My Friend The Rubber Stamp

by Steven van Groningen on 20 May, 2010

How I Learned To Love The Stamp

My first job in the private sector in Romania was in 1994. After a year as a consultant at the NBR I joined ABN AMRO Bank in order to initiate the bank’s activity in Romania. The first step was to set up a representative office. It became immediately clear that you are a nobody in corporate Romania if you don’t have a rubber stamp. Never was this more clear than the time when we received a notice from the Post Office. A parcel had arrived and was waiting to be picked up. Our first attempt was unsuccessful; we didn’t have a rubber stamp and therefore couldn’t stamp the document attesting receipt of the parcel and our signature was not enough. On a second visit we tried to convince the post office that the package was actually addressed to a private individual. It didn’t work mainly because we didn’t know what the content was. After painful negotiations during our third visit we finally agreed on the following compromise: the package would be opened and if the content was clearly for personal use, we could take it with us, if it was however for business purposes, we would not get it unless we could stamp the receipt.

So the parcel was opened and revealed its content which proved to be surprisingly … a rubber stamp. A while ago, I had asked our head office to send us one, but had no idea that they had actually shipped it. After a few good laughs and relieved that we were now “official”, we stamped every piece of paper in sight and asked the post office workers if that was good enough for them. The answer? “No, it has to be a round stamp, yours is rectangular.” The scene that followed is not suitable to be put into words for this blog…

Over the years I accepted reality and stopped fighting this unnecessary practice; not unlike you stop noticing a crack in the wall or no longer bang your head against a low doorpost after you have already hit it.

The End Of The World As We Know It

Recently, on a visit to one of our branches, I noticed while talking to one of our back office staff that cheques were not stamped by the issuing company. This gave me renewed hope, I gave it another shot and it worked! I am glad to announce that soon our bank will be officially a stamp free zone. That is, no client will be asked anymore to stamp anything. Payment orders, credit documentation, agreements, receipts – no stamps necessary. A company is legally bound by the signature of its legal representatives, not by a rubber stamp. Clients that like to see bank documents stamped need not to worry, we will stamp our own documents if that is what our clients want us to do.

I have long ago accepted the fact that change for the better will have to come from the private sector and saw it as part of my job to help make this happen. For me, getting rid of the stamp is a symbolic step towards a more productive environment in which we no longer have to lose time on bureaucratic activities that don’t add value for anyone. Let’s see how long it takes for the public sector to catch up. I would guess that stamp makes will not be out of business anytime soon,


{ 39 comments… read them below or add one }

Vlad May 21, 2010 at 06:31

I bet it won’t be very soon when we finally get rid of these pieces of junk. It’s surprinsing how something with very little value in a law court (it’s a lot harder to properly counterfeit a signature than a stamp) is ranked so high by the burreaucrats.

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SvG May 21, 2010 at 18:50

Thanks for your comment,Vlad. I agree it will take a long time. I am not holding my breath, but felt the time it right to give it a try. I hope that other banks will follow and eventually other known bureaucrats.
SvG

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ChrisR June 3, 2010 at 08:29

“I hope that other banks will follow”

You might discuss it with your Dutch collegue Robert Rekkers of BT

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SvG June 3, 2010 at 15:44

Indeed I will, some might be faster than others, but the idea is to change this system wide. Thanks for commenting

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Corina May 21, 2010 at 14:28

Indeed, the round stamp is a legendary Romanian character!
Some would say these day cash is king. That goes too for the public institutions hovewer when it comes to paperwork, the tiny little round stamp proves to be even more precious. Try to get out from a hospital without the medical papers dilligently stamped with the round one! Trouble is every time finding the item proves some kind of treasure hunt reality show, as it may be located today in the office on ground floor, but not tomorrow, when it randomly moves to the other office on 3rd floor.
The top happening starring the above mentioned item however is the following: I work for this bold company that, as in your story, does not have a round stamp. For maternity leave papers, the mother needs to go to the appropriate local child protection department with a thick file including some documents from the employer. I got lucky having produced in advance the exact amount of copies of any possible document, however there was still a problem: the document from the employer did not have the round stamp. I tried to explain that the company does not have the round stamp, but the rectangular. The clerks looked appaled. Eventually, I suggested a workaround: another document from the employer certifying that the company does not have a round stamp. Stamped allright with the rectangular one. Guess what? Although I meant it as a joke, so that the clerks can see the futility of the endeavour, that was the approved solution. No laughs, please…

