One thing terrified me during the first months of living in Israel. I made aliyah in the midst of Second Lebanon War when missiles and rockets were falling. Bomb shelters and red alert warnings were taken in stride.
However, the thought of having to go into an Israel bank was terrifying. Opening a back account, getting a first credit card (with a pathetically low credit line) felt like going from adulthood back to childhood. In order to register for a membership I wanted I was required to make a fifty-shekel payment in one specific bank in central Jerusalem and only that bank. Thankfully, an on-line option became available as I could not get the courage up to go to the bank.
Now new (and not so new) olim have an advantage. The book "Smarter Israeli Banking: The Ultimate Insider's Guide to Personal Banking in Israel" by financial consultant Rifka Lebowitz is available. I am not alone. Lebowitz explains, “When I managed a foreign currency and investment desk in Ramat Bet Shemesh, I recognized that many people are confused and frustrated with the system. I wrote this book to provide an insider's understanding of Israeli banking to make the experience easier, cheaper and less frustrating."
As a new olah attending a twenty-week business course, I remember one statement from Lebowitz was the most enlightening. She informed the class, "Israeli banks are not there to service you. They are in business to make money."
I have been waiting for her book and was not disappointed. 'Smarter Israeli Banking" is a user-friendly guide, filled with tips, as well as useful information on policies and regulations.
Private banking, fees galore (for everything), selecting a branch (yes, it matters), foreign currency, credit cards, checks (oy, to have bank call you and tell you that your check ended up in Ramallah), loans and debt were some of the important topics I marked to refer back to.
Lebowitz initiated a Facebook group 'Living Financially Smarter in Israel' (LFSII) which has grown to almost 20,000 members. The group shares information on many money related topics and financial questions are posed and answered. Helpful LFSII Insider tips are found throughout the chapters offering valuable advice.
A glossary at the end of the book in Hebrew and English, with the transliteration of common banking terms is also helpful. A valuable list of resources and a few banking stories to make you smile round out this worthwhile new book.
At the book launch for 'Smarter Israeli Banking' held at Hub Etzion in Gush Etzion, Lebowitz was joined by fellow financial consultant and former banker, Shuey Fogel. One woman in the audience said she has been living in Israel for 50 years and she learned something new.
Recently back from a pre-aliyah speaking tour for Nefesh BeNefesh, Lebowitz says, "Remember nothing is written in stone." Now with valuable information in hand, one can go into an Israeli bank with new found confidence to smarter banking and save money. We cannot change the system, but we now have a tool to better understand. Think "supermarket selling products" and those banking fees for every transaction make sense.
Title: Smarter Israeli Banking
Author: Rifka Lebowitz
Price: 65 NIS, $19.99