Money & Banking
Banks Are Fleecing Their Customers
The one entity that we are supposed to trust with our hard-earned money is our bank. And, yet, in the past couple of months, you would have noticed newspapers headlines, WhatsApp messages and social media discussing how customers are robbed, hoodwinked or cheated by banks which have complete contempt for their largest stakeholders. The outpouring of public outrage ought to make the regulator and policy-makers sit up. But they have maintained an impervious silence. Public anger is concentrated mainly in three areas. 
 
First, the discrimination between old and new borrowers for home loans: the difference in interest charged by most lenders is over 1%. This translates to a substantial burden for borrowers. Many of them are young people in their 30s, who have often struggled to pay back an education loan before buying a house. The difference in amounts repaid will run into lakhs of rupees over the repayment period. Banks have got away with such shameful discrimination for nearly a decade, only because the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) and the government turned a blind eye. Ordinary people, already burdened with debt, cannot spare the time to fight. Worse, RBI is complicit in allowing banks to extract a charge from borrowers every time there is a drop in interest rates. 
 
The second big flashpoint for public anger is the decision to charge people for withdrawing their own money. These charges are hefty. Many banks plan to charge as much as Rs150 after every fourth or fifth withdrawal. The government’s studied silence over the anger spilling out on social media almost suggests a quiet deal to allow banks to recover their losses on the extra time and effort made during demonetisation. But it is deplorable that these charges will be imposed without any assessment of the situation on the ground. Consider this:
 
• Banks continue to run short of currency stocked in ATMs and cap withdrawals. So, a person planning to limit cash withdrawals to free ones will have to make repeated transactions because the bank will not dispense the amount required. This is especially true over weekends. At the very least, a charge on withdrawals must be preceded by a guarantee of unlimited cash available at ATMs and appropriate software that monitors when the bank fails to dispense the amount sought.
 
• Secondly, ATMs across the country continue to be out of cash. We have received dozens of complaints, even from city centres. RBI has not bothered to respond, or even acknowledge, that it is aware of the problem of continued cash shortage.  Our columnist, Dr Yerram Raju, has written a detailed account of the shocking situation in Hyderabad in our online edition.  
 
• Here is an eye-opening response to Dr Raju’s article, by a former deputy managing director of the State Bank of India (SBI). He says, “Non- or malfunctioning ATMs is an ailment affecting the entire network. It is not geography-specific. Though we are told that required changes to the hardware have been carried out, the factual status seems to be different. Supply or flow of currency to the branches is yet to happen. I am not sure who is misrepresenting facts—the RBI or the top management of the banks. At the granular level, the operating staff is faced with a challenge of taking care of customer service without adequate support in the context of currencies.”
 
• The situation at SBI, which levies the heftiest charges on customers also, prevails at all nationalised banks which account for over 45% of our banking system. RBI’s own study in 2016 showed that 30% of bank ATMs are non-functional (this was before the note-ban). This number would have increased substantially after the note-ban. In response to a Moneylife survey, angry customers told us that they were forced to use ATMs of private banks or go to the branch, because their own ATMs did not work. RBI ignored these complaints. 
 
• Two years ago, when complaints about bank charges had caused anger, Moneylife Foundation showed RBI officials the prototype of an app that would track non-functional ATMs through user-feedback and monitor action. RBI simply ignored our proposal. And, yet, it is sitting on over Rs3,500 crore of depositors’ money to be used for such services that it can itself initiate.
 
• Clearly, RBI and banks are betting on the fact that consumer anger will fizzle out and they will learn to live with the charges, as they have ever since banks began to increase charges in a cartelised fashion (SMS charges, debit card charges, non-home branch charges, etc). 
 
A third source of anger is the lack of any engagement by policy-makers—whether it is RBI or the finance ministry as owner of public sector banks (PSBs). It is almost as though the government has given a carte blanche to bankers to fleece depositors, not only through frivolous charges but also through the rampant mis-selling of insurance, structured derivative products (sold without explaining the risk) and mutual funds. The methods of cheating, especially for single-premium insurance policies, are now a template. Yet, banks, as well as the banking ombudsman, reject complaints outright. Most often, the targets are senior citizens, often people in their late 70s and 80s, who end up losing precious savings. 
 
