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How to say no to unsolicited banking calls

November 03, 2006 13:16 IST

It all started a year back. I was on leave and just as I began enjoying my afternoon siesta, my mobile rang. It was Malini Nair from Citibank trying to sell a women's credit card.

Malini: Good afternoon, Vidyalaxmi. We are happy to offer you a free credit card on the basis of the excellent relationship you share with the bank. Saving our time, I interrupted her and politely declined it.

A month later, Anumeha Chopra called to offer a free Gold credit card, again from Citibank. Despite several no's she insisted I take it as it wouldn't cost me a penny. I rudely hung up.

The periodicity of these calls began to irk me. They interrupted me at work, home and on holidays. Of course, this is not unique to me as every second customer of most banks suffers from this kind of harassment.

Baby steps

Recently, when I was surfing the Internet, I came across an interesting article on "no more unsolicited calls from banks". This caught my eye:

RBI Guidelines: A Snapshot

  • Customers should get 15 days to make payment before banks charge interest for delayed payment.
  • The card issuer has to explain wrong billing within 60 days along with documentary evidence.
  • The issuers have to give one-month notice before hiking any charge.
  • No extra charges for surrendering or closing a credit card.
  • Banks should maintain the Do Not Call Registry for customers to avoid unsolicited calls.
  • A bank has to reverse charges for sending unsolicited cards.
  • The monthly statement should carry the annual interest rate percentage.
  • Annual fee, late payment charges and method of calculating interest rates must be mentioned in the monthly statement.
  • The liability of dependents' credit cards is on the primary card holder.
  • For multiple cards, the credit limit should be decided on self-declaration or credit information.
  • Banks must address complaints within 30 days. If not, customers could move the RBI ombudsman.

It read: "Just register your telephone number and other particulars in case you do not wish to be called up by any bank for marketing of credit cards. Fill the online form and the bank would assure that your privacy is protected from all of its agents. Your registration will be effective after 30 days of registering your name in the Do Not Call Registry."

I jumped at it and logged on to the Citibank website. My eyes began to search for the key words, and soon I spotted the magic word DNCR on a pop up. The site threw up a form asking various personal details like name, telephone numbers (including mobile numbers) and email ID along with the credit card number. I submitted the form online and got a message, which said my request would be processed. I began to count my days to peace and solitude.

While surfing further, I noticed an interesting option, which is also available with ICICI Bank. Even if you do not share any banking relationship with these banks, you have the option of blocking unsolicited calls.

Right to privacy

By unveiling the credit card guidelines (see RBI Guildelines: A Snapshot), the RBI has tried to restore consumers' right to privacy. It has directed all banks to maintain DNCR on their websites. After a customer has filled up the required form, the onus of not calling them up lies with the bank. This responsibility cannot be passed on to DSAs or any other agency.

In India, consumers' privacy and time are taken for granted. They are haunted by offers for free credit cards. When tele-callers from banks or DSAs are pulled up, they blame it on unrealistic targets set by their companies. The more they sell, higher is their income. If you quiz a tele-sales executive on how they get access to private mobile numbers, the reply is: "I can't reveal that sir/madam. It's against our company policy."

Says Anusha Subramanian, a sales officer with Bajaj Allianz, "I can at least avoid spam mails by setting filters. But spam calls by banks are something I have not been able to avoid all these years. It is worse when these unsolicited calls catch me during important meetings or even a shower. I hope to get some respite through DNCR."

Coming from a sales background herself, Subramanian explains how these banks manage to get customers' numbers. Often customers give out numbers to companies and banks without realising that these can be passed on to DSAs and telemarketing agencies. This authorisation from the customer is usually hidden in the fine print, which specifies that the information can be passed on. The database is subsequently sold to telemarketers. This is how databases are collated. It is legitimate as the customer himself has given permission, albeit inadvertently.

Listen to what software engineer Ramesh Subramanian had to go through after having moved to California from Bangalore to take over a project. His mobile (on international roaming) buzzed and it was a telesales executive from ICICI Bank. "She was talking about some enhanced credit limit that was sanctioned on my card without my permission. First, they sent me an unsolicited credit card since I have my savings account with the bank. Then, they started sending me brochures on offers like cash back and reward points so that I use the card. Now, they are enhancing my credit limit, when I haven't even asked for it. I am tired of such marketing gimmicks." These calls can cost you a fortune, especially if you are on international roaming. Most companies reimburse official calls but these cannot be accounted for, he adds.

Subramanian was one of the early birds to sign for the DNCR initiative.

But, problems persist. Shveta Khanna, a Pune-based homemaker, had a tough time signing up DNCR. She called up ABN Amro's helpline to avail the service. They had a list of questions like her maiden name, date of birth, address and so on.

When she asked the telecaller, he explained that it was routine verification. After verifying the basic details and her car number, he insisted on confirming the last three transactions on her credit card. "It's too hard to recall details like that. After wasting five minutes, he refused to do the needful and I had to hang up," she says. Finally, Shveta signed up for DNCR online.

Common "do not call" soon

More surprises of the pleasant kind are in the works. In three months, you may not have to log onto different banks' websites to sign up DNCR. The Indian Banks' Association, along with the Indian Cards Council, is mulling the idea of floating a common DNCR covering all financial products.

This has been confirmed by IBA chief executive H N Sinor. Prospective service operators would be bidding to set up the centre soon and this should be cleared in the next quarter. The governance committee of the cards council comprises officials from MasterCard International, Central Bank of India, Citibank, HDFC Bank, HSBC, ICICI Bank and Vijaya Bank.

However, signing up the DNCR cannot save you from calls regarding your account, card maintenance and alerts on transactions or recoveries. Though I receive fewer calls, ever since I signed up for the service six months back, I haven't escaped the menace totally. My mobile still bothers me at times. Surveys, feedbacks on services, besides other exasperating excuses pop up from the other end quite often.

Even Kamakshi Iyer, an auditor, agrees with me. She says, "I haven't recieved a single call regarding a free credit card or an add-on card. But the mobile still buzzes occassionally. Calls are of a different nature now. They go, 'Madam this a call regarding your Citibank Golden Glow card... this is a survey...' or a feedback on the features of the card. They always find some excuse."

In the meantime, you can only sigh and look forward to another list that would annul all such calls.

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Vidyalaxmi, Outlook Money