Banks in Belgium offer a wide variety in services: current (NL: zichtrekening FR: compte à vue) and savings (NL: spaarrekening FR: compte d’épargne) accounts, credit cards (NL: kredietkaart FR: carte de crédit), investment banking, mortgages, other loans, insurance. They also offer advice on how to fill in your tax return, what to do when someone dies (how to minimise the inheritance tax), how to maximise your pension, etc.
The biggest banks in Belgium are ING (www.ing.be), Dexia (www.dexia.be), Fortis (www.fortis.be), and KBC (www.kbc.be). Many banks have special services for expats so you can arrange your bank account and everything you need before you arrive in Belgium.
You can choose whether you want to receive bank statements on a weekly or monthly basis. You can also opt to pick them up from your bank, instead of having them sent to you by mail. Most banks offer online banking services which means you can decide to just download them to your computer.
Banks are usually open from 9h to 16h with a 1-hour lunch break from 12h to 13h.
Current accounts fees range from €20 per year for a basic account, to as much as €150 for accounts with a credit card and other additional services.
Most current accounts have a savings account attached to them. It is not possible to transfer money from a savings account directly to someone else’s account, so the money always needs to pass through your current account.
All banks have counters where you can handle all your bank operations in person. The staff in the bank is usually trained very well and can help you with any question you have. You can also use the ATM (NL: bankautomaat FR: automate bancaire) that most banks offer. ATMs provide the ability to do most basic operations like withdrawing cash, transferring money and checking your balance. Some also let you put balance on pay-as-you-go mobile/cell SIM cards and buying tickets for events such as concerts or the theatre.
Before 2007, all ATM’s were bank-specific, meaning that if you wanted to get money from the machine, you had to take your card to a specific machine that was operated by your bank and no other bank. But this has changed recently, so now you can go to any ATM with any card, and you can get your withdrawal.
More and more people now use ATMs and online banking, so there is a decline in the number of bank branches, some banks may only maintain an ATM in smaller towns and not have an open branch.
Electronic banking is very popular in Belgium. Most banks now allow you to access your account online for free and you can do most transactions online or at an ATM, even recharging your mobile phone can be done at an ATM.
There are even banks that operate completely online (www.rabobank.be) where you can apply for an online bank account, and they send you all the necessary information and you can start your online banking.
More people now are using the online banking instead of phone-banking or going to an ATM.
Most banks also allow you to apply for an account, extra debit card, new credit card, etc. online. Of course you need to send in your identity card and usually a recent pay slip.
Single Euro Payments Area. Banks and governments in Europe have been working together for some time now to make one unified payments zone. 31 countries (27 EU countries plus Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland) are now part of the SEPA program which means that payments can be done much easier (by using the IBAN and BIC number, an international code for bank account numbers) between members of these countries. At the moment you can still use the current national transfer slips, but from 2011 all transactions will be done using the IBAN and BIC number.
As a part of the SEPA program, banks are also phasing out the current system of debit cards and replacing it with Maestro. This is an international debit card system which is already present on most Belgian debit cards.
There are special services for younger people (mostly under 25) so they can get a cheaper bank account and have other benefits such as winning tickets to festivals, etc. Mostly, they get a free bank account, debit card and possibly a credit card. This is how banks try to win over clients, so when they grow older, they will stay with the same bank.