Paradox Paradise

Would you still call it nonsense, if sense exchanges its meaning with nonsense?

Friday, June 01, 2007

The great bank robbery

“Hello! I’m Sweet Mouth, from Cut Throat Inc. Do you like to have a credit card, sir?”

“Of course! I would love to have one!”

“Sir, we have silver, gold, platinum…”

“Wait! I’ll tell you my requirements, and probably you can choose the best one for me.”

“Sure, sir.”

“I don’t have a job.”

“That’s absolutely fine, sir. All you need is three month’s bank statement.”

“I don’t have a bank account, either.”

“Don’t worry sir. You can open an account with us.”

“I don’t have any address proof, I stay in a small room that has no documents.”

“It’s ok sir. You can give me your telephone bill, that would be enough.”

“I use a pre-paid connection. You were lucky to get me, it will get expired by midnight”

“I’m sorry, sir… I don’t think…”

“Don’t say it. I need a credit card. Nobody would need a credit card as much as I do now!”

“But, sir…”

“I’m ok with a copper, or wood, or plastic or even a paper one”

“I’m sorry, sir. I can’t help you, sir. You don’t have a salary slip or bank statement…”

“That’s exactly why I need a credit card! If I have money in the bank, why would I want a credit card?

“You are right, sir. But…”

“Alright Sweet Mouth, please let me know if you come up with any plan that suits people like me.”

“Sure sir. Thank you for talking sir. Bye, and have a nice day!”

That particular kind of ‘nice day’ she wished me about four years back is yet to arrive. A nice day, with one or more credit card bills, a 3-year personal loan, a 5-year vehicle loan, and 20-year old housing loan to pay off. This sort of mortgaged life is one of the most desirable options one is left with these days. And it is pretty difficult to choose the easier way of living.

Today, one can’t live without banks. I still can keep my money stuffed inside my bed, and it will give almost the same amount of interest any bank would. But to do that, I’ll have to take the money out of the bank first, that’s the catch. No one pays in hard cash. Even bearer cheques are hard to get. That’s the second catch, or the catch on the catch – you can’t survive without a bank account.

Fifteen years back, when I opened my first bank account, all needed was two signatures from my father and three from me. And two passport size photographs and fifty rupees. With another fifty rupees I would have got a chequebook too! Opening a bank account was not that easy once I moved out of the little town where everyone in the bank from the peon to the manager knew not just me, but even my forefathers. But then, I had the sweet option to live without a bank account. Salaries were given in hard cash, or bearer cheques as you demand. And then came the new age banks. Banks with carpeted floors, flower vases with fresh flowers, and couches to sit and wait. And when I entered in one such bank for the first time, about six years back, I was offered a comfortable chair, coffee and a bank account. All they had asked for was three of four of my signatures. The sweet chap with a tasteless brown necktie didn’t even ask for my photographs; he shot me instead, with a Polaroid camera. And if you see that photograph, you won’t fail to notice the puzzled wonderment in my half-popped out eyes. And in three or four days