When my wife and I moved to Mexico from the United States back in 2015, one of the first things that we did was open a Mexican bank account.
The bank account comes in handy whenever we need to pay someone for a product or service. For example, if we hire a carpenter to do some work at our condo, we pay him electronically through the online banking portal. This is much safer than taking a large quantity of cash out of the bank.
The thing that I like best about online banking in Mexico is that is more secure than what I was used to in the United States. I know that line will come as a surprise to many of our readers, so I’ll explain further.
One of the things that makes online banking in Mexico so secure is the use of a security device called a token that is requied to complete any online transaction. The security token issues a unique code that expires soon after issued.
My first token was a small plastic device with a button on it. I could access my online account without it just by entering my username and password; however, if I wanted to move money or make any changes to the account, I had to push the button on the device and enter the eight digit code quickly before the code expired.
As an additional security measure, transfers over $8000 pesos can only be done during business hours.
Over the past few years, banks have been replacing physical tokens with digital ones that are stored on your cellphone. To access the token, you have to enter a separate password or PIN.
It’s important to note that you have to have a Mexican cellphone number to use the digital token. This has been a source of frustration for many foreigners who open bank accounts in Mexico only to discover they can’t do any online banking.
The digital token is not only linked to your Mexican cellphone number, it’s also linked to the specific phone you installed it on. That means that anytime you get a new phone, you have to take an hour or so out of your day to visit the local branch of your bank to get the new token activated.*
The purpose of the face-to-face visit is to verify your identity, which is not always as simple as it sounds. I had to do it last week, so I decided to share my experience so you could see what I mean.
The next section is a little long, so if you really don’t care about my little side trip or you’re just running short on time, feel free to skip to Let’s Wrap This Up.
* This requirement varies by financial institution
My Experience Getting a New Token (Optional)
When I arrived at the bank, I was able to get right in to see one of the account executives. I told her why I was there and she asked to see my passport for identification purposes.
She made copies of the passport and printed two documents out. The first one cancelled the old token from my broken phone and the second issued me a new token for my current phone. I signed both documents and she rejected one of my signatures. She said it wasn’t identical to the one in the passport.
Anyone who has been in Mexico very long knows that whenever you sign an official document, the signature better exactly match the one on the identification you presented.
The account executive reprinted that document, and I signed it. Apparently, my second attempt was as bad as the first because without saying a word, she hit a key on her computer and I heard her printer sound again.
As she placed the document in front of me for the third time, she told me to carefully look at the signature in my passport before signing it. I have to admit, I was starting to feel some test anxiety by this point.
I slowly signed my name as my eyes darted back and forth from my passport to the document. I focused hard on recreating each loop and swirl.
I’m not sure if it was a case of the signature looking perfect or she was just afraid that she would run out of paper, in any case, she accepted it. I was tempted to ask her for a copy of it to hang on my refrigerator at home.
But, I wasn’t done yet. She said that since I didn’t open my account at that particular branch, she couldn’t physically inspect my file and that meant a few more steps — this time on the phone. She made a call to the main call center for the bank and I had to answer several security questions for the representative on the other line.
Once the phone representative was satisfied that I was who I said I was, she gave me a code that I entered into my cellphone to activate my digital token. From the time I sat down with the account executive, the whole procedure took about 20 minutes.
Let’s Wrap This Up
Even though it was a bit of a pain to get my new token, I do appreciate the banking security measures in Mexico. It makes me feel a lot better about keeping some of our money here.
This article focused mainly on the use of a token for personal banking accounts, but that is not the only security measure Mexican banks will be using in the very near future.
In 2017, the Mexican government enacted new banking regulations via la Comisión Nacional Bancaria y de Valores (CNBV) to mandate that banks use biometric data to prevent frauds and identity theft.
The primary method will be through fingerprints checked against government databases; however, many banks are also implementing other technologies such as facial recognition, voice recognition, and even iris scans.
On the flip side, I can still access my U.S. bank account easily from almost any computer or device with just a username and password. Although that’s certainly more convenient, it’s definitely not as secure.