One day soon after my arrival in Paris, a co-worker starting talking to me about “my banker”. I remember thinking he was pretty full of himself. Sure, I had a checking account with Citibank in New York, but I didn’t consider the representative who set up the account and never spoke to me again my personal banker.

Galerie Vivienne

As it turns out, this particular colleague was entirely full of himself. But the reason was not because he referred nonchalantly to his personal banker as if this were perfectly normal. Come to find out, in France, it is normal.

This summer, my banker touched base to ask if I could come in for a personal consultation. In fact, she insisted I come in to meet her in person and not just conduct the yearly bilan by phone. I was surprised. No one from my bank in New York has ever offered to meet with me (for no extra charge) to go over my financial situation. So I agreed to make a trip out to Saint-Mandé where my BNP Paris branch is located.

I was expecting the meeting to take about 20 minutes. Two hours later, I finally emerged. We covered a whole array of topics: the tax implications of the various accounts available to me, my current mortgage and the possibility of re-negotiating to shorten the term (and therefore decrease the interest rate), the possibility of purchasing life insurance through the bank…. Banks in France seem to offer many more services than banks in the United States. Just about any kind of insurance (auto insurance, homeowner’s insurance, life insurance, etc.) can be purchased through the bank. BNP Paribas is now rolling out a new program in which they have teamed up with Orange, France Telecom’s cellular phone provider, to offer cell phones to account holders that are pre-programmed with software that allows you to pay at certain establishments (grocery stores, large chain stores) directly through your iphone. The most surprising service offered? Apparently BNP Paribas has a 24/7 number you can access for a mere 3 euros per month (half of which you get back when you do your taxes) and by calling this number, you can reserve a cleaning person, a gardener, even a babysitter! I am still having trouble conceptualizing exactly how this service relates to banking, but hey, diversification of services and products can’t be a bad thing in this delicate economy, right?

I may have initially resented having to take half a day out of my life to meet with “my banker”. But I came out of the meeting impressed that even in the Republic’s capital, I have a real person and not just an automated service I can call any time. France may have a problem with enlarged bureaucracies, but when such personalized service is offered in the private sector, I genuinely appreciate it.