How to talk about banks and banking in English.
Do you need to visit the bank sometimes? Many people do.
And if you go into a bank in an English-speaking country, you will need to use English terms. This can be a little challenging for English learners.
Let me show you exactly what to say and introduce all the right vocabulary for you.
Want to get started? Let’s dive right in!
The Different Kinds of Banks
There are three main types of banks that I would like to introduce to you right now. Most people only need to know about these three main banks.
Commercial Banks/High Street Banks
These are the kind of banks that most people around the world use. They are the banks that we see in every town and city. The kind of banks that can look after people’s money and help with other banking needs such as loans, mortgages and savings.
In America, they call them Commercial Banks. And in the UK, they say High Street Banks.
Common commercial banks in America include JPMorgan, Bank of America, Wells Fargo and Citigroup.
In the UK, common High Street Banks include HSBC Holdings, Lloyds Banking Group, Royal Bank of Scotland Group and Barclays.
Every country has their own commercial banks. The bank that looks after your money is most likely a commercial bank.
- What commercial banks are there in your country?
- What bank do you use? Why do you use this bank?
Central Banks are the banks of the country that look after all the currency of that country. They are there to make sure that the country does not become bankrupt or that other issues such as inflation do not get out of control.
They administer all the money to the commercial banks.
The most important central banks are:
- U.S. Federal Reserve
- European Central Bank
- Bank of England
- Bank of Japan
- Swiss National Bank
- What is the name of the central bank in your country?
- Where is it located?
Currency Exchange/Bureau de Change
These are not officially banks, they are businesses. But many people around the world use them so I have added them here.
These are often small kiosks that can change money from one currency to another. You can find them in many tourist areas or in the centre of big towns or cities.
They often offer more favourable exchange rates than the banks.
- Do you have any bureau de change places in your hometown?
- Why are they there?
- If you wanted to change money, where would you go?
There are many other kinds of banks in the world such as shadow banks, investment banks, cooperative banks, industrial banks and agriculture banks but most people do not need to know about them.
The Two Main Types of Bank Accounts
If you use the services of a bank, then you have a bank account.
But what kind of bank account do you have? Let’s take a look at the most common kinds of bank accounts.
Checking Account/Current Account
This is the most common kind of bank account that people use today.
If you are working, this is where the company pays your salary. It is also the place where you pay your bills and the account that you use to get immediate access to your money.
You can use an ATM to deposit or withdraw money from your account and you can also write a check/cheque which the bank then takes from your account.
Most checking/current accounts today offer internet banking too.
A savings account is exactly what it says — an account where you save your money.
A good savings account will give you some interest on the money saved in your account. This means that each month the bank will add a little extra to your account because you have money saved there.
Usually, it is not a lot of money that they add.
And you should pay no monthly maintenance fees for a savings account.
- What kind of bank account do you have?
- Some countries don’t allow checks/cheques, but still have current accounts. Is your bank like this?
- How can you withdraw or deposit money into your account? What are the methods?
Different Kinds of Bank Cards
These days there are many different kinds of cards that we can use that are connected to our bank account.
Essentially, there are two main kinds of bank cards that people use today — Debit Card and Credit Card.
These are the most common kind of bank cards today. Most people that have a bank account will use a debit card.
You can use your debit card to withdraw money from your bank account using an ATM. You can also use the debit card to pay for items in shops, supermarkets and restaurants — providing you have sufficient funds in your bank account!
This is another kind of card altogether.
The bank is very happy if you use this card as it is a loan — and they can add interest.
You use a credit card like this…
You pay for something in a shop or a restaurant with your credit card. And you don’t have to pay the money back to the bank until the end of the month.
Or you can delay the payment as long as the terms agreed between you and the credit card.
These cards are a little dangerous… They can encourage you to spend money that you do not have.
But most people have a credit card today.
There are other kinds of bank cards, such as a prepaid bank card or a virtual card that is similar to a credit card.
- Do you have any bank cards?
- Do you have a debit card? How do you use it?
- Do you have a credit card? Do you use it very often?
Things We Can See In The Bank
Most banks have very similar designs inside. They often have the same kinds of things.
Most banks have:
- safety deposit box
- waiting area
- ticket machine
- teller line
Let’s look at these in detail.
This is a machine usually found adjacent to the bank itself where people can withdraw or deposit money.
The ATM might be inside the bank or outside — and sometimes they might be in a place where there is no bank at all. They are extremely convenient and people use them all the time for speed and efficiency.
Before ATMs, people would have to line up and see a bank teller to withdraw any money at all. It was time-consuming and frustrating.
But a risk of ATMs is that thieves sometimes insert a device in the machine that reads the information on your card. Then the thieves can take your money.
Safety Deposit Box
This is a high-security box, usually found in a very secure and guarded area of the bank, where people can keep their valuables.
People might store diamonds or other valuable stones here. Or maybe some documents that are very private and they don’t want other people to read them.
This is a large steel box where the bank keeps any currency they have or other valuables. The box is very strong and very difficult to lift or break into.
These days, it is not so common for banks to use safes as most money transactions are digital.