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SvG May 21, 2010 at 18:45

That is a great story, something to tell your grand children later. Thanks for sharing. It makes me sad to think about the enormous amounts of time that are lost every day with doing useless things. The time, the frustration. You actually gave me an idea. I’ll ask my team to prepare a document with a legal explanation why we don’t need stamps and distribute this anyone who asks in the bank. Maybe we can get a movement going !
SvG

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Flora May 21, 2010 at 19:27

Acum 3 ani, cand ne-ati vizitat la Timisoara, ne-ati intrebat ce suntem ca banca si ce ne dorim sa ajungem. Atunci v-am raspuns ca suntem un Mercedes si ca ne dorim sa ajungem un BMW. Ati ras si m-ati intrebat de unde stiu ca aveati un BMW. N-am stiut nici atunci si nici acum nu stiu ce masina aveti, dar cu siguranta ca devine din ce in ce mai evident ca in curand vom ajunge ceea ce ne-am dorit: BMW.

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Augustin May 21, 2010 at 20:35

Great initiative, really. Congratulations!

Now, may I suggest another area where leading by example is worth trying (IMHO)? Here it is: use of the correct Romanian language online (web-site, e-mails). That is, use the Romanian-specific characters (ă, â, î, ş, ţ) wherever these are required by the language. (E.g.: “Reuşim împreună” vs. “Reusim impreuna”.) In doing so, the bank will make a very simple, but powerful, declaration that it really cares about the specifics of the community were it is conducting its business. Or, at least, that’s how I’d interpret it.

I wholeheartedly agree with your statement that the change for the better has to come from the private sector. Here’s to hope that future will look better.

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gheorghe May 21, 2010 at 21:03

This is a story about the power of inertia: for decades the round stamp was a sign of power, these little things being manufactured in a governmental workshop, under strict control. The rectangular stamps were an inferior species , used by low rank bureaucrats. It may sound ridiculous today, but ask older people, those who worked in the 50’s, 60’s…80’s.
Though, there are banks asking for it still today !

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bizzar May 22, 2010 at 17:04

Strange…love :)

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Catalina May 22, 2010 at 20:56

Yes,Ii remember the stamp and the discussions we’ve had around it so vividly… And, yes we were young and restless bankers! And many times the greatest ideas, products or just useful things are born from pain:-)

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Marlena May 23, 2010 at 21:09

Am sa va povestesc o intamplare reala si asemanatoare: in februarie 2005 am aplicat pentru un credit la BCR ; am prezentat adeverinta tip ceruta pentru acordarea creditului care avea aplicata stampila rectangulara de la HR si semnatura sefului de departament.
Doua zile mi-au trebuit sa o conving pe colega din BCR ca aceea este stampila oficiala a bancii noastre si ca nu exista stampila rotunda in acest domeniu ( in care ,culmea, si ea lucreaza) .
Adeverinta mi-a fost refuzata ,initial, si dupa multe insistente si vizualizari de catre tot departamentul credite din BCR ,mi-a fost acceptata la dosar.
Aceasta a fost prima mea experienta cu stampila rotunda , ulterior am intampinat greutati si la medicul de familie , dar deja eram instruita si inarmata cu multa rabdare pentru a explica acelasi lucru :indiferent de forma stampilei ,ea este aprenta unei institutii.

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SvG May 23, 2010 at 21:36

Toti pierdem timp in fiecare zi, luptand cu obiceiuri din trecut care nu mai au nici-un rost. Fara lupta nu scapam, dar nu putem doar sa ne plangem. Trebuie si sa facem ceva. Multumesc pentru a imparti experienta Dvs.

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capricornk13 May 25, 2010 at 22:31

Then I guess you should encourage me in writing the procedure :)
Welcome to blogging, sir, and be prepared for a tough world :)

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SvG May 25, 2010 at 22:58

Thank you capricornk13, Good to see another capricorn welcoming me!

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Catalin Nastasescu May 26, 2010 at 03:18

Am gasit blog-ul dvs ca referinta pe un blog al lui The Economist: http://www.economist.com/blogs/easternapproaches

Blogul e editat de Edward Lucas, corespondentul pentru Europa Centrala si de Est si, recent promovat, International Editor al editiei tiparite. Lucas introduce ideea stampilei rotunde catre audienta occidentala, explicand ca aceasta a fost un instrument al regimului politic comunist prin care regimul controla strict cine anume era indreptatit sa exercite o forma de putere institutionala. Din acest motiv stampilele rotunde erau produse sub strictul control al autoritatilor; acest fapt le conferea un statut oficial. De fapt Lucas speculeaza ideea ca stampila rotunda a reprezentat o forma de exercitare si control a autoritatii statului de tip comunist in tot estul Europei. Se pare ca disparitia conceptului de stampila rotunda este inca o borna pe parcursul schimbarii catre o societate de tip modern. Suntem inca la inceput.

