Digital financial inclusion sans consumer protection

A few weeks ago, I happened to stop over at a popular fast food restaurant where I used my debit card to make a payment. Their card machine “hung” after I typed in my PIN number and they had to re-swipe my card. Now, usually I get an update on my mobile, but on that day I had left my mobile at home. When I got back home I realised that my account had been debited twice. Naturally, I was livid. Not that the amount was large, but the principle of it! So I called up the customer care who politely directed me back to the merchant, who (luckily!) was not far from home. So I went back and demanded to be refunded and was shown a notice that said in such a case, we were to contact the bank and they could not do anything. The manager at the fast food joint also assured me that if the transaction were not reversed in 14 days (!!), I could get back to him.

In a separate incident, my colleague was at a bar, and her card was swiped for 180,000 instead of 1800/-. Of course, that was a much bigger hit and caused many alarm bells to go off in my head and hers.

Eventually both transactions were reversed, but the two incidents tell us many things need to be put in place before the government decides to incentivise digital financial inclusion in India.

1) Training of front line staff at retail outlets

2) Proper mechanisms for customer protection

3) Clear recourse mechanisms in case of errors

What if our transactions had not been reversed? What if the account belonged to someone from a low income household, who had just enough money that had to be used for a medical emergency? Or a wedding? And 14 days to reverse a transaction that takes less than 30 seconds one way?? Does the government not think about the loss of interest/ emotional cost when your savings account is debited with 180,000 instead of 1800?

Today, the only recourse mechanism available is to call a call centre where a bored, and ill trained customer service executive takes the request and does not commit to any TAT for the error to be rectified. If one belongs to a low income household, chances are that the call centre would not be called at all. In the circumstance that someone does decide to call the call centre, there is such little information provided and so little confidence generated in the services of the bank, that I would be very worried.

Also, bad experiences such as the anecdotes describe above only worsen uptake amongst their peer group. Our government, banks and current policy makers would do well to make sure we have the where-with-all to deal with the challenges that  can emerge from faceless and digital transactions, and develop policies that are more customer friendly. Else, this is likely to meet with a similar fate as no-frills account: i.e. low usage.

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