Though the banks claim to be taking particular care of senior citizens, the ground reality conditions are far different
Hailing, as I do from the district of South Kanara, in Karnataka that gave birth to four of India’s oldest large public sector banks—Canara Bank, (Canara Banking) Corporation Bank, (Canara Industrial & Banking) Syndicate and Vijaya Bank, also at one time home
to more than 22 smaller banks that were merged, I have had close family ties with the three Canaras
, going up to their chairmen levels. Subsequently as the RBI (Reserve Bank of India) empanelled Statutory Auditor of Banks and now as an activist in assisting in addressing banking concerns of citizens, I can modestly claim to be the know of many of the banking woes bank customers face in their dealings with banks that have come to be an essential part of their lives—from kids to salary earners to pensioners and elders receiving funds from their NRI sons and daughters.
In the good old days the friendly neighbourhood banks were the locally driven like Punjab National Bank (PNB) and Allahabad Bank in the North, UCO and United in the East, Bank of Baroda, Bank of India, Central, Maharashtra and Union in the West and the three Canaras, Vijaya, Indian, Indian Overseas in the South—all that were all subsequently nationalized. There are privately owned banks like the South Indian, Federal, Dhanalaxmi, Catholic Syrian, Karur Vysya and Tamil Nadu Mercantile. Then, there is a plethora of co-operative banks such as the publicly held Mumbai-based Saraswat Co-operative, NKGSB, Shamrao Vittal and politicians-controlled State, District and local level co-operative banks. Many foreign banks beginning with the pre-Independence British—National & Grindlays, Mercantile, Barclays and Hong Kong & Shanghai, followed by the Americans also joined the Indian banking bandwagon. With the RBI opening up the banking sector large Indian financial institutions like ICICI, HDFC, IDBI, UTI and Kotak Mahindra have set up their own banking entities and now RBI has invited applications for more.
Top on the list of customers’ grievances of over 13,000 received by the Banking Ombudsman in the last fiscal come deficient customer services. Quite a few from the elders which the banks choose to call “Senior Citizens”. Though the banks claim to be taking particular care of them, on ground reality conditions are far different. Elderly customers at the entrance have to stand before the opening time out in rain or sun, even after staff has come in. All that the banks can do for them is to make them sit inside till the counters open. Security concerns are cited for not opening the shutters earlier. A few tottering senior citizens are certainly no security threat. Once the counters open these senior citizens need to be attended just before others. After all they want their pass books updated to check on their credits for in-coming pensions, remittances from children, cheques deposited, dividends and debits for ECS, standing instructions and to withdraw cash by those not E-savvy, that will take a few minutes to attend to.
Cash withdrawal has to be simplified as having a teller at the cash disbursements verifying the signature and ascertaining the balance before dishing out the cash at the same counter. Canara Bank follows this practice. Union Bank has the cumbersome requirement of the customer having to stand in queue at the pass book clerk to collect the token; the cheque then goes to an officer for signature and balance verification ultimately to the cashier. The pass book clerk in this bank performs the dual task of updating the pass books as well as issuing tokens and the elders have to keep waiting. Pass book printing machines are now installed in heavy savings based branches to mitigate this. Other banks ought to implement such healthy practices that are working successfully.
The need of the hour is more of personalized banking services with a dedicated counter/window for senior citizens necessarily headed by an officer senior enough (not a fresher/youngster) as a special relationship manager. S/he should be capable of empathizing with the elders’ concerns and resolving them to their satisfaction. He should also be in a position to convince them well in time on the need for proper nomination and execution of wills to ensure seamless passing down of the estate to their heirs.
The beginning of the month pensioners’ rush at the counters can be mitigated by having designated counters for the first couple of days where only pensioners can be attended to expeditiously and at the same time ensure services to others too.
The banks need to remind their pensioner-customers on phone or by SMS or email in February or early March to furnish their life certificates to ensure uninterrupted pensions credits.
One of the most irritating issues is the dysfunctional and unclean ATMs. Many a times frustrated customers are faced with “Unable to disburse” slips. Common ostensible reasoning is that cash in the machine has run out, the printing roll exhausted, only high denomination currency notes dispensed, the inserted cards getting jammed or that the machine has its utility leading in frequent breakdowns. All this makes mockery of the ATM that of facilitating speedy withdrawal. The customers have to stand in a queue, collect tokens, some banks insist on pass books to issue withdrawal slip and proof of identity, waiting for the tellers’ call. Collecting smaller currency notes in exchange for the ATM dished out high value Rs500 currency notes also results in having to wait again in a queue at the cashier counter.