On 18th March, Moneylife Foundation called a group of NGO activists and analysts to discuss bank charges and sent a joint memorandum to the RBI governor, Dr Urjit Patel, seeking action. These include: the Mumbai Grahak Panchayat, All India Bank Depositors Association, Consumer Voice, Citizen Consumer and Civic Action Group (CAG), Chennai, as well as leading financial writers including Dhirendra Kumar, founder of Value Research, Harsh Vardhan Roongta, founder of Apnapaisa.com, RN Bhaskar, editor and columnist, and others. More importantly, the mammoth All India Bank Employees Association (AIBEA) and the Central Bank Employees Association also supported the stand. This was followed up by an online petition which had attracted over 22,000 signatures in just five days. (Please sign the petition if you feel strongly about bank charges: https://www.change.org/p/governor-rbi-finance-ministry-stop-banks-fleecing-depositors).
 
Apart from the issues that I have already highlighted in previous columns regarding floating loans, unfair and one-sided agreements and the need to implement the consumer charter, the petition made a strong case for allowing seamless migration of bank accounts (along with all the standing instructions for direct debits to pay loan instalment, utility bills, investments, etc). Today, technology makes this feasible and it will ensure that banks fight to retain customers, rather than allow them to be exploited by cartelised charges. 
 
When policy-makers decided not to interfere with fixation of bank charges, they expected competition to keep a check on banks. However, payroll accounts and the needless bureaucracy around  account migration has tied down consumers and killed any semblance of competition. The memorandum also demanded that bank charges must be transparent. Dhirendra Kumar says that we entrust our money to banks for safe custody. They should not be allowed to debit any charges from our account, howsoever small, without explicit consent and two-step confirmation through an OTP system. 
 
Please notice that banks send you a text message for every transaction, and extract a quarterly charge for it; but these do not include debits by the banks for any late payment fees, interest, or account management charges of the type that HDFC Bank has been appropriating by stealth. The point is simple: Banks cannot take advantage of the fact that they have custody of our money, to debit any of it without our express sanction. 
 
Similarly, banks cannot, unilaterally, change the terms of their original loan agreement by holding borrowers to ransom and extracting charges from them to reduce interest. It makes a complete farce of the concept of ‘floating rates’. All these actions would be struck down as unconscionable if consumers are able to come together and go to court in a class action suit. 

 

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COMMENTS

Sandeepan Bose

7 months ago

In developed countries customers can not enter the bank without an appointment. It is very expensive to service a withdrawal slip at the bank counter.Banks used to work as a service to the nation when India was growing up. 60 years past independence, banks have not got past the service mode. Its time that branch managers are accountable for profitability and service failures. If the branch can not service the number of accounts bank managers should put their hands up and say sorry we can not service so many clients.

Ashwin Mehta

7 months ago

The public should initiate a movement, Which I termed as :KYB as Vs. KYC. KYB means "Know Your Bankers". If the banks are having the right to know their customers, the general public also should have the right to know their bankers. Non availibility of cash is a standard and regular feature now in Mumbai at various ATMs.

Rajesh G

7 months ago

In online scenario on march 31st a incident happened to many of the customers that certain private sector banks started blocking the RTGS payment sites stating Server issue in order to retain the customer base and avoid transfer of funds outside the bank network. The common of these banks were HDFC and Kotak. I was surprised when many of the these banks customers started telling the same story that server was hanged. This is another way of duping the customers on last day of financial year to avoid making transactions.

B. Yerram Raju

7 months ago

Now is the time for customers to get their due for what they transact with the banks. The rule book of ATMs say that a customer is entitled to draw Rs.40000 a day but to get the same he has to operate the mandated 3 times!! This would mean that the customer can draw his entitlement only once a month. Read ATM as At a Time a Month.
2. It is important that the ATM should dish out the following denominations in the percentage indicated against them: Rs.100-10%; Rs.500-40%; Rs.2000-50%. Any drawal less than Rs.1000 shall all be in Rs.100 denominations. The ATM slip should print this proportion as a commitment on the back of it and failure to adhere should auto credit the related customer account Rs.100/-.
3. Any bank branch delaying credit of cheque drawn on it within 24hours irrespective of holidays and failure to do so will attract a penalty on the bank with an auto credit to the account to the extent of Rs.100 for all cheques below Rs.10000 and Rs.300 for all cheques above Rs.10000/-.
4. If any bank delays crediting the proceeds of the cheque/bill sent for collection outside the city in which the account holder has the account, beyond 3 days, the bank shall pay interest at 3% of the amount of the bill akin to what they collect on the credit card dues beyond the due date. This will maintain parity between the bank and the customer.
These suggestions may be sent to the IBA and RBI by the Money Life if agreeable to all.

