Experience of banking consumers at each stage should be better than their previous experience, as per the RBI's thinking
At the MR Pai Memorial award function on Tuesday, Dr Deepali Pant Joshi, Executive Director of Reserve Bank of India (RBI) claimed that the special focus of the central bank is on customer interests, to the extent that she advocated that the system move from 'Buyer Beware to Seller Beware'.
Congratulating this year's MR Pai Memorial awardee, Moneylife Foundation, she said, “While it is the job and mission of the regulator to safeguard customer interests, it is organisations like Moneylife Foundation that add to the efforts of the Regulator and provide valuable inputs in creating customer service policy frameworks over time.”
In explaining how the regulator's role has evolved over the past decade, she spoke about the push for liberalisation since the early 90s and how the market was expected to inherently create competitive mechanisms which would eventually take care of customer interests. “However it is now realised that the 'invisible hand' of the market was not enough and regulatory intervention from time to time was necessary for both the stability of the system and consumer protection.”
She said, “While the line between regulation and paternalism is a very fine one, the RBI has made conscious efforts to stick to regulation and stay away from the latter.”
She went on to adress the connected ideas of financial inclusion, customer awareness and fiduciary responsibility. With renewed push for financial inclusion in the form of schemes like the Jan Dhan Yojana and the wider use of technology and banking correspondents, safeguarding customer interests, especially in rural areas becomes an even more daunting task. As more people enter the financial ecosystem for the first time, they remain vulnerable to mis-selling of products, frauds, fiscal imprudence and bad advice.
In this context, she said that since the 2008 crisis, the financial sector has been driven by the idea of consumer awareness and greater awareness about financial products, services and risks involved. But a lot more needs to be done. She spoke about the need for an “ingrained suitability clause in financial products,” this would put the onus of the suitability of the product on the banker or financial institution, instead of the customer. This would naturally mean that that it was high time that the financial services and banking institutions move from the maxim of Caveat Emptor (Buyer Beware) to Caveat Venditor (Seller Beware), she added.
Dr Joshi listed various steps taken by the RBI with an aim to achieve the goals she spoke about, like the simplification of the KYC norms for customers, the relaxation of document requirments, removal of foreclosure and pre-payment charges, rationalised charges on SMS alerts, removal of penal charges on accounts where the balance falls below the minimum required level and other such measures. “The only watchword is the present customer experience should be better than the experience of the previous generation of customers,” said Dr Joshi.
Towards the end, the RBI executive director said that “while technology has expanded the reach of banking services and financial products, it also suffers from the pitfall of de-humanisation of the banker-customer relationship and the fall of trust between the two.” She added that “the friendly neighbourhood banker and the feet on the street banker is a disappearing breed.”
In conclusion, she explained the RBI's vision in drafting the first iteration of the Consumer Rights Charter of the RBI, a first for Indian banks and customers, and she encouraged the audience to share their ideas with the RBI in making a better and stronger charter for customer rights.