Payments Predicament

There is so much in Brazil that is advanced. For example, the
cinema experience (see Segregation Cinema). And I saw a parking security guard rolling around the complex on a Segway the other day.  Yet there is so much that is still so behind.

Consumer banking in Brazil is another one of those curious processes that reeks of inefficiency.

Instead of dropping off a check at the source of the service for something like, say, rent or school, you must take the bill the bank. Not your bank, but the bank of the vendor. Not ideal from a customer service stand point. But that’s just the beginning.

I’ve only done this a few times so far, usually my husband takes it on, but I will be shouldering more of this task moving forward. We’ve been here almost a year now, I’ve run out of excuses not to. Let me tell you, it’s a painful process. There is always a line (sometimes I drag my daughter with to get in the preferential line, but she’s getting a bit old now…). A line despite the many employees behind the counter who are “working” but not working. At least not working on helping customers. One time I counted and there were more people not working behind the counter than there were in line. The fact that I didn’t completely freak out at this shows how much I’ve relaxed and grown as a person since being in Brazil (ok, ok – it shows that I still haven’t learned to yell, complain and threaten in Portuguese…) God forbid you go on the 30th or the 1st of the month when everyone in the country is paying their bills. Lines out the door.

Yesterday I thought I might buck the system. I needed to make a deposit to a hotel that we will be staying at next month in Tiradentes (yes, this is also common and annoying). So I went to a small Bradesco branch on a side street a few blocks from where we live.  I walked through the door and found only one large window. No line. “HA,” I thought. “This is going to be quick and easy.”

High-tech financial tools at Bradesco

However, my theory was reliant on the idea that someone might actually come to the window. I saw two people working, but as soon as I got to the counter they disappeared. I could hear them on an adding machine in the back room. I must have waited over 10 minutes. I realized that I hadn’t waited in line at a bank in… years. Maybe ten. Payments in the U.S. are made by check or online. I would only need to stand in line if I needed a money order or something.
(Some payments here in Brazil, like utilities, are actually made online, or automatically withdrawn, which is great – unless your bill was wrong and then you must spend hours upon hours for months trying to retrieve your money.)


When the guy finally emerged, I thought about telling him that I knew the president of the bank (I don’t) and demanding his name. But I realized that lying was an insane reaction to an insane situation. I did ask him name (something that usually scares people just a little in the U.S.), but he thought I was just being friendly. And he turned out to be really nice.

There was no malicious intent in making me wait. He hadn’t been in the back mocking me, flipping through a magazine. He was just doing… something else. As my husband often says, simply “it is what it is.” From a business perspective, it’s an interesting quandary. Would a consumer bank gain market share if they improved their customer service? Considering most of the people in line aren’t their actual customers because they are making payments TO the customers of the bank, shortening the lines may have an impact so minimal that it would not justify the cost of doing so.

But for me, I’m taking notes. If any bank approaches me to get my business (which would be quite worthless right now since my income is less than that of my housekeeper’s) I’m planning on initiating a change in the system and letting them know I will not bank with them because of my bad customer experience in their branches. Well, that is, as soon as I learn to say all that in Portuguese.

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21 Responses to Payments Predicament

  1. Danielle says:

    Do you know you can make deposits into people’s accounts at other banks through the ATM if you have their account number? You don’t have to wait in the teller line — just the ATM line– which is usually a bit shorter. We had to pay our rent at the landlord’s bank, too, but I just did it at the ATM. With big companies (like our car insurance), they give us an agência and an account number, and also some kind of ID number (I think it’s called DI or NI or some acronym like that). It distinguishes your payment from the presumably high number of payments into that account. When you’re making the deposit at the ATM, it gives you the option of making a deposit with one of those numbers.

    If there are some deposits that you have to make monthly, it’s worth asking the person you’re paying if you can have their direct numbers! Good luck

  2. Danielle says:

    I forgot to say that you don’t have to have an account at that person’s bank to make the ATM deposit (you just choose “depósitos sem cartão” or the equivalent). Also, you don’t have to talk to anyone, which is always a plus!

  3. Great!! No, I had no idea. I wonder why no one suggested this earlier…

  4. Ana says:

    you can pay at the ATM machine or making a TED online from your bank account to their bank account.

  5. workmomad says:

    Fascinating! And no one gets upset or complains? Wow!


