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The reason for writing this review was because there are many English speaking people who have the need for a Bank account in France, due to having second homes here, or perhaps because they are moving to France. Having been through the experience of comparing this bank with another, I thought it sufficiently important to say why I believe that Credit Agricole are worth looking at, from a clients' point of view, but also to outline the weak spots in what they have to offer.
I used to be with Societe Generale, whom I found to be large and somewhat imposing and unfriendly. Their tellers seemed almost to snub the customer, and their rates of interest were not actually of much benefit to me. I had a ten year mortgage with them and during the time I was with them, didn't have a lot of confidence about the way in which they treated me as a customer. Upon clearing up the mortgage, I felt that I was sufficiently fluent, and capable of making my own choice of Bank. One of the biggest disadvantages of Societe Generale was the fact that their branches were so far apart, meaning that if I wanted to go on holiday for example, or just use another Branch in another town, invariably I was disappointed to find they did not have a Branch.
Looking at the alternatives, the bank that kept coming up even in small towns all over France was Credit Agricole. Signing up to have a Bank account is simple, although proof of who you are is necessary in the form of a passport (for anyone other than the French). They offer two types of current account, one being for residents, and one for non residents. Mine is a resident's one, and I am charged monthly at 3.50 GBP for a service charge which I used to question and think unreasonable. However, upon having had the peace of mind that this offers me, I understand now that it is a small price to pay for what you get. In France, cheques do not have to be used in conjunction with a cheque card, and this means that cheque books are an area where theft could mean the loss of a great deal of money. Credit cards themselves are also covered under the service charge against internet fraud, and against use by third parties.
As for what the bank offers, there is actually quite a lot. I have both a current and savings account, though with the standard savings account, there is a limit to how much each individual can have in what they call a "Codevi". The limit is the equivalent of 3000 Pounds per person, and thus it was an advantage to have two, one in my name and one in my husbands' name, as the Codevi gives a good interest rate, whilst being accessible immediately. It's a standard savings account that both the resident and non resident can have.
Above this level, Credit Agricole have various long term investment schemes, and I belong to two, one being a savings plan that takes a small amount monthly from my current account, and that gives me the right to borrow double the amount I have saved at any time an emergency occurs. The other is a very good income plan, which pays me a set amount of interest every three months, which is determined in advance, and at the end of the period of ten years, I am able to choose whether to reinvest. It's a handy account and pays direct into my current account.
Credit Agricole do not stop there. They offer good packages for people wanting to place all their insurances in the same place. I have my household insurance, car insurance, life insurance and health insurance with them at quite competitive rates, and by giving them all the insurances at the same time, was able to negotiate a deal. They were also very helpful with the car insurance for my husband, who had been driving under my insurance for years and had lost his no claims bonus. Because we were clients of theirs for a long time, they actually gave us no claims bonus for my husband on the insurance of his car.
Another good thing about Credit Agricole is that they take loans seriously. It's actually law here that people that want to take out bridging loans have a seven day cooling off period, but what is not so cleverly written down with other banks is what qualifies a person to have a loan in the first place. Credit Agricole have taken this seriously and do check out the information given by you, which I know other banks do not and keep you advised every step of the way. Car loans are common in France and I had mine spread so that the payments were easily affordable.
So what is the experience like ?
Compared to Societe Generale, Credit Agricole do seem to be a caring Bank. They are willing to listen to what the customer wants, and to advise on what is best for you. I found it a strange concept that they actually advised me against one investment in favour of another which would have made them more money as opposed to me. I believe that Banks that give honest information win at the end of the day because they keep the loyalty of their customers. Cheque cards are kept in the Branch rather than sent out, and I like the security aspect of this. They do have many cash machines, and in most Branches seem to give you the friendly approach, which makes the Bank feel more like a family affair than the huge bank that they are. I think the manner in which they do this is that every county is separated, and as such is relatively small, instead of national.
Car Insurance with French Banks is strange. If you have three accidents, no matter whose fault they are, a Bank will refuse to insure you. I don't like this very much at all since I have had two accidents where the other parties have paid all expenses and feel that Credit Agricole let their customers down with such a policy. I have stayed with them, although am looking for Insurance with an insurance company rather than the Bank, as I do not wish to gain a reputation of having been refused insurance.
Bank Statements are always about three weeks old when they arrive. Never a big problem for me, since the bank will happily give you an up to date print out when you want one.
Site navigation on their website is not as easy as British Banks, and rather than be niggled by it, I do not use this option.
It's a bank that cares enough to advise and advise well. Plenty of Branches, loads of cash machines. Good prices for insurances. Payment of claims in general are very fast. Reports of missing cards are dealt with without the use of call centres. Many staff do speak English. I get to socialise with my Bank Manager on a first name basis, not just because of how much money I have, as in the UK (my experience), but because they are actually very welcoming and seem to have time for their customers. Never huge queues and senior staff always available to talk. Small friendly offices that make the experience a refreshing one.
All in all, it's a darned good Bank, and one I would happily recommend.