子从来就没有听说过ATM机里会有假钞
    6。Suck my dick

  21. Benjamin Ross China said,

    June 7, 2007 at 10:44 pm

    This comment was too good not to translate. Corrections always welcome. By the way, the author’s name is “Ben is a piece of shit.”

    Laozi saw a little bit of your blog. You are a piece of shit.
    Laozi wants to give you some free advice.
    You motherfucking whore thigh
    You motherfucker who isn’t happy with anything
    How come Laozi never got fake money from a Bank of China ATM. Laozi has never heard of fake money coming from an ATM eithr.
    According to Laozi’s analysis
    1. You are unlucky. You have dog shit luck. You come across things that nobody else has come across.
    2. You’re bullshitting. Everything is bullshit. It’s all made up.
    3. Other people think you’re especially stupid, so everybody is giving you fake money, otherwise there will be nobody else to give it to.
    4. Fuck your mother
    5. Fuck your girlfriend. How you make friends with her?
    6. (no need to translate)
    You get the fuck back to the US and fuck around.

    Translation note: calling oneself Laozi is the Chinese way of saying “who’s your daddy?”

  22. Jaimie China said,

    July 2, 2007 at 11:00 am

    Great blog… I just started reading, and it was like a good book that I couldn’t put down. Of course, the highly controversial topic fueled by the diverse array of opinions also helped.

    I’m sure the bank puts up notices like that for the likes of men who would otherwise take advantage of the system by returning to the teller window and FALSELY demand for the missing 100 kuai the teller forgot to give or exchange the fake hundred that the teller mistakenly paid out. If you were ever unfortunate enough to have had the same situation happened to you but in honest, then you bear the burden of the vices in others… in otherwards…. “They ruined it for everyone else.” So I can understand a teller’s support in the “bank sign,” as she doesn’t know who to trust (so don’t trust anyone). I would hope tho that if you come into the bank everyday, and both you and the bank tellers have gotten to know each other, they would replace the 100 kuai based on their previous knowledge of you as an honest person, such that you especially are Ben.

    They can’t be at fault for their mistreatment of you as they don’t know who to trust, but you are fully award of the deed you’ve done, so you should return the money to keep your integrity. THEN, of course, fume about it profusely for the next couple of days even though you have done the right thing, meditate the whole thing out of your system, and get back to life while your brain tucks in away as a distant memory.

  23. Woaizhongguo China said,

    July 11, 2007 at 5:58 pm

    It’s confusing reading blogs that use the same WordPress template as me. I am going to have to try and customise mine a bit.

    Anyway, I once went to the back to withdraw 20,000 rmb. When I got to the office i realised I had only one bundle (10,000 rmb) in my bag. I was convinced I had dropped 10,000 rmb somehow along the way and was completely gutted. What a waste, to simply throw away 10,000 rmb. I could have had quite a nice bender with that.

    Imagine my delight when my colleague came over and told me the bank just called and said I’d left 10,000 rmb there!

  24. LT China said,

    July 15, 2007 at 12:01 pm

    It’s a pretty tough call. I like you, also cherish this opportunity to get back a little karmic retribution. In your description, did she ever say sorry, or at least ask real nicely? I know in a lot of cases, it’s still a novelty for someone to interact with a foreigner, so this may have made her a little careless. In the same way, this is often used to take advantage of foreigners a lot.

    I guess if I had the chance to send a last text message I would say this.

    “I’m really sorry about this as I think it was an honest mistake. Normally, I would return the money and it is hard for me not to. But speaking frankly, too many people in China have cheated me out of money, including banks. Rules, regulations or common decency did not protect me then, and so this is the case now for you.

    As you mentioned that as a customer if the same thing had happened to me, I could have returned and had things verified with a camera. In a similar spirit, I would like to ask the bank to please send me copies of all receipts for this interaction, a copy of the Banks Certificate of Business, a copy of your ID card, a copy of your employment contract, a tape of the videotaped interaction, a letter of testimonial from the bank manager about your request, your request in writing admitting your error, a copy of the written notification to the local public police bureau, a copy of the day’s transactions and accounting, plus a copy of the written policy and procedures for this kind of incident, a copy of the national and local regulations that apply to this situation, and maybe a few words from a nice Chinese saying. Upon receiving all of this required documentation, I want to advise you also that there is a Y50 transaction fee, plus a Y20 transportation fee, a Y15 communication fee, and Y20 hassle fee, but other than that I will gladly return to you the Y100, and this Y100 cannot be run thru the checker machine. Please note that you can deposit directly to my account the necessary Y5 fee. My policy is to always provide the highest quality customer response to bank needs!

    Sincerely yours.”

    ….kinda long for a text message. ;p

    (venting happily provided from a fellow receiver of fake bills, who does just really want to do the right thing, honestly!)

  25. Don Allison United States said,

    July 30, 2007 at 2:29 am

    Yes, Ben, sad that you removed my comment. T’is a testament to your mettle as a man, unfortunately. Or, would that be a thief by any other name? The Human Condition. The Age of Immorality. Sad.

  26. Benjamin Ross China said,

    July 30, 2007 at 2:35 pm


    What comment was removed? I do not remove any comments unless they are obviously spam. If you think your comment may have been accidentally removed, resubmit it, and I will make sure it shows.

  27. Thijs China said,

    November 7, 2007 at 12:38 pm

    Great Ben, I feel a bit better after reading your story. We got fake money from an ATM from Merchants Bank in Shenzhen and they just wouldn’t believe it. They said they would look at the security camera…. yeah right. After we came back: still the same result. We didn’t get our money back.

  28. RaMa0999 Australia said,

    April 19, 2010 at 3:09 am

    Unfortunately you had just added to the problem, rather than attempting to solve it. The bank is not punished at all, merely the teller for having to pay for her error out of her pocket.

    Some of my friends are bank tellers and they worry every day about making such mistakes for fear of having to pay severely for their mistakes. Meanwhile the bank CEOs are laughing it up in luxury.

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