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BW Businessworld

Can We Bank On Them?

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This column is usually about aviation, but at the moment I am so irritated by what happened to me last week that I cannot help but write about banks and their services. The incident I refer to happened with a loan I had taken from HDFC Bank to buy an apartment. Since we are selling the property, I needed to foreclose the loan. I went armed with my cheque (and luckily cheque book) and asked the lady in charge to close the loan and I would issue a cheque for the outstanding amount. She miscalculated the amount, got me to tear one cheque and asked me to fill a second amount in a new one.

I was surprised at the amount she asked me to fill and even asked her how it could be so much and she muttered something about "interest piles up". She, however, was the banker, and I presumed correct second time around. After I wrote out the cheque, I realised I would fall short of the full amount. On the advise of my banker friends, I spent the better part of my day (four hours to be precise) arranging cash to put into my account to avoid a cheque bouncing.

When I came home, I looked closely at the statement and realised the lady had made a second mistake and charged me the pre-payment charge and the simple interest twice. This is why the cheque amount I had given her to foreclose the loan was higher than the amount disbursed as loan to me! I tried calling her directly and was informed, not by her since she did not take the call but by someone, that there could not be a mistake and that I would need to come the next day to have my queries answered. I persisted as, by then, I was convinced they were in the wrong but she still did not take my call. I was told quite curtly to call the next morning after 11 am.

I called the next morning and explained the entire episode to another lady who answered. Again, she was not willing to connect me to the lady in question, but on my persistence she finally did. Soon after, I got a call verifying what I was saying and said that I would receive a refund delivered to my house after the cheque I had issued was realised. She never apologised for what had ended up in several hours of wasted time for me — blaming the mistake on "systems".

The long and short of this is to point out a few things. First, and foremost, bank executives need to take calls from customers. But I can appreciate if they are quite busy at work, if a client is repeatedly calling and asking to speak to someone to rectify a mistake, they need to give them the benefit of doubt and listen. Even if the client is wrong, it is the executive's duty to explain their mistake to them.

Secondly, to err once is human, to err twice is, perhaps, a trifle careless, but to be high handed and refuse to acknowledge one's mistake is, I'm afraid, unforgivable.

This brings me to another service offered by banks to priority customers — the relationship manager. From what I have understood, the only real relationship between you and this individual is really about them trying to convince you to invest your money in instruments that would fetch revenues for banks. That's all it amounts to. I don't know whether the amount earned by relationship managers is in any way linked to the total amount they manage to convince people to invest, but their single-minded focus on this makes me believe so. That these schemes may actually leave you poorer has recently been carefully demonstrated by Citibank.

Never has my relationship manager managed to help me resolve any problem or crisis I faced — when it comes even to picking up a cheque or a document, I have been curtly informed that I would need to go to so-and-so branch and abide by so-and-so rules and they cannot help me with whatever it is that I need. But if I decide to invest some of my money into the scheme they are hawking, the relationship manager appears out of thin air at my doorstep.

What I am trying to say is I am quite happy if these banks fire all relationship managers and charge me a little less for the services because I am yet to understand what benefit I derive from this relationship. I remember a time not too long ago when complaining of one's mobile service provider was a hot topic at most parties. This has changed. I think the mobile service providers have got their act together to some extent and services have improved.

Maybe the country's top bankers need to take a cue from Sunil Mittal and company. I, for one, am quite tired of reading which banks will have how many branches and handle how much revenue by 2020. First, they need to get their act together on the service they offer and then we may listen to their spiel.


(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 02-05-2011)