Japan is unquestionably home to an overwhelming number of convenience stores, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise to know 99% of them have ATMs inside them. The four largest chains operate their own finance subsidiaries to help facilitate those transactions rather than partner with a local bank as is the norm in most other places. Technically this makes them banking institutions in their own right, and 7-Eleven has taken advantage of their position as Japan’s largest operator of “conbini” to turn their ATMs into bank branches. Internet-only banking has been around in Japan for around 10 years now; they don’t have physical branches, but accessible via the web or smartphone application to open and make transactions on the account. 7-Eleven Japan’s 7-Bank takes the concept one step further by providing access to all accounts via their ATM network in their over 18,000 locations throughout Japan. I recently opened an account with them and was pleasantly surprised to find that 7-Bank is a trendsetting bank in Japan for many reasons.
7-Bank in 7 languages!
The biggest draw for me was hearing how I could conduct business in English online. It may seem pretty strange to hear, but there are very few banks that have bilingual websites for accessing your account. (Thank goodness the ATMs in Japan can be flipped to show English for the most part.) The only other bank I’ve ever encountered where English can be the lingua franca is Shinsei Bank, and they have been my go-to main bank for about 10 years now for many of the same reasons. But 7-Bank also knows Tagalog, Korean, Chinese, Vietnamese, Spanish, and Portuguese. Not only the website but all posted correspondence is in whatever language you choose. Brilliant! Of course this also goes for the customer service hotline operators as well.
Not only will you find 7-Bank ATMs in any 7-11 store, but also Ito-Yokado, Sogo and Seibu department stores, Yodobashi Camera and Bic Camera shops, and just hanging around in train and subway stations too. Money withdrawals are fee-free in the middle of the day (7am~7pm) but incur service charges of ¥216 all other times.
Dip that chip and swipe that card!
7-Bank is one of very few banks in Japan offering a debit card that deducts payments from your account. It does seem strange coming from another country where Visa and MasterCard branded debit cards are the norm, but Japan has yet to really embrace it yet and many banks don’t offer them. 7-Bank offers JCB branded cards that are accepted in 99% of all places taking credit cards in Japan, but there are a few places that don’t (I’m looking at you Square register users!) As for overseas acceptance, check with JCB to find out if it can be used in your travels; the Cirrus network is used, meaning it should be available wherever MasterCard and Discover can be used, but the devil is in the details. Even if the JCB sticker isn’t on the cash register where you’re headed, you should have no worries locating an ATM to withdraw cash.
Remit to payee
Fairly recently 7-Bank entered into a partnership with a few remittance service companies to give customers the convenience of being able to wire funds overseas. With Western Union being one of those services, it should be no problem to make sure you have enough money in your bank account back home to make sure those nagging bills are getting paid and loved ones can be helped if needed.
Get to the point!
Pretty much every store in Japan has a way of collecting loyalty points that can later be cashed in for goods and services. 7-11 has the Nanaco service whereby you load a prepaid card up with cash and use it to purchase items, gaining points in the process. You can choose to have your new debit card also function as a Nanaco card for these purposes as well. In addition, the card will also award points based on any transactions taking place in the account. From receiving salary pay and deposits, to buying groceries and paying bills, Nanaco points will accrue. The points themselves can be redeemed for goods and services at any 7-11 group store or restaurant.
How to get started?
Simply go to their website (PC or mobile is OK) and select your language of choice. Fill out the online form and make sure you note your particular visa status. 7-Bank will then send you an envelope so you can mail them copies of your ID and utility bill in your name to verify your address. You should then receive your card and account opening paperwork in the post within 5 days if all goes well. The entire process took me 2 weeks from start to receiving my debit card in hand.
There’s an app for that, right?
The mobile app isn’t just a recreated version of their website; it is very useful when checking your account on-the-go, in those few places and times when a 7-11 ATM isn’t around. The usual transactions can be handled through the app, and customer service is just a tap away as well. There’s also the added convenience of a lightweight budget planning function as well. Each time a transaction occurs, the app tries to categorize it based on the place and amount debited or added (“Grocery” for supermarkets, “Transport” for when you buy Shinkansen tickets, etc) These are all editable and can be used to figure out the answer to burning questions such as, “Did I really spend all that money on the izakaya last month?”
It may seem strange to say this, but if you’re just landed in Japan and looking for a good place to stash your funds, 7-Bank may be the right fit for you; they’ve certainly made it convenient enough! The only downside — that strange feeling you may have when using your 7-11 debit card to pay at a Lawson’s or FamilyMart.