Mrs Asha Gupta lives alone in a bungalow in Pune’s Sindh Society. She is a widow and her only child-a son is settled in the USA (working in an IT company in San Jose-California). She is 70 years old and has some health problems typical to her age.
Mrs Asha Gupta goes to the bank once a fortnight, to withdraw funds for her day-to-day requirements and once a year in order to purchase foreign exchange for her trip to the USA.There are many like her-single senior citizens living in her society and in the area.
A leading private sector bank in which she has her account, has given her a ATM Card, a complimentary credit card and have sent her letters asking her if she is interested in a reverse mortgage product that is ‘ideal’ for senior citizens who want to use their property to generate extra cash-but Mrs Gupta is not interested.
Her deceased husband was a senior government official and his pension gets credited to a pension account maintained with a public sector bank ( viz Bank of India). The investments that he had made prior to his death generate income which along with the pension is adequate for her needs. Her son also sends her money from time to time. Mrs Gupta is a Masters in History from Delhi University and has been a home maker all along.
When I met her she showed me files in which she had painstakingly filed the various mailers and promotion letters received from her bank as well as other banks who are wooing her for business.
I asked her about what a senior citizen ideally wants from a bank .
“The first thing is continuity and a customer friendly attitude’ she said. She went on to mention that the frequent turn-over of personnel in the branch breaks the continuity and disrupts the quality of service.”They assigned a young MBA graduate to my account. After three months she was gone. Then came another young chap. In two months, he had quit for a better position in a competitor bank. She rues that people like her have simple requirements like checking on the status of a transaction, asking for duplicate bank statements, getting tax certificates at the time of the financial year end. ” I have never used the credit card, since I hardly travel alone in India. In the USA, my son takes care of everything. For all my small daily purchases like groceries,vegetables etc I pay cash. Hence the credit card has become more of an admin pain than anything else.
“I wish that there would be a number or a pool of people that we could phone and get information easily at the branch level and not some impersonal 1-800 number.That way they know me and I them and incase of any queries we can sit across the table and sort it out.
She talks of the time that she was in the USA and had sent an E mail regarding a bankers cheque that had to be paid to the builder on behalf of her son. ‘The time difference made calling India quite inconvenient. I did not get any response to my e mail which was sent to the general e mail ID( for the banks customer service). Hence I had to call the branch and request assistance. They wanted a written application and not an E mail hence I had to request the branch manager to oblige me” .
She recalls the time that she got a letter from the bank asking her to fill in the account opening form etc all over again to meet KYC (know Your customer requirements). Going to the bank in an auto to submit the form in time – in the searing heat was inconvenient. She said that she didn’t post the form because she was not sure whether it would be misplaced.’It has happened to me in the past and hence I did not want to send my personal information in an envelope to a common address. Atleast I got an acknowledgement from the branch.
Lack of competitive exchange rates at the time of converting foreign inward remittances is another concern.’Whatever rate they use I don’t control and by the time I contact them, its done. Moreover they say that favorable rates are possible in case of ‘large remittances’ and hence I am only entitled to counter rates. I know that some of my other friends have got better rates in a different bank, but its not possible to manage multiple accounts for me, hence I have no choice.
Service charges is another issue. Mrs Gupta feels that senior citizens should not be charged for banking services. ‘If you see the history of the account, it is possible to see the float and the type of services utilized. These banks charge us for everything: duplicate statements, fee for converting foreign exchange, and even issuing foreign exchange .The rates at other authorized dealers are more competitive, but then again its more convenient to go to one place and hence you land up paying for that.
Customer guidance and training is another area where she feels that banks don’t take much effort in ensuring that the senior citizens are brought upto speed about the changes. “We are digital immigrants and hence are not aware of some of the changes taking place in the banking arena. Even when it comes to documentation, processes and new guidelines we hardly know what is going on’. She feels that her bank should organize periodic customer meets of senior citizens like herself so that they are able to voice concerns, queries and benefit from the collective experience.
As she spoke she showed me the ATM Card given to her by her bank. It was packed unopened and in a nice leather casing. ‘I plan to destroy this soon’ she said .
‘Home banking would be helpful if implemented in a regular way.There are times when it may not be possible for me or others like me to go the bank due to ill-health etc and during such times home banking with a human interface and not a computer would be very useful. Better still would be if banks set-up a senior citizens branch that caters exclusively to senior citizens living in that neighborhood.This would be very useful to both the parties: banks would get accounts of the senior citizens and their kith and kin while we would get a place that is better geared to serve our needs. They could have lawyers,notaries who can help with will making etc Right from account opening to health, overseas medical insurance to will making and other things can be done at one place”
Mrs Gupta is not the only one in this situation.The empty nester/single parent phenonmenon is quite common especially incase of parents /individuals whose family is employed in the IT/ITES sector.Its their simple banking requirements that they want fulfilled while banks are busy unleasing a volley of products that are technology oriented or complex for most users to follow or use.It would be useful if a ‘bottom-up’ approach is used by banks and their product development teams so that the ‘senior citizen’ account truly caters to this section of the population and does not remain a mere namesake