Banks are ripping off Consumers in many ways. Will PM Modi & Arun Jaitley question them?
There is a growing sense of frustration among bank customers about the constant, stealthy increase in service charges. Strangely, RBI, the regulator is siding with the bank cartel. Will PM Modi and FM Jaitley pay any heed to helpless bank customers?
This weekend, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley along with Reserve Bank of India (RBI) Governor Dr Raghuram Rajan, will meet bankers in Pune at a two-day banker’s retreat. PM Modi is scheduled to interact with bankers on 3rd January. The Retreat would try to achieve a broad consensus on what has gone wrong and what should be done both by banks as well as by the government, among other issues. As usual, in such kinds of meetings, the customer or customer services side of the equation does not feature. It is important for PM Modi and FM Jaitley as well senior officials from Finance Ministry to understand and ask bankers present in the retreat, about the treatment meted out to customers and unfair charges levied by them for banking services. Banks are ripping off customers in a variety of ways: charges on automatic teller machine (ATM) transactions, higher debit charges, SMS alerts (that was a security feature initially), minimum balance requirements, ATM and debit card charges, cheque leaf charges, account closure charges, money transfer charges and so on.
However, so far the government has maintained a stoic silence. The regulator, Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has ignored all appeals and memoranda by consumer organisations, unions and non-governmental organisation (NGOs).
Finally, two lawyers have taken the lead in filing litigation — one in Madurai (Madras High Court bench in Madurai and another at Delhi. The High Courts have taken prima facie cognisance of the issue and issued notices to the RBI and the Indian Banks' Association (IBA). Meanwhile, activist Nutan Thakur and ML Sharma have moved the Allahabad High Court on sale of insurance products by Punjab National Bank. This is also an issue that Moneylife has taken up in the past.
The RBI has decided to back banks’ move to charge for ATM transactions beyond a threshold limit despite protests by consumer organisations and depositors. The RBI has ignored all our memorandums including the one sent jointly with trade unions and other consumer groups. Will Prime Minister Narendra Modi or Finance Minister Arun Jaitley ask bankers about this?
Even on the single point that was accepted out of Moneylife’s memorandum to the RBI, which was regarding the reporting system for non-working ATMs — the RBI has breezily entrusted it to the IBA, which will have minimal interest in setting up a system that will expose their own warts.
An official, writing on behalf of the Governor, said that RBI would ask IBA to “incorporate ways and means through which customers are enabled to report about ATMs which are not in working condition to the banks.”
Is RBI so naïve as to believe that banks do not know which of its ATMs are not functioning or have not bothered to load adequate cash? When the regulator supports a bank cartel by readily accepting their claims about transaction costs without exploring ways to reduce them, what option do depositors have?
First, the stricter limit on ATM transactions applies to six metros, when in fact, the higher number of transactions should lead to lower costs. Secondly, in-bank transactions, which are much more expensive are not being charged—unless RBI plans to permit those too in the near future.
Interestingly, ATM charges were a subject of hot debate at an Open House session by Moneylife Foundation on 22 November 2014, with its new trustees—TS Krishnamurthy (former chief election commissioner of India), Dr KC Chakrabarty (former deputy governor, RBI) and Siddharth Das, COO of Payment Systems at Flipkart.
Dr Chakrabarty, well known for his brutal outspokenness, had said, “I don’t agree with the institutional view of the RBI… on allowing banks to charge for withdrawals from their own banks.” He demolished the claim that customers must pay for services saying, “If banks want to move to a system of transaction fees to be paid by customers, then they must also be prepared to work at very low interest spread. They cannot pay 4% on savings accounts but charge 12% or more on advances and also charge customers for transactions.”
Contrary to RBI’s belief that service quality drives the customer’s choice of banks, most often people are tied to a bank because of salary accounts, scarce lockers, electronic payments for utility bills, credit cards or loans. It is not easy to cut these strings frequently.
As it is, the decision to charge for services that were free till now, like mobile text alerts and higher charges and increase in debit cards fees, has become a source of irritation and discouraged people from maintaining multiple bank accounts. Angry and suspicious customers want to know why nationalised banks continue to expand their ATM networks so rapidly if transactions are unviable.
Moneylife Foundation had pointed out that there is no system in our country to report non-functioning and 'out of order’ ATMs that we as customers see almost every time we want to use it. This makes it necessary for people to hop around and use other bank's ATM that are working. Another crucial issue is the restriction on money withdrawal. If someone needs, let’s say Rs25,000 but the ATM has withdrawal limit of Rs10,000. In this case, the person would end up making all three permitted transactions in one go.
The decision to permit banks to levy charges on ATM transactions is not, in itself, a move that should shatter consumer confidence. But, by choosing to issue a diktat on what should have been a decision by individual a reciprocal service obligation on banks, RBI has ended up signalling that it does not particularly care about the consumer.
Will PM Modi, who often talks about bringing 'achhe din' for common citizens rein in the financial regulator and the bank cartel from punishing own customers by levying variety of charges while enjoying one of the highest spreads on interest anywhere in the world?
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