The banks in the region have long led the world in the field of electronic banking, and there are transactions available which you can do either from an ATM (automatic teller machine) or from your home computer. Banks offer a wide range of services, including personal and commercial banking, investment and insurance services, and personal, commercial and mortgage loans. Most larger banks have websites containing information about the services they offer, including online banking, and in some cases application forms.
Despite the spread of electronic banking, it’s still necessary to have at least a current account (compte à vue/zichtrekening) in your country of residence, as cross-border bank transactions can be expensive and complicated. Online banking, using bank-supplied software or via the Internet, is widespread nowadays and many people make use of ‘genuine’ e-banks (banks operating entirely online, where you can open an account from the comfort of your home and never actually see your banker). Some online banks also offer a full range of investment and loan services, complete with downloadable application forms.
Usually, there are no costs to open a standard current account that includes debit and credit cards, or for the use of ATMs and Internet banking facilities. Some banks may charge for certain services, although they may offset charges by paying a (very small) rate of interest on your average account balance each month (provided you remain in credit). Most banks offer a variety of ‘package programmes’ which include a possible annual fee for the various bank cards, online banking access, a number of transactions at bank machines and often some form of account insurance.
You can arrange to receive bank statements at regular intervals (daily, monthly, quarterly or annually) or to pick them up at your branch or simply print them at a bank machine or from your home computer. Bank fees are usually deducted directly from your account either quarterly or at the end of the year.
Traditionally, there have been three major banks in Belgium, although buy-outs and mergers have changed some of the names, which are currently BNP Paribas Fortis, ING Bank and KBC. Bank account numbers are standardised in Belgium, the first few digits indicating the bank and branch to which the account belongs.
Most banks are open from 9am to 4 or 4.30pm Mondays to Fridays and a few are open on Saturdays. Many smaller branches close for an hour at lunchtime (usually 1 to 2pm).