  6. Corinne says:

    You can do almost all (if not all) of your banking transactions online. You can make transfers (DOC for amounts less than R$5000 and TED for transactions more the R$5000) from your account online. There is a charge (between R$5 and R$10) for a transfer to an account in another bank. If the person has an account in your same bank (regardless of the branch) there is no charge. You will need the person’s CPF to make the transfer though. You can set up these transfers to happen at periodic intervals if you wish (like once a month). If you get a bill (boleto bancário) for any of your bills, you can pay that online too. There is a different link for whether it is títulos (rent, insurance, school, etc.) or utilities. The títulos can only be paid online until they are due, if you miss it, you are stuck waiting in line at the bank the bill was issued, but utilities can be paid online late. However, you do not have to wait until it is due to pay online – you can pay early or even schedule the bill to be paided online at a certain date (like the due date). You can also use the ATM to pay bills and make deposits like Danielle said, however the bill paying must be from an ATM where you have your account, whereas you do not need to have an account to make a deposit via ATM. I think a lot of people wait in line because they do not have bank accounts (a lot of people earning up to 3 minimum salaries get paid in cash) or don’t trust the internet (which is my husband’s reason). However, I have been doing all banking via internet for almost 10 years now in Brazil and have not had a problem. You can even send money via Western Union or wire transfer internationally online (for Banco do Brasil).

      The curious thing is that my Brazilian husband told me this is how it has to be done (I wonder…. maybe that passive aggressiveness is rearing it’s head…) But he and my mother-in-law both have accounts and both stand in line. (Ok, my mother-in-law stands in line cause she can barely use the internet.)
      Hmmm. This is a mystery I must solve by showing him all of these comments.
      Thanks for your comments and suggestions!!

    • Ana says:

      I agree w Corinne….u can do almost everything online.
      Lots of poor people don’t even have internet so they go there. Also lots of “moto boys”.

  7. Ray says:


    Many of these things mentioned by Danielle and Corinne are somewhat new, I didn’t even know about them in such details, my brother usually tells me people don’t need to stay in line anymore and everything can be done on the ATM’s or on line from your computer.
    Perhaps, your husband, ( like me) isn’t aware of the new changes, considering you guys were living in the US until recently.
    I can almost guarantee you all those people at the lines inside the banks are people who are not technology savvy or afraid of computers and prefer to go and wait and have it done the “old school” way.
    I have always known that Brazilian banks are the most advanced in the world. Banks from other countries, including the US and Europe are always learning from Brazilian banks and adopting their technological advances.
    The reason Brazilian banks got so sophisticated was because they had to adapt to survive during the crazy inflation years, in the late 70’s and during the 80’s.
    When I lived in Brazil in the 90’s, I always used the “office boys” at the places I worked and never ever stayed in line for anything.
    Great post, thanks for sharing. I really needed to learn all these new bank tricks in preparation for my return 😉


  8. Hi,

    If the bill you have to pay has a bar code (and most of them have now) you can go to your ATM, select “Pagamentos”, then there is an option “com código de barra”. You’ll see a red light flashing, you just need to put the bar code under the flashing and the machine will read it. Sometimes, depending on what you’re paying, it will ask how much of the bill you want to pay, and confirm the date.
    For bills that exceed the amount of money that you can withdrawal from your account using the ATM card you’ll probably will have to go in the regular line. This is what happens to my grandmother health care plan.
    For telephone, electric bill, IPTU, cable, gas etc it’s easier if you go to your bank and ask to do the recurring payment (Debito automatico).
    You only need to go the the bank where the bill is from if you have passed due date. If you look at your bill it’ll probably be written somewhere: “Pagável em qualquer banco até o vencimento”, which means, you can pay in any bank before due date.
    I think that a lot of people go to the regular line because they have problems to understand the ATM machine and/or don’t have internet access.
    I’m living in US for two and half years now and I just can’t understand why they don’t have bar codes here. Actually when I saw that I would have to send the check to pay some bills by mail I thought to myself, “this is weird”, and I just asked for recurring payment whenever possible. Cultural differences :).

    Good luck there 🙂

    • Bar codes! Bar codes! Yes! There is a bar code on my daughter’s tuition bill! Brilliant!
      Thanks for your comment!
      Wait, do I need to go to that bank’s ATM or just my own bank’s ATM.

      • Just go to your ATM, easy breezy :). (This options “Pagamentos” will appear after you pass your card through the machine and put your pin number).
        Remember, if it is past due date, then you have to take the regular line on the other bank. You can’t use their ATM for late payments because you don’t have an account there, and the payment option only shows to you after you pass your card through the machine.
        On an ATM from other banks you can do deposits, as Danielle explained earlier, or use it to withdrawal money from your account if your bank is part of the “Rede 24 horas” (small fee sometimes applied).

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