May 21st 2010, 20:45 by by E.L.|LONDON

UNDER communism, rubber stamps were a kind of currency. If your documents didn’t have the right ones, they were worthless. And getting one made was very difficult: it was part of the regime’s apparatus of repression to control tightly who was allowed to exercise any kind of institutional power. Round stamps were official and made under strict control by the authorities. But even square ones were hard enough to come by. Romania’s “blogging banker”, Steven van Groningen has a nice piece about the way in which the rubber stampmentality shaped business life in that country even after the collapse of communism
You are a nobody in corporate Romania if you don’t have a rubber stamp. Never was this more clear than the time when we received a notice from the Post Office. A parcel had arrived and was waiting to be picked up. Our first attempt was unsuccessful; we didn’t have a rubber stamp and therefore couldn’t stamp the document attesting receipt of the parcel and our signature was not enough. On a second visit we tried to convince the post office that the package was actually addressed to a private individual. It didn’t work mainly because we didn’t know what the content was. After painful negotiations during our third visit we finally agreed on the following compromise: the package would be opened and if the content was clearly for personal use, we could take it with us, if it was however for business purposes, we would not get it unless we could stamp the receipt. So the parcel was opened and revealed its content which proved to be surprisingly … a rubber stamp

Thanks to Rupert Wolfe-Murray for pointing this out. Other examples of bureaucratic whimsy are welcome.

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SvG May 26, 2010 at 13:54

It was quite surprise for me to see my post showing up on economist.com. Glad he liked my post and included this in his. Fine example of how information flows.

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Adina China-Birta May 26, 2010 at 08:33

An official reply from the Ministry of Justice stating the fact that there is no legal requirement for a stamp here: http://docs.google.com/fileview?id=0B_nrP4exkQgaYWQzM2ExMzAtNjNmZi00MmY2LWFhYTctYzI0MGY4NWFhYmE3&hl=ro.
Note that the document is stamped :)

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Daniel Enache May 26, 2010 at 09:40

The rubber stamp always reminds me of an episode of an Asterix and Obelix cartoon in which the characters are tasked to conquer the infamous Roman bureaucracy.
Seems an awfully modern issue.
Nice post!

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SvG May 26, 2010 at 13:49

Thanks Daniel, by the way Asterix an Obelix were always my favorite !

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boldfrank May 26, 2010 at 13:01

I guess that most of us have a story to tell about the power of the round stamp. With my current employer, we are managing several legal entities including some which are non-resident. Believe it or not, we needed to make a stamp for a Nethelands based entity, because we were tired of all the discussions and all the problems faced in front of the people (banks, authorities) regarding the fact that the Netherlands entity didn’t have a stamp, as this was not the practice in Netherlands.

I am impressed that Raiffeisen, which is perceived rather as a rigid and somehow bureaucratic bank, managed to implement this project of becoming a stamp free organisation. However, it would be very useful for your colleagues to prepare and share a document with a legal explanation why we don’t need stamps – all your custromer would need that in the “fight” with other third parties like for example local authorities (which might reject a copy of a payment order in a file if that payment order is not stamped both by the bank and the payer, for example).

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rav May 27, 2010 at 08:24

distractiv:)
ce nu stiti insa este faptul ca in Romania nu exista nici o lege are sa te oblige sa stampilezi documente, sunt numai norme si uzante. chiar si in cazul facturilor.
insa din cauza blestematului “L.S.” de pe vremuri, toata lumea pune si cere stampila pe orice bucatica de hartie.

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SvG May 27, 2010 at 13:49

I found out that there is another Dutchman, Stefan Willems, who has been fighting against the rubber stamp. He even obtained in writing from the Ministry of Justice a statement that stamps are not necessary. This can he found at here.

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Cathrien May 27, 2010 at 19:20

In the Netherlands the rubber stamp is also a very loved item in -bureaucratic- procedures. Athough it is no problem if it retangular! I have got one myself and I stamp a lot so I will not get any document returned with a memo that a stamp is missing…( My work is healthcare as you know….)

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SvG May 29, 2010 at 13:31

Well, I guess that for medical doctor’s handwriting we can make an exception…

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Oana May 29, 2010 at 15:52

Congratulations and thank you for sharing this blog! You are a really inspirational leader and I’m glad to be closer to your story(ies) :)

Oana

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Lavinia June 20, 2010 at 19:02

We don’t trust each other very much in this country, may be this is the reason. We are still affected by all sort of frauds, and I suppose the stamp is seen like an extra security measure. All of us, or at least the youngest of us, would like to start living in a country with no extra security measures required, with more mutual trust, but for this we need a little reform even in the mentality of some of us :).

