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Unhappy with service provided by your bank? Please raise your concerns!

Monday, October 03, 2016
By Anand Aras

Anand Aras
CEO, Banking Codes and Standards Board of India

In the modern marketplace, excellence in customer service is the most important tool for any business to flourish. Customer complaints can become the bane or boon of any business, depending on how they are tackled. This holds true for banks as well, given that they are service organizations. Banks are responsible for safeguarding their customers’ banking transactions and assisting them in achieving their financial aspirations. In theory, customers should be treated fairly at all times, and complaints raised by them are supposed to be dealt with courtesy and in a timely fashion. However, as customers we all know that the reality is contrary to theory.

Therefore, in order to protect customers’ rights, Banking Codes and Standards Board of India (BCSBI) formulates and prescribes codes to the banks. Member banks are committed to adhere to these codes and guide customers regarding the same. Unfortunately, according to data from The Annual Report by the Banking Ombudsman 2014-2015, complaints pertaining to non-observance of fair practice codes amount to the largest, with about 29.2 per cent of total complaints received, followed by card-related complaints (21.3 per cent), pensions (6.8 per cent) and levy of charges without prior notice (6.5 per cent).

However, the relationship between a bank and its customer is one of trust, which is why a robust customer protection framework is indispensible. In its codes, BCSBI has laid down a comprehensive and structured grievance redressal mechanism that safeguards, empowers and protects the customer. However proper education of how customers can best utilize this is lacking, making the entire process counter-productive and more importantly, frustrating.

It is important to know that there is no issue too small or too big to be redressed; it could be something as simple as getting a torn note while performing an ATM transaction to something as significant as being charged excessively on one’s credit card. It is only when customers raise their issues in a constructive manner that they improve the individual banking experience and help enhance the system at large.

Mandatory display requirements
For facilitating the process of registering a complaint, the banking Codes mandates that appropriate arrangements for receiving complaints and suggestions should be made by the bank. Every bank at each of its branches must display the following:
1. The name of the Branch official as also contact details of the Regional Manager/Nodal officer
2. Contact details of the Banking Ombudsman of the area

The Code of Bank’s Commitment to Customers must be given to the customer when he opens an account with the bank. Copy of the Code should also be available at the branch, if customer wishes to peruse.

Your bank is your first point of contact
For an effective and efficient grievance redressal system in any organization, the redress action should be as close to the initial point where the grievance arises. Nearly all banks have a grievance redressal cell, so customers can visit their bank’s branch and meet the officials to resolve the problem. Banks also have a dedicated toll-free customer care number, which can be used to lodge their grievance and get a complaint tracking no. Additionally customers also have the option of registering their complaint at the bank’s website.

What if your grievance is not resolved?
Despite following all the procedures in case the grievance is not resolved at the branch, one may approach the higher authorities of the bank. The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has advised all public and private sector banks to appoint a Principal Nodal Officer (who will be the main grievance redressal authority within the bank).  Once the complaint is lodged, the Bank is expected to respond within 30 days with an appropriate response, or an alternative avenue for problem-resolution.

The Banking Ombudsman Scheme for effective grievance redressal
If the bank is unable to address the complaint within a month’s time, the customer can approach the Banking Ombudsman (BO). The Banking Ombudsman Scheme was initiated as part of the Reserve Bank of India’s comprehensive customer protection framework. The Ombudsman is a senior official appointed by the RBI to redress customer complaints against deficiency in banking services. The complaint needs to be filed at the office of the ombudsman under whose jurisdiction the bank branch is located. The contact details of BOs are available on RBI’s website and the entire process is free of cost. There are also complaints categories which can be escalated to the Banking Ombudsman under the scheme. However, the Ombudsman can reject a complaint if the customer has not approached the bank for grievance redressal first, or the complaint has been dealt with at any other forum, like a court of law or consumer court. In the last year, the offices of Banking Ombudsman maintained a grievance disposal rate of 96%, where a sum total of 85,131 complaints were received.

If all else fails, take the legal route
If the customer is still not happy with the settlement offered by the Ombudsman, they can file an appeal with the appellate authority within 30 days of response from the Ombudsman. Alternatively, they can approach consumer redressal forums set up by the Government which take up bank-related complaints.

An inexpensive and speedy grievance redressal mechanism is vital for the banking experience of any customer. A well-functioning customer protection regime provides effective safeguards for banking customers and also empowers them to exercise the rights that they are entitled to. The onus of educating their front-line staff on the banking codes and grievance redressal mechanism lies with the Bank. This will facilitate a seamless and trouble free banking experience.

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