While the current government has put impetus on digital payments and is trying its best to desist people from using currency notes, it’s a well known fact that penetration of banks in rural India is very dismal. Savings bank account penetration on an average stands at 46% across states. The picture would only get scarier if we look at rural population. This being the case; bank procedures are still too complicated for the majority of rural audience who have access to bank, to actually transact with the bank. While we have effected demonetization and post which we are capping the cash transactions, we have too many roadblocks for financial inclusion.
Firstly, there are not many banks in the rural area. Private sector banks are reluctant to cater to rural population. Secondly, banks are not customer centric and procedures are very archaic. Even for the people who have access to banks, they do not feel comfortable approaching bank. While we focus so much on the rural India, I am going to narrate few incidents to show how outdated and surprisingly snail paced our banks are even in the urban spaces. I live in Bangalore, which is a metropolitan city and people here have easy access to bank. We will talk about Axis bank, which is a private sector bank and is supposed to be one of the user friendly banks atleast when compared to the public sector banks. I hold a salary account, a credit card, an Insurance plan, an ELSS plan, RDs and FDs from Axis bank. Hence, I am one of their valued customers.
Now let me ask you two simple questions-
1) If you get a new bank account, how difficult would it be to get a functional debit card?
2) If relocated, how difficult would it be get your bank account transferred?
Taking into account all the factors stated above (Axis bank, metropolitan city, salary account etc), one would guess that it should not take more than hours or couple of days to get this done. Now, let us get a reality check.
It takes 18 months from the day when you get your account activated, to get a functional debit card. Yes,you heard it right. I got a new salary account opened at Axis bank in July’16. Along with the welcome kit, I got a Mastercard debit card. This card did not work on online transaction and I was prompted to register for Mastercard securecode. This must be a standard procedure. But the problem here was that moment I tried to register, I got an error that my mobile number was not updated in the bank database.I was asked to visit nearest bank or ATM to update my details, which I obediently did. Though my contact details were already updated, I modified them. It didn’t work. I visited the branch, they asked me to update the same via ATM again. I did it again. It dint work. I visited the branch again, this time I was asked to wait for 2 weeks. After 2 weeks, I visited the branch again. This time they updated it for me but the end result remained the same. In case you have not noticed it already, this was my salary account and I was unable to do any online transaction. Three months had passed and I had lost all hopes. Banks were just pushing me into the same loop.
Two months back, I moved to Bangalore from Mumbai. Hoping against hopes , I thought that Axis Bangalore could help resolve this issue. I approached them. They seemed to work differently and hence I was hopeful. I approached them. They made me sign a form for netsecure registration form. The issue was expected to be resolved in 48 hours, which didn’t happen in 2 weeks. II visited the bank again. This time they raised a service request and asked me to wait for 48 hours. As you could guess, I visited the bank again after a week. This time they informed me that mobile number, which was always present, was updated. This did not resolve the issue. They again raised the ticket and asked me to wait for another 48 hour. By now, I knew the end result. 48 hour hence, I raised my concern on Twitter. A week later the issue was resolved. It took umpteen visits to bank, calls to customer care, ATM visits, service requests and Tweet to get my functional debit card. In case you think this is a one off case, I know few of my colleagues who are still not eligible to use their debit cards for online transactions, mostly because they made lesser trips to the bank.
Now, let’s get back to the second question. If you relocate, how difficult would it be get your bank account transferred? I don’t know the answer yet. 4 service requests, 5 trips to bank, 2 calls to customer care, 2 tweets- these ofcourse are not enough it seems. I walked into the bank on 1st of February for the account transfer request. I told them that I wanted it to be done on priority as I had to raise request for credit card at the home branch subsequently. I was told that in 48 hours my account would be transferred. I was also asked not to transact for 48 hours. I followed the instruction. I DID NOT use my salary account for 48 hours. It’s not my facebook/ orkut account, it’s my bank account. Given the present times, every cab that I take, every meal that I eat, every movie that I see is debited directly from my account. It was a lot of inconvenience, but I still managed somehow. It was only later that I realised that bank took 48 hours to raise the request for transfer. It took them 48 hours to pick up my application and punch in my details into their system and initiate the process. Could the process be anymore ridiculous? You ask customers to halt all the transactions from his salary account and do not act on the request at all. Even after all this, if it was done, it would have been okay. Till 5th when account transfer request did not come through, I approached Axis bank through Tweet. Their social media team was prompt to respond to the tweet, but not so to actually act. They asked me to wait for 48 hours which I did, of course with no success. Next, I called their customer care on 8th of this month. They again raised a service request for me and asked me to hold all transactions. I waited till 9th bank closure time, holding all my transactions. I called them up again today (10th), only to be informed that it would be done by noon. I knew the executive was lying. All of them have been. It is past that deadline and now I have raised another request through net banking for account transfer. End result of all this- account has not been transferred yet.
While these issues may seem to be trivial, as long as banks operate so irresponsibly and in whimsical fashion, we can’t rely on them. These are the backbones to the economy. You can’t curb currency notes when banks are in such a pathetic condition. If at all we want to increase financial inclusion, banks have to be made more accountable. There has to be specified timeline for every task and failure to achieve these should result in penalties. Banks need to be more transparent and need technological overhaul. Lack of proper training is another area of concern. Bankers need to know the processes so that they know what is happening. They seem to be hapless and helpless all the time.Last but not the least, banks need to realise that accounts that they handle are not social media accounts. For every goof up that they do, somebody somewhere like me is going through extreme inconvenience.