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Victor June 21, 2010 at 22:57

Call me obsolete but I think it’s bad marketing to issue documents without rubber stamps in Romania.
Nobody will trust they are original.
Call it whatever you like but I know for a fact that 99% of the population (business owners included) won’t like the idea of working with documents that don’t have a rubber stamp.

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Cristian June 22, 2010 at 13:57

Pe vremea cand eram la liceu, formularele de alocatie trebuiau stampilate de catre scoala. Cateodata mai uitam sa le duc la stampilat impreuna cu toti colegii din clasa si ca sa nu mai astept le stampilam singur cu o moneda ( partea cu stema ) data putin prin cerneala. A mers de fiecare data pentru ca era rotunda si aparea si stema Romaniei :)

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Calin June 24, 2010 at 22:12

Very happy to see your blog today. So the stamp matter…I have 1 story and 1 mention.

Indeed, you are so right when you say it is a useless stuff as I remember in the past how many promissory notes I had to stamp for leasing companies, hundreds even thousands of them. Some banks are asking even today that you should stamp every page of a credit contract.

In 2006, Autumn, right before Romania was about to enter the EU, the custom authorities became very strict again, as they were afraid of losing their jobs if caught with minor mistakes in the import papers, esp. on invoices. They were mad in asking that every invoice from your supplier should be stamped, so we had a small import from Switzerland, it was for a fair we had in several days. The Custom denied the paper and the goods because the original invoice was not stamped. It was not good a stamped invoice by fax from the supplier, but just the original. We could not wait at least 3-4 days for another invoice by post nor could we afford to pay extra 100 Euro for fast courier. So, during that day, we borrowed an ink jet color printer, scanned an old invoice with stamp from that supplier, edited the scan on computer so it did not look too perfect, printed it on that invoice and guess what, everything was perfect for the customs. Extreme measures call extreme solutions! :-)

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SvG June 28, 2010 at 22:09

Great story, Catalin. Now we laugh about it but there are still many situations that we have to do totally unnecessary, unproductive things in order to solve simple problems. If we want EU level salaries we need EU level productivity and have to challenge everything that is unnecessary and unproductive. Unfortunately, as your story also shows, there is seldom the time and in most cases when you have a business to run the best thing is simply to give in.

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paul July 11, 2010 at 22:03

As one that participated “live” in the stamp event with Posta Romana back in 1995 I can only laugh and become melancholic about the story that you so nicely described Steven. Unfortunately 15 years later , EU citizen in the meantime (for what is worth), I can only cry seeing that nothing materially has changed. Rubber stamp is still there “larger” and more important than ever in this society.
…and by the way, if I step into any business premises including a bank then take a picture of the Certificat de inmatriculare which is mandatory to be posted on the company walls, then scan the picture and print it, I can go with that Certificate to any “stamp manufacturing center” and order a RUBBER STAMP of that company for less than 50 RON…I rest my case.
Congrats for your blog that I promise to follow regularly!

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SvG July 11, 2010 at 22:30

Paul, great to see you here ! You are so right, the issue is not that is was the way it then, the issue is that not a lot has changed.

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eRadical August 9, 2010 at 14:56

Nice post… I’ve just received my company’s documents from my lawyers and after seeing this article I’m even more convinced than before about opening a bank account at Raiffeisen for my company.

I’m a happy client of Raiffeisen for more than 8 years… don’t want that to change now that I’ll have more accounts to manage.

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SvG August 9, 2010 at 15:03

Thank you, eRadical !

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eRadical August 11, 2010 at 12:46

Practical test…

I tried today opening an account without a stamp (for the simple fact that the stamp is still work progress…).

Of course I failed !

I’ll be back with the STAMP (when it will be issued to me)… to finish all accounts procedures !

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Rubber Keypad September 26, 2010 at 10:01

This one made me laugh. Such things always happen when we try to resolve some of simplest tasks like “opening an account” or just “picking up a package” Why easy , when it can be complicated?

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tudor seicarescu October 29, 2010 at 09:21

It was about the time…and if a bank shows that a rubber stamp is not necessary, than others will follow. Never had a rubber stamp in Canada. In fact, I believe it would have been hard to get one.

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Custom Rubber Stamps October 11, 2011 at 10:46

I also love to make rubber stamp.We have various choices of different types of rubber stamps.Thanks for posting about rubber stamp.

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