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Elastic norms behind your plastic

Sunil Sethi | August 05, 2005

In the morning scramble to make it to an appointment on time (between ringing phones and attempting to settle an account) I hastily signed for a courier package and found I had been dished out yet another unwanted credit card, from a bank I have no connection with.

In the past year this is at least the sixth time that I have had an unsolicited piece of plastic thrust on me.

At a time when the Reserve Bank of India's draft guidelines for credit card companies have been framed as a warning to restrain themselves, they appear determined to up the ante in their fight for customers.

The sales pitch has shot up to frenzied heights in recent weeks. I continue to receive up to two to three--and sometimes as many as six--calls a day on my cell phone, offering unsolicited loans, credit cards, and other services.

Many friends and colleagues are similarly badgered day in day out, in cavalier disregard of the Supreme Court or the RBI's views on intrusion of privacy and maintaining "do-not-call" databases.

"The RBI guidelines are a welcome step. The Bank has taken a balanced approach," said ICICI Bank's executive director Chanda Kochar the other day.

Ironically, her bank is the most persistent and offensive among my nuisance callers each day. After I irritably tried to ward off one caller, an especially unpleasant person on behalf of ICICI Bank demanded to know why, if I was not prepared to listen, I had my mobile switched on.

Most banks and service-providers outsource the business of telephone calls, preferring not to soil their own hands, and use fly-by-night database companies that, in turn, employ hordes of untrained, semi-literate button-pushing staff.

Consider for a moment the plight of these workers at their punishingly monotonous and thankless jobs: suffering abuse and invective on an eight-hour shift, day after day.

It is the electronic age's version of sweatshop labour and grim, hole-in-the-wall factories.

Like the banks pushing the phenomenal growth in the credit card business through means fair or foul, they too are meeting "sales targets" for every call they make.

Here is one seamy side of the story that the media seems to have missed in the plethora of recent reports on how call centres operate.

Another is how telephone databases are compiled--that is to say how your private cell number and mine gain such wide currency among nuisance callers.

No respectable bank or service-provider will admit to this but it is common knowledge that cell numbers are, in fact, bought and sold.

It is in fact cell phone companies and the banks themselves who are reputedly the biggest traders in this racket, making a neat profit in "selling" their clients' private numbers.

Bankers such as Chanda Kochar may not admit to this but that is, in fact, how databases comprising millions of names, cellphone numbers, and other private details have become public property.

The RBI and the Supreme Court need to examine the menace of intrusive, unsolicited calls in far greater detail. The nuisance must be checked at the source.

All cell phone owners or bank account holders must be given a "do-not-call" option. This is the norm followed in most civilised parts of the world and must be made mandatory in India.

Meanwhile, as a postscript, let me reveal a banker friend's advice on how to handle the daily fusillade of nuisance callers (believe it or not but bankers too, hoist with their own petard, are victims).

"I use two of the commonest, most effective words of abuse in the English language," he said, giving a loud demonstration of how to say "F*** off".

As he swore that it had resulted in substantially reducing the number of useless callers, I asked who taught him this simple method. "My wife," he replied.

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Number of User Comments: 2

Sub: Credit Card Sourcing

Credit Card is a sold product not a bought one. This means that as a tangible plastic card it has to be sold today but ...

Posted by Ranjeet

Sub: Elastic Norms...

Cruel, Mr Sethi, very cruel. I hope your banker friend is hoisted really high on his own petard for advocating this approach, however grave the ...

Posted by salil


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