Ask Hans-Torsten: Bank accounts

Setting up a first bank account in Berlin is a monumental task facing expats. Get a helping hand from Hans-Torsten Richter as he shares his advice on opening your first 'Geldkonto'.

Image for Ask Hans-Torsten: Bank accounts

Hans-Torsten Richter answers your questions about surviving and thriving in Berlin. Write to [email protected].

Dear Hans-Torsten,

I’m new and need a bank account. Which bank would you recommend?

Amelia Talbot

Hans-Torsten: In a city where many ATMs charge €5 to withdraw €20 – and where paying with plastic is still often shunned – the ability to withdraw cash free-of-charge easily is paramount. One approach is to simply get an account with the nearest proper-looking bank to your house.

What’s a proper bank? Well, in my humble opinion, forget about Postbank and its apparent convenience. You’ll have to make an appointment with a Postbank staffer, usually an overworked postal clerk who’ll half-heartedly try to sell you life insurance – or you can call an expensive hotline (€0.42/minute!). My fling with Postbank ended with their stingy overdraft policy and the fact that all of their ATMs near my home smell of piss or never have money in them.

A plus is that Postbank belongs to the 9000-strong Cash Group ATM network, but so does its parent, Deutsche Bank. The evil giant has benefits: the only full English-language online banking I know of in Germany, slick branches and pleasant lounge areas with free bonbons. Staff are friendly, often speak English and will rapidly sweet-talk you into consumer loans and investment funds. No free accounts, though: cough up at least €4.99/month for the service.

For those who love the warm, fuzzy feeling of a state-owned bank with an impressive free-withdrawal ATM network (24,600 across the country), Sparkasse is your place. A current account is only €2/month and worth it. It’s also easy to just walk in and actually talk to some non-threatening lady with bright red hair.

For digital natives requiring no human contact, Commerzbank online-only subsidiary Comdirect offers a free-of-charge current account and free Cash Group ATM use, but you’ll find yourself talking to a “service computer” a lot.

If you want your money to do no evil, maybe GLS Bank is for you. With the €2/month current account, you can be sure your cash is invested in socially and ecologically sound projects. They even have a branch in Mitte for consultations, and their ATM network in Berlin ain’t bad either.

Originally published in issue #114, March 2013.