Guarding one's life savings under a mattress still happens frequently here, and for a variety of very legitimate reasons. The overwhelming reason is that traditional banks make it impossible for the average citizen to open a savings account. For example, banks require at least a 500 peso deposit (for the last few years, this was roughly 50USD), and many require at least double that. Furthermore, they often require a monthly minimum deposit of 1000 pesos (100 USD), or the bank will cancel the account. I haven't been able to find out whether the client gets their money back, or if the bank just keeps it, as if it was meant to be a generous donation to their already profitable financial institution. This is on top of a plethora of random maintence fees, massive amounts of documentation, paperwork, and co-signers needed to open an account. (Not to mention that most people simply don't have much money to save after basic expenses are paid each week.) Therefore, if one winds up with spare change, it goes under the mattress.
Sometime around 5 years ago, I noticed these tiny little Banco Aztecas opening all over the place, prinipally in a corner of the chain store, Elektra. Elektra is a regular department store, but offers financing options for everything they sell . . . stoves, refrigerators, irons, underwear . . . pay 30 pesos a week for a year and that VCR will be officially yours! Clearly a good option in a country where the majority of the population can't dream of paying for these things upfront or qualify for a credit card (where I've seen interest rates advertised at 52%!). Given Elektra's profitable financing option, they finally decided that perhaps the average citizen may just appreciate having access to a bank. Therefore, Banco Azteca was born.
Clients can open a savings account with just 50 pesos. They claim that they do not charge maintence fees. They still provide clients with debit cards, backed by Visa. They give away raffle tickets for each deposit a client makes. And within the last 5 years, they've become the most successful bank in Mexico. Amazing what happens when a bank makes it clear that they actually appreciate having clients.
And no, this post was not paid for by Banco Azteca. I've just been searching out my options, and been appalled by the big banks. My motto for living in Mexico has often been, "let's make everything as difficult as possible." I'm so impressed that there is a business out there that actually sees fit to run things the easy way. In my experience, the easy way has never been the Mexican way. Here's hoping that it will be someday.