No, You Don’t Keep Your Money in the Bank
This is a key money-management lesson you learn when you live in Azerbaijan: the bank is not for keeping money. Instead, it’s the new distributor of your ration card.
Azerbaijan has had ATMs (“Bankomat”) for about 10 years, and the functionality of the machine is not very well known amongst the older crowd. On pensioner days, the government fills their accounts and they all head to the ATM to clean them out. Katie and I got into the mob around our ATM and slowly pushed our way forward, much to the curiosity of retirees around us (“Do they know how to use these machines?”,”Are they pensioners, too?”). It took us about 40 minutes, but it was all part of the experience. When we reached the front, a bundled, wrinkly woman tapped my arm and handed her card with her pin number to me, not saying anything. I smiled back as all the women around informed her that I didn’t speak Azerbaijani or Russian. She responded by scrunching up her face in laughter–she believed in me. I managed to surpass expectations by mentioning a few things in Azerbaijani and clearing out the account for her!
If you ever go to an bankomat in Azerbaijan, the people are crowding you because they want to get help from you on using it themselves. A few things we’ve realized about banks since we’ve been here: First, people don’t really trust banks. They are relatively new institutions, since the fall of the USSR ~20 years ago. This is still a mostly cash economy, and the use of things like checks or credit cards is very small. Something like a debit card wouldn’t really make sense here, even in Azerbaijan’s second-largest city.
Second, most of these people coming to the ATMs are pensioners, receiving their monthly or bi-weekly fund payment. I can’t help but draw the connection between the days of Soviet times, with ration lines, corresponding to this new way of getting your money. Instead of some Communist cadre handing out your stipend, you go to this machine that spits out the money for you. And you wouldn’t leave part of your ration with your Communist pal, just like you won’t leave any of that money in the bank account. That woman I helped wanted all 75 Manat out of her account, and that’s what she got, whether she needed it or not.