Few private banks bend backwards to service only High Net worth Individuals (HNIs) and more particularly the Ultra High Net worth Individuals (UHNIs) by picking up their cash and cheque deposits from and deliver cash and other instruments at their doorsteps. There is no reason why this facility is not extended to senior citizens by all as well, on specific request of course. This will save them visits to the branches and waiting in queues just for updating their pass books, to deposit instruments and withdraw cash. After all many invariably maintain substantial balances in savings and term deposits to meet their emergency needs.
Some foreign banks follow the obnoxious practice of levying atrocious charges on customers visiting their branches and ask them to deal with the call centres to avoid interfacing with customers in public over ticklish grievances in public in the branch lobbies. Nothing can be worse for a customer than dealing with an anonymous girl’s taped voice in a BPO: “Dial 1 for English, 2 for Savings” going on into infinity till your patience, time and anger run out and the operator tells you “The complaint will be attended to in due course.”
The other perennial problem faced by senior citizens is the lack of uniformity in the tedious issue of Tax Deductions at Source/TDS on the interest credits. The branches ought to hand over the “No tax deduction request” forms religiously in March each year to make them effective from the following accounting year essentially for monthly credits from April onwards. The declarations should be collected and earmarked. The gross interest earned has to be first credited and the tax deducted debited at the same time. This helps match the interest income and TDS facilitating advance tax computations. The practice of some banks just crediting the amount net of tax is not only harassing makes verification of interest credits difficult. Banks overlooking to deduct tax go to the extent of deducting 100% on noticing the error; this is not permitted by the taxation laws.
The recent trend at moving into area wholly unrelated to banking like selling mutual fund (MF) and insurance products is not advisable from the core banking activity of mobilizing deposits and effectively monitoring advances well in time before they go bad. Bank staff, in trying to provide One Stop Money Mall, is certainly not positioned to render personalized follow up services. They may market MF schemes or insurance policies by parroting the usual marketing clichés; owing to constant transfers they will not be around to service the products that they have sold—redemption of the MF units or handling insurance claims. They sell but they are simply not geared or trained in after sale services. Fortunately the RBI and IRDA have woken up, post the Cobrapost exposé.
The other sore point is the vast differences in the charges levied by private banks in the name of better services. To pull up their CASA (Current and Savings Accounts) outreach banks like IDBI have done away with the levy of all charges, while others continue to levy heavy charges for fall in minimum balances, cheque dishonors, issue and cancellation of demand drafts and pay orders, verification of signatures, reissue of PIN or password, standing instructions, immediate issue of cheque books as also additional cheque books, stop payment instructions, duplicate account statements/pass books, dormant accounts, closing of accounts within six months and Demat charges; all the while insisting on five-figure minimum balance requirements. They blame the computers or back offices that are programmed to generate the levy automatically without human intervention. The RBI should come out with a reasonable charges schedule indicating a range.
Deregulation of savings bank interest has resulted in a rate war. Only today Yes Bank announced its hike to 7%. But its fine print says: “For deposits over Rs1 lakh”. Dhanlaxmi, Allahabad and SBH have marginally increased interest on NRE rupee term deposits of various tenors. Higher interest earnings on savings account can translate into meaningful gains only if the amounts idling in the saving account exceed the six digit mark. This is gross mis-selling and it needs to be nipped in the bud.
Banks can render greater services for customers exclusively banking at a single location by assisting them in collating all their deposits and withdrawals to help compile their tax returns. After all, when all the transactions are routed through the same branch it should not be difficult. Of course this should come at a reasonable charge.
The Business Line had a front page report—“RBI flags deteriorating loan portfolios of Banks – NPAs outpace credit growth; rising risks for banking sector”. This certainly is a matter of concern for the common man as it is his deposits that go into the amounts advanced by his bank. Unlike the West, today our banking system, monitored by the RBI is quite robust, not to go the Lehman Brothers and others’ way.
But we should not take things for granted. We have had the Global Trust Bank go bust. Well-monitored advances with prompt action of delayed submission of securities statements, regular physical verification of securities and obtaining of returns can mitigate bad debts and non-performing assets, which certainly take time to incubate and can be curbed if acted upon in time.
The Indian banking system, effectively regulated by the RBI, has stood the test of time, even as there were crisis earlier in other emerging economies in the US, Eurozone, Cyprus, Greece, Far East, Mexico and Argentina.
It is not surprising that most NRIs/PIO in the West now find Indian banks safer to park their funds than trust those back there. Very rightly so – East or West, Home is the best – even when it comes to personal banking!
(Nagesh Kini is a Mumbai-based chartered accountant and former bank statutory auditor on the RBI panel is now turned activist. He had made senior citizen-specific suggestions to the RBI-appointed Damodaran Committee on Banking Services, two of which find a place in the final recommendations.)