Many banks have desks in the front area of the bank. These are for customers to talk to a member of staff about any special services they may need.
And the bank will have a large space allocated for customers waiting to talk to one of the tellers. The waiting area usually has a few rows of wire-mesh seating and the seats face the row of bank tellers.
At the front of the bank entrance — or maybe near the waiting area — there is a ticket machine. Customers press the button and the machine will issue a ticket. On the ticket is the customer’s number. You can see how many customers are before you by looking at the light above the row of bank tellers.
This is the row of counters where the bank tellers work. There is often a glass partition between the bank teller and the customer for security reasons.
People We Can See In The Bank
And of course, there are people who work in the bank — along with all the customers.
You could find any of the following people in a bank:
- personal banker
- security guard
This is the person you talk to about other services. You might want to ask for a loan or talk about savings plans the bank offers. If so, then you need to talk to one of the personal bankers.
Every business has a manager. And the bank is no different.
The bank manager runs the bank and makes sure that everything operates smoothly. He or she might have to talk to customers about more complex services that the bank offers.
The bank manager usually has their own office inside the bank.
These are the people that most customers talk to in the bank. They sit behind a row of counters called the Teller’s Line.
They can deal with most issues or questions that customers have about their personal banking. They can help customers with things like issuing a new check/cheque book or debit card — or even a credit card in many cases.
They are there to help the regular customers that come into the bank.
Most banks will have security guards. Unless the bank is in a sleepy little village far from most towns, the bank usually has a small team of security guards.
In many banks, these could be men in uniforms who are there just as a security measure.
But in some banks, in inner cities, the security guards could be armed and skilled in dealing with any attempts to commit a crime in the bank.
And the bank may employ some regular bank clerks. These are often young people, maybe doing their first job. They are in a learning position and may just be required as a presence in the bank in case a customer needs help with anything.
And you can’t have a bank without customers. The bank usually operates at the same time as other commercial businesses.
Go to any bank and you will see customers in the bank waiting to be served.
Common Banking Terms in English
Banks and banking use technical terms that need a little explanation.
Let’s take a look at the following expressions.
This is the act of putting money into your bank account. You could be paying in some cash, a check/cheque or some other form of payment.
- I would like to deposit some cash into my account.
- Can I pay this cheque into my bank account, please?
- I want to deposit my paycheck into my bank account. How can I set that up, please?
And this is the act of taking money out of your bank account.
People usually want to withdraw cash, but it could be in the form of another transaction.
- I want to withdraw $500 from my account
- Can I take out some cash, please? (In the UK, people say take out instead of withdraw)
This is the amount of money in your bank. You can find this out by checking your balance in one of the ATMs or you can ask a bank teller.
People usually check in the ATM as it is quicker and more convenient.
- Excuse me, how can I check my bank balance?
- I need to confirm something about my bank balance. Can you help me?
This is usually a sheet of paper that shows all your withdrawals and deposits made from and into your bank account.
Your bank may send you a regular bank statement that you can check. But if there is a problem that you want to look at, then you can ask the bank teller for a bank statement.
- Would it be possible to have a bank statement of my account for the last month?
- Can I see my bank statement for the last six weeks? I need to check something.
Banks usually have one central office — or bank — in a big city. And then many other smaller branches across the country.
Some branches of the bank could be very big. And offer all the services and amenities as the main branch.
While other smaller branches may just offer basic banking services.
You can usually use the same debit card, bank cards and bank book at all the bank’s branches.
- Can you tell me if there is a branch closer to my home?
- Is there a branch of the bank near my office?
- Can I ask about getting a loan at this branch?
These are the fees that customers have to pay to the bank. They could be for use of certain cards, receiving bank statements or some other service.
And the customer has no choice but to pay. The bank automatically withdraws the charges from your bank account!
- I can’t believe the charges I get from my bank! They’re so expensive!
- I have to pay so many bank charges, I will owe the bank money soon!
- I have to pay bank charges for everything — a bank statement, a phone call from the bank and even using my bank card in another country. I think it’s too much!
Internet Banking/Online Banking
Internet banking has been around as long as the internet. It enables customers to transfer money via the internet. They can do this on their computer or smartphone.
When it first appeared there were security concerns but people mostly feel comfortable using it today.
- Cash seems to be a thing of the past. Everyone uses online banking these days.
This is a sum of money that you borrow from the bank. Usually to purchase something, such as a car.
- I applied for a loan from my bank and they said yes. I can finally get a new car!
- I asked my local bank for a loan to buy a boat but they said no. I have no idea why…
If you make too many payments from your bank account so you go into debt. Banks are not usually happy about this and often charge high overdraft fees.
- I wrote too many checks, and the bank had to honour them all. Now I have an overdraft and I am paying for it!
- I spent too much money and I have an overdraft of $140. The bank is charging me very high fees for it.
This is a special loan to buy a house. You have to agree on terms of repayment with the bank and the loans usually continue for many years.
- I was lucky to get a mortgage and buy my first house. I am so happy!
- After 25 years, I finally paid off my mortgage. I am now completely debt-free. It feels great!
