Banks and equality: why we have to turn down one French woman's payment every day


Every day we have to tell one of our French female customers that she cannot make a payment from a joint account - her husband will need to make the payment instead. And every single time it happens we find ourselves wondering how we ended up in this Victorian flash-back. Traditionally, on July 14th, we celebrate the storming of the Bastille - the start of the Republique and the equality between its citizens. Women have had to fight long and hard for those equal rights granted to them and while the gender equality revolution has made huge strides, it has been slow to reach the banking sector in France.

Banks have been challenged by incumbents on every aspect of their business and they’ve had to embrace innovation or risk losing out. French banks have not only been slow to embrace new technology; they appear even more detached from many other ways in which society is changing.

At Wise, on average we have to tell one woman in France a day that we have received a payment that looks like it came from a joint account she shares with her husband. Unfortunately however, because her name is not included on the account, we are unable to process her request.

In France, a payment coming from a joint account - let’s call our married couple Jean Dupont and Louise Martin - will look like it comes from “Mr and Mrs Jean Dupont” - no mention of the woman’s name whatsoever. These stubborn leftovers are still lingering from a time when a woman was not allowed to work without her husband’s permission, when she was not allowed to open a bank account of her own. Women in France earned the right to open a bank account 52 years ago. We shouldn’t tolerate this insult to feminism for a right acquired in the last millennium.

On the Internet, we can find a deluge of examples where married women who chose to keep their own surnames see themselves being addressed with their husband’s name in all official correspondence without ever having consented to it.

By law, choosing between your own surname or your husband’s is a personal choice that cannot be imposed on you. Yet, these women are still reduced to Mrs Husband’s Name.

In the aftermath of marriage equality, the sheer absurdity of this antiquated system becomes even more apparent. How will the problems with already outdated IT systems described above affect same sex couples? Would one of them be forced to become a Monsieur Partner’s Name or a Madame Partner’s Name?

The Republique is gearing up for its 228th birthday. We hope that when it blows out 229 candles next year, we can consider this bureaucratic trivialisation of women a thing of the past. We want to make a birthday wish that banks update their systems to avoid succumbing to anachronisms, and respond to the pressures being applied by fintech companies who have embraced the reality of a modern society.

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