Abhijit Gosavi

7 months ago

Why is it that ATMs in the U.S. never run out of cash? It is possible that a very small proportion of the population in the U.S. actually withdraws cash. But the problems in India are more likely due to lack of professionalism in how banks are run, and they appear to be at the top. How else do you explain legitimate complaints falling on deaf ears? Indians need to become as professional as their top-class cricketers. Becoming professional means doing your work sincerely; it does not require a large number of degrees, nor should it require additional incentives. Once again, a brilliant and detailed piece of writing.

REPLY

B. Yerram Raju

In Reply to Abhijit Gosavi 7 months ago

I fully agree. The most efficient Imperial Bank of India had cashiers with Metric or SSLC as the qualification for recruitment. But they knew Banking through both practice and rigourous application of rules to lend credence to theory. Failure to honour a rule was punished.
Today, most staff operating on computers do not know banking and the officers behind the desks no better. Machine dictates and man obeys. Hence the highly qualified persons can talk more of derivatives and not the instrument behind the derivative. This is taking banking in India close to disaster that the double-digit growth targeted India can ill afford. bad banking and good economy cannot coexist. High time that the GoI and RBI wake up from the slumber and take remedial steps before they hit the hard rock.

David Rasquinha

7 months ago

Is there any data on how many customers withdraw cash more than 4 times from a branch or ATM? I wonder if this is such a problem as it is made out to be.

REPLY

B. Yerram Raju

In Reply to David Rasquinha 7 months ago

The data is available with the banks as they levy the penalty for the breach. Such data can be commissioned only by the RBI and not by a Consumer Forum or another agency.

Suketu Shah

7 months ago

The root cause of this is that our FM is a lawyer,not an economist.Plus his subordinates like Shaktikumar Das ,Arvind Subramanium,etc are PC's moles who want to spoil NaMo's names so they do nothing about such nonsense by banks.

c v manian

7 months ago

Please write to the MPs in your constituencies and ask them to talk to the Finance Ministry or take up the matter with RBI, so that the genuine concerns of the citizens can be addressed. For too long, RBI has taken the citizens for granted and it is time, that we wake up and hold our MPs accountable. Please don't sit tight. Get your MP's address from the Parliament website and write to them and follow up for actions taken.

B. Yerram Raju

7 months ago

Yes; a class suit seems imperative. Second, we are surprised to notice that when we ask for the deposit schemes for senior citizens, managers explain the insurance products and the Banks' mutual funds that get them higher returns. All senior citizens better be aware of the traps. Such off-beat products and mutual funds are sold because they fetch them commission while even if they do not achieve the deposit and credit budgets annually, they get their salaries. Top brass also has their corresponding share in the commissions and hence the annual budget performances do not worry them.

drsharmilaraopn

7 months ago

Thanks for the informative article, I shall check with my bank about relevant areas.

Deepak Narain

7 months ago

It is a dismal situation. I pray the RBI, Finance Minister and the PM to intervene and solve these problems.

MOHAN SIROYA

7 months ago

Thanks to Sucheta Dalal for spreading this public awareness about fleecing by banks and the Regulator RBI's covert consent of free hand to all the banks to do what they desire, taking the hapless depositors to ransom.
As for the ATMs less said the better. There are specific rules for allowing off site ATMs of the banks which are to be adhered as given in para 4 (1)(b) of the Master Circular on Branch Automization dated July 1 , 2014.. But these rules are merely on paper . In a place on Andheri Kurla Road, Marol Pipe line, there are five ATMs installed of different banks ,but except two ,none of the ATMs follow the rules as laid down for the safety of user's privacy and data. While three ATMs are not guarded by any watchman, one ATM installed by ICICI Bank is proving dangerous as it is installed in a shop in a corner of 2'x3' feet open space with no CCTV camera or any privacy of operation from the prying eyes of people walking in and out and marking person's transaction .This resulted in many leakages and inconvenience to the ATM users and they complained to our Consumer Complaints Cell. When we wrote to RBI , it just did not indicate any corrective action. When RBI was approached under RTI Act to reply as to what action is envisaged by the regulator for such unsafe, open road side ATMs, RBI's one department replied that "NO Action on record" whereas another department replied that " Information asked for does not fall under the definition of Information" and rejected application. First Appeal met with the similar summary disposal. Of course, we will go in second appeal to CCIC.
However, this sort of cavalier action on the part of RBI is a deliberate ploy to benefit banks without caring for its own statutory norms and safeguards in area of Consumer Protection. RBI moto seems to be "Transact Cashless at your own Peril "

Six arrested for running fake company, cheating bank
Six people including an employee of a private bank were arrested from West Bengal's North 24 Parganas district for allegedly running a fake company and fraudulently withdrawing large amount from the bank, police said on Thursday.
 
