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What senior citizens expect is personalised service and understanding of their needs with a humane touch. But the report does not contain any specific suggestion to meet several special requirements of the elderly—the Committee has only made a few generalised statements
The report on banking customer services submitted by the Damodaran Committee constituted by the RBI (Reserve Bank of India) contains a few good recommendations as far as pensioners are concerned. But it has touched only a few of the problems faced by senior citizens and pensioners, and a lot more could have been done to improve the service extended to these special category of customers, who have been at the receiving end of banks' apathy towards customers in general and senior citizens in particular.
The report, unfortunately, does not contain any specific suggestion to meet several special requirements of senior citizens and physically challenged customers of banks. Instead of making clear, workable and practical recommendations, the Committee has made a few generalised statements, which do not meet with the expectations of senior citizens. In fact, what senior citizens expect is personalised service and understanding of their needs with a humane touch. Not all of them are tech-savvy and hence they need special attention when they visit the branches of banks. For instance, the very first recommendation on the subject of pensioners and senior citizens reads as under:
"There should be prioritised service to senior citizens, physically handicapped persons by effective crowd/people management available at all branches."
This is only a generalised statement which gives room for each bank to do what it considers reasonable, though it may not fully serve the needs of senior citizens. This could have been more specific, as stated in one of the suggestions given here below later in this article.
Another recommendation reads as under:
"Banks should streamline and fine-tune the functioning of their Centralised Pension Processing Centres to ensure timely disbursal of pension, commencement of family pension on time and error-free calculation of pension."
This looks good on paper but what if the banks continue to delay payment of pension for reasons of their own? Should the banks not be liable to pay a penalty for delaying release of pension, if it is not due to the fault of the pensioner?
The RBI has now called for feedback from the public on this report. In deference to this, following suggestions covering some of the additional requirements of senior citizens and physically challenged customers are submitted for the consideration of the RBI. It would be appreciated if the apex bank asks banks to ensure compliance of these suggestions as well, in addition to what is contained in the report submitted by the committee.
1. Each branch of a bank should have a separate counter earmarked for attending to senior citizens/physically challenged customers, who should be given priority over other customers at that special counter.
2. Senior citizens and physically challenged customers should be provided with single window service, without their having to move from counter to counter to complete all their banking transactions.
3. All the requests/requirements of senior citizens and physically challenged customers must be attended to then and there, without them being asked to come the next day, as is the practice in most bank branches. This means, their request for cheque books,
updating of pass books, pension payments, issue of deposit receipts, issue of interest/TDS (tax deduction at source) certificates, and all other requests should be complied with instantly on the same day without them having to visit the branch again and again.
4. Senior citizens are at present offered an additional interest of up to 1% on all fixed deposits. The same benefit of additional interest should be offered to them on their savings deposits also, as there is no reason to exempt savings accounts from the preferential interest rates offered to them.
5. The penalty, if levied on withdrawal of deposits before maturity, should not be applied to senior citizens/physically-challenged customers, who should be given the normal rate of interest applicable for the period for which the deposit has run, without any deductions. This is based on the assumption that in most cases, their medical requirements might force them to encash their deposits before maturity.
6. A certain percentage of safe deposits lockers, say 10%, may be reserved for senior citizens and physically challenged customers, so that they are have a reasonable chance of getting a locker facility in the same branch where they maintain their savings accounts.
7. Senior citizens must be properly guided without exception, the facility of submitting Form 15H for non-deduction of tax at source, if they are not in the tax bracket. This would facilitate them, if they wish, to submit the forms in time to avoid TDS on their deposits.
8. Every bank should send a written communication to every senior citizen in the beginning of the year, enclosing Form 15H, and requesting him/her to submit the same within the stipulated time, if the depositor is not liable to pay tax on the interest earned on the deposit during that financial year.
9. Form 15H submitted by a senior citizen once, as required in the beginning of the year, should be valid and must hold good for all the subsequent deposits also placed by the depositor during the same financial year. The CBDT (Central Board of Direct Taxes) may be advised to suitably modify the Form 15H to meet this requirement.
10. In case the payment of pension to the customer is delayed due to the fault or mistake of the bank, the pensioner should be properly compensated by giving appropriate savings bank interest on the amount for the delayed period. If the delay is beyond a reasonable period, say seven days, the bank should be asked to pay a penalty of Rs100 per day of delay, as is the system followed in failed ATM transactions.
11. At present, pensions are disbursed only through the public sector banks, due to which many pensioners have to travel long distances to get their monthly pension, causing considerable strain on the pensioners. To prevent this problem, the RBI should arrange with both the Central and state governments to disburse pensions through all banks in the private sector also, so that the pensioners have the option of getting pension from any commercial bank, public or private bank, nearer their place of residence.
12. The biggest problem faced by pensioners is the variation in their signatures due to passage of time and their old age. Banks should be asked to update the signatures of all senior citizens in the their records periodically, say once in two years or as often as required, so that banks do not have to dishonour their cheques due to variation in their signatures.
(The author is a banking and financial consultant. He writes for Moneylife under the pen name 'Gurpur').
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