I fired up the computer this morning to login to my brokerage account only to discover that my username and password are no longer enough.
“Stop! Do not enter! Wrong way!” Ah yes, the dreaded two-step verification process! I’ve just been blocked from seeing my own financial account. (We don’t want to divulge the identity of this fine institution, but we can say that the name sounds like it might be an anti-rust treatment for your family’s mini-Van.)
Best practice: Always choose email
Here at VF we always recommend using your email address if you need to use 2-step verification. Email travels really well! It isn’t dependent on your device, your location, your sim, or the local cell phone frequencies. A little Wi-Fi or mobile data and “poof”, you get your verification code in seconds. That’s the go-to method for those of us who vagabond around the world.
When email isn’t an option
In this situation I ran into this morning, this particular brokerage refuses to use email. Upon a not so gentle inquiry on my part, the financial institution replied:
Email providers can be compromised on a large scale and email phishing attempts are prevalent. At this time, text messages and automated phone calls are the two possible ways to receive your security code from us.
So with our go-to method kicked to the wayside, it’s time to look for other methods.
Other non-phone options
In some cases, there still may be a workaround that doesn’t use email or phones. The three that come to mind all start with the letter A:
If your financial institution has its own proprietary app, then you may be in luck. Many of those only ask for your password or fingerprint to login. Using apps isn’t without some downside, however. You may prefer a larger screen when working on your finances, you may be required to use 2-step verification to set up your first entry into the app, or you may very well discover that the app won’t let you do certain things. I’ve seen banking apps that would pretty much only let you see your balances and move money between your own internal accounts but nothing further. Ever try to add an authorized user or link a new bank account on your credit card app? You might not find those options. Of course, the biggest problem of all is that the first use of the app will likely require two-step verification by phone. In that case, we’re back where we started.
Our love for Personal Capital aside (contact us to get cashback on an already free service or if you don’t want cashback just use this link [with a VPN aimed at the USA]), the account aggregators very rarely allow you to make transactions. Even if Quicken, Mint, Personal Capital, etc. can get past the 2-step verification, it is unlikely that you can do much other than observe your balances and transactions.
When we again pushed this financial institution to consider the needs of those with no phone access, they offered this rather mysterious response:
Additionally, you can call us to explore alternative options such as our technical team may be able to assist with updating your profile to be able to log in without the code. Please note that when this option is enabled, online transaction capabilities may be limited.
It all sounds a bit cloak-n-dagger to me. Besides, do we really want to tell a financial institution that we’re living abroad when so many accounts are being closed or frozen for just that reason? Of course, the last line is the clincher: they may let you in to see your account, but your “transaction capabilities may be limited.”
The counsel of colleagues
Before acting swiftly in such situations, let’s take a breath and remember that others are grappling with the same problems. This is no time to make a panicky phone call in which we might divulge some innocent fact that has some significant repercussions (like the aforementioned account closures).
Do you know any expats that might be in your same situation? Could you take the time to search Vagabond Finances or write us on Facebook?
Here’s another option: You might want to join Andrew Hallam and Erik Richardson’s Facebook group called “Expats & International School Educators – Financial Advice” (for the sake of “ease,” let’s call it “EISE”).
When I dropped by that group, I found the discussion on the topic was in full swing because several of us had just gotten blocked by the same brokerage for the first time. Below are some of the suggestions made there.
2-step phone verification that works abroad
A stateside friend: The first solution suggested on the EISE Facebook group (and one that many of us have used) is to supply your bank or brokerage with the cell phone number of your Uncle Ralph or best friend Bubby who both live in the US. It is inconvenient and you want to be sure of your time zones (no reason to wake Ralph or Bubby over this), but it works!
Skype: Several people use Skype for these situations. Of course, anyone can call out on Skype but how do you receive a call or text? You purchase a Skype number. For a modest monthly or annual fee you can purchase a personal number that should generally work for 2-step verification.
MagicJack: This is a VOiP service that many of us are familiar with. A newer development that sounds promising is that MagicJack now has an app which allows you to have a US number on your cell phone using wi-fi for a modest fee.
Republic Wireless: One EISE commenter uses Republic Wireless while in the USA. Then, he keeps it with him in Chile to use his normal US phone number on wifi. He says, “$5/month is worth it to make/receive calls and to use for 2-factor authentication.”
I’m confident that many more options will come up with a Google search. All that is really needed is some sort of US phone number and some way to access it (usually online).
Here is what VF recommends as a free, generally effective alternative if none of the other options suit your needs or your budget. Did we mention that it’s free?
Google Voice: Googe Voice will give you a free US phone number (request it for your US state if possible but don’t worry about it too much). The Google Voice method is a little more complicated in that it requires a real US phone number to which to link the Google Voice number. However, once it is set up, you can arrange it so that that phone number is no longer disturbed.
Below this informative screenshot from Google, we’ll explain one way to set it up:
- Find a US number: Ask Uncle Ralph or friend Bubby to let you use their phone number to set up a free Google Voice number.
- Request a Googe Voice number.
- Change your Google Voice settings to connect your Google Voice number to Hangouts.
- Disconnect forwarding to the US phone number: Unless you want to keep bothering Ralph and Bubby, stay on the settings page and deselect their number under Messages, Calls, and Get Voicemail Via Message
It is our understanding and experience that the Google Voice App will not work while overseas, but Hangouts and the Hangouts Dialler certainly do. So, if you are expecting a 2-step verification call, be sure you are connected to Hangouts and wait for that free call via Google Voice.
By the way, my “Van” is once again being “protected” thanks to Google Voice and Hangouts.
Have another idea? Leave it in the comments or let me know on Facebook!