"The two main accused, Syed Arman Ali (34) and Niloy Debnath (36), were arrested along with their aid Rintu Pandey (30), on Wednesday for running a fake company named Computer Science Corporation Ltd and opening several fake salary accounts in the name of its employees at an Axis Bank branch in North 24 Parganas district's Barrackpore," Joint Commissioner of Police (crime) Vishal Garg said.
 
According to police, the two accused provided fake documents to open active salary accounts in the name of fake employees and issue credit cards.
 
"They fraudulently withdrew around Rs 9.9 lakh from the bank," Garg said.
 
"Abhishek Paul (48), an employee of that bank branch, was also arrested for allegedly helping the fake company owners by issuing credit cards and opening bank accounts without proper verification. 
 
"Two more people, Kartik Adhikari (49) and Amit Laha (38), were apprehended for withdrawing cash using those credit cards without buying anything," the officer said
 
Police seized several documents, fake ID proofs and other props, used in the cheating.
 
Disclaimer: Information, facts or opinions expressed in this news article are presented as sourced from IANS and do not reflect views of Moneylife and hence Moneylife is not responsible or liable for the same. As a source and news provider, IANS is responsible for accuracy, completeness, suitability and validity of any information in this article.

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COMMENTS

Tiger India

4 months ago

I have applied for GST and I got GSTIN eventhough my annual turnover is lessthan 20lakhs.I wanted to know whether I have to pay extra tax on my transactions or not.Please give me reply how to excape if I want to pay extra tax.

Policy to tackle NPAs coming very soon: Jaitley
The government will shortly announce measures to deal with the major problem of banks' non-performing assets (NPAs), or bad loans, that it has drawn up in consultation with the RBI, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said on Thursday.
 
"In the next few days, you will hear of some policy decisions taken between the RBI and the government, in order to bring pressure to bear in resolving the NPAs situation," Jaitley said at the CNBC awards event here.
 
He said that although the NPA amounts are large, the major ones are restricted to a limited number of companies.
 
"Big NPAs are confined to to 30..40..at best 50 companies," he said.
 
The magnitude of the problem can be guaged from the NPA figures of state-run banks, which at the end of the current fiscal's second quarter that ended in September, rose to Rs 6.3 lakh crore, as compared to Rs 5.5 lakh crore at the end of the first quarter.
 
Earlier, this month Jaitley met with Reserve Bank of India Governor Urjit Patel and other senior officials here to discuss the NPAs issue.
 
The meeting discussed the idea of a Private Asset Management Company (PAMC), as well as a National Asset Management Company (NAMC), to tackle the bad loans issue proposed recently by RBI Deputy Governor Viral Acharya.
 
As per the plan, the banking sector could be asked to restructure about 50 large stressed assets in sectors like metals, construction, telecom and textiles, by December 31, 2017.
 
According to sources, the meeting also discussed the concept of a "bad bank" that has been proposed by Chief Economic Advisor (CEA) Arvind Subramanian.
 
To a query regarding the Universal Basic Income (UBI) scheme advocated by the CEA, Jaitley spoke in praise of the idea and said that an interested state could consider setting up a pilot project. 
 
"Even before he (Subramanian), floated the UBI idea, it had got reflected in the budget of Jammu and Kashmir," Jaitley said.
 
"I've always considered it a very good idea. Any state government which is willing to take the chance, can consider a pilot project," he added. 
 
The Economic Survey 2016-17, presented in January, advocated a UBI scheme as an alternative poverty reduction mechanism in place of various ongoing social welfare programmes.
 
The Survey, authored by the Chief Economic Advisor, pitched for a scheme to transfer a reasonable basic income to Indians below the poverty line.
 
"A UBI that reduces poverty to 0.5 per cent would cost between 4-5 per cent of GDP, assuming that those in the top 25 per cent income bracket do not participate," the Survey said.
 
Elaborating on the scheme, which has no precedents globally, Subramanian has earlier said that it would entail making an unconditional cash transfer of about Rs 10,000-Rs 15,000 a year to every citizen, and could replace more than 1,000 schemes the government runs for poverty elimination.
 
 
Disclaimer: Information, facts or opinions expressed in this news article are presented as sourced from IANS and do not reflect views of Moneylife and hence Moneylife is not responsible or liable for the same. As a source and news provider, IANS is responsible for accuracy, completeness, suitability and validity of any information in this article.

 

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