If you have a savings account — or a special savings plan — the bank will pay you interest on top of this. This is a small amount of money that the bank adds to your bank account every month.
- I have some money in a savings account and I was pleasantly surprised to find that the bank had paid some interest into my account.
- I have an investment plan with my bank, and they pay a very reasonable interest rate.
Dialogue in The Bank
Look at the dialogues below. You can practice these out loud with a friend.
Try to use some of the expressions in your real life if you have the opportunity.
Opening a Bank Account
A customer talks to a bank teller about opening a bank account.
Customer: Hello, I’d like to open a bank account.
Teller: That’s great. We can help you with that. Would you like a regular current account or a savings account?
Customer: I’d like to open a current account, please.
Teller: That’s fine. I will have to ask you to complete this form. And then you can give the form to me and we can process it for you.
Customer: Do I need to give you anything else?
Teller: Yes, I will need proof of your address — that can be on a telephone bill or electric bill — and I will also need proof of ID, such as your passport or your driving license.
Customer: I don’t have any of those things with me now. Can I bring them later?
Teller: Yes, no problem. In fact, before you bring any of those items, we will have to do a credit check on you. That should take about 7 days. Then we will contact you and ask you to come into the bank again with all your ID details.
Customer: I see. That sounds fine. Let me fill in the form now.
Getting Money from the Bank
Carol and Steve are out shopping when Carol notices she doesn’t have any cash.
Carol: Oh, I’m out of cash! I need to go to the bank.
Steve: There’s one just down here I think. Is your card accepted at all bank’s ATMs?
Carol: I think so. We can only try.
Steve: Here’s the machine now.
Carol: Let me try… Oh, it has accepted it. How much should I take out?
Steve: Well, we need to get things at the supermarket. And don’t forget, we’re meeting Ian and Anne later this evening, so we’ll need some money then, too.
Carol: Let’s see… How about if I took out £200?
Steve: I think that should be enough.
Applying for a Loan
A customer goes into a bank to apply for a loan but gets a surprise!
Teller: How can I help you today?
Customer: I would like to apply for a loan.
Teller: I see. Can I ask how much you were thinking of?
Customer: I was hoping to borrow about $5000.
Teller: And what would the loan be for?
Customer: I want to buy a new car.
Teller: That’s fine. I will have to ask you to fill in this form first. Then once we have checked your credit, we can look at what kind of terms are agreeable.
Customer: My credit rating is not that great. I’ve already been rejected from Westchester Bank over the road.
Teller: Then I’m afraid we can’t help you. If your credit rating is poor, we will not issue the loan. Good day to you!
A customer wants to transfer money from his bank account to a bank account overseas.
Cashier: How can I help you, sir?
Customer: I need to transfer some money.
Cashier: No problem we can do that for you. Are you transferring money to another account or to another bank altogether?
Customer: I want to transfer some money overseas to my business partner in Hong Kong.
Cashier: I see. That should be fine. There will be a charge for transferring money overseas, but it’s a nominal fee. How much did you want to transfer?
Customer: $1500. And this may be a regular thing. Can you help me with that?
Cashier: Yes, we can help you set up a regular transfer from your account to the account in Hong Kong. If it is a regular thing, then we can reduce the fees, of course.
Customer: That sounds perfect. Well, let’s do the initial payment of $1500 and I will talk to you later about setting up the regular transfer.
Cashier: No problem. All I need from you today is your bank card and the details of the bank account in Hong Kong.
Asking for a Bank Statement
A customer has a question about her bank account and asks for a bank statement.
Customer: Hello, can you help me?
Cashier: Yes, miss, what is it?
Customer: I need a bank statement because I think some money went missing from my account. I just want to check everything.
Cashier: That’s fine. Now, we can issue you with a printed statement right now but that will cost £5.00 — or I can help you go through the transactions from your account in the last month and that won’t cost you a penny.
Customer: No, I think this happened over a month ago. I will need a printed bank statement. But why does it cost £5.00?
Cashier: I’m afraid we have to charge for admin fees and printing fees. It’s a standard fee that we charge all our customers no matter what account they have.
Customer: Oh, that’s terrible… Well, I have no choice, so I suppose I will have to pay the fees.
Questions about Banks and Banking
Try to answer these questions about banks. You can use these questions with your classmates or friends and practice together.
What kind of bank account do you have?
What do you use your bank account for?
Do you use your bank account every day?
Do you use the ATM? How often do you use it? What do you use it for?
Do you have a credit card? What do you use this card for?
Have you ever had to pay bank fees before? What were the fees for?
Has your bank ever made a mistake with your account? What happened?
Have you ever tried to make a loan from your bank before? What was the loan for? Did the bank agree to the loan?
Do you find the staff in your bank helpful? Why/why not?
What makes you angry about your bank? How could you solve this problem?
Do you use internet banking? What for?
How could your bank be improved?
Are you happy with your bank and the way they look after your money? Why/why not?
This is by no means a full introduction to the world of banking or the banking industry.
But I hope it gives you some ability to use the correct English terms and expressions next time you have to go to the bank.
Keep practising and — as always — leave a message below!