Managing Your Money in A Pandemic

For expats dealing with tax authorities, other government departments, banks and other financial institutions in their home countries, life has become more and more complex in recent years. It is a particular challenge for the older generation who did not grow up in a digital age. If expats lived in their home country they might stand a better chance of getting support but if you are handling your financial affairs from overseas it can be a gruelling experience. Sometimes the problem can be that the institutions cannot keep up with the times.

Take the example of British pensioners. Every couple of years their friendly Ministry of Pensions sends out a ‘life certificate’ that must be completed, signed, witnessed and returned to them. If they are not returned on time their pensions are stopped! The problem is that they are sent out by post and the post can take two months or even longer to reach the recipients in Indonesia. I have heard of cases of British pensioners in Bali having their pensions stopped as a result. To get them reinstated can involve long and difficult phone calls to the UK. No doubt expat pensioners of other nationalities have experienced similar problems. And this was before the pandemic!


The pandemic has compounded the problems

Due to Covid-19 restrictions, sending mail out of Indonesia has been seriously hindered. An additional problem for British expats is that UK government offices have PO boxes in place of physical addresses so are not acceptable to courier services. They can be contacted by phone but most civil servants are still working from home and it is possible to spend hours trying to get through to a person who can resolve the problem.

The issue is not just with government departments. It can also be difficult dealing with banks during the pandemic. Some financial institutions such as life companies have even closed their help lines. The only way to get through to them is by email. Some are actually quite efficient but a report this week in a Financial Times publication revealed the widespread frustration of financial advisers over delays and service standards by providers such as life companies.

The report stated that the worst delays seemed to affect life insurance claims and withdrawals. As a result of the pandemic many savers have faced financial difficulties following the loss of employment or closure of a business. Reluctantly, some have been forced to cash in part or all of their savings only to face long delays in receiving the proceeds.


Three months’ wait to receive pension

A report from the same source last July stated that three quarters of savers had to wait a month or longer to access their pension savings during the lockdown. Research from consolidator PensionBee at the same time found that out of 961 people aged 55 to 70 surveyed more than 20% had to wait more than three months to receive their pension, while 14% had to wait five months or more.

Sometimes delays are due to failure on the part of the customer to provide all the compliance documentation required, such as certified proof of ID and proof of address, frequently a tricky issue in Bali. I recall on one occasion having to obtain a letter from a village head confirming that a client had built a property on the outskirts of the village but no address had been allocated.

But I can also vouch personally for some of the financial institutions’ service standards. Only just a few days ago a client received the proceeds of a surrendered savings plan after many weeks’ delay. The delay was exacerbated by the bank transfer mis-spelling his name in different ways three times. Indonesian banks are very strict on receiving precise details, even when it is obvious an account is the correct one. Three times the client’s money was returned to the life company concerned. How could that happen? Well, we know that the company’s staff were working from home so we can only assume the employee’s working conditions were not the same as at the office. Maybe the employee was distracted by noisy children? Or perhaps the cat jumped on the keyboard while the account number was being typed! Whatever, the result was a long delay in the client’s receiving his money.


These are the problems but what are the solutions?

An end to the pandemic will of course solve many of the problems. In the meantime we have to be patient and understand that people and companies across the world are doing their best to adapt to a first-in-a-lifetime experience of a global pandemic. Some have adapted extremely well such as home delivery businesses and companies involved in global communications.

But in the meantime, when dealing with companies that look after our money we can help ourselves by:

  • Keeping documents and records up-to-date
  • Maintaining all contact details of the relevant banks or companies
  • Keeping current copies of utility bills, bank or credit card statements etc as proof of residential address
  • Making sure bank details are entered clearly and legibly in any forms submitted
  • No harm in reminding institutions to enter bank details carefully and accurately when making transfers
  • Allowing plenty of time. Everyone is under pressure during the pandemic and many people have suffered directly or indirectly from its impact

Some positive things are coming out of the pandemic experience. Many companies are now accepting screenshots and scanned copies of documents and no longer insisting on the laborious task of sending original hard copies by expensive courier. Digital signatures are now becoming more acceptable. We hope that some of these changes will become permanent.

The clouds may still be dark but there is always a silver lining!


Colin Bloodworth, Chartered Member of the Chartered Institute for Securities and Investment (UK), has spent over 20 years in Indonesia. He is based in Jakarta but visits Bali regularly in normal times! If you have any questions on this article or related topics or would like to receive a free monthly newsletter on financial matters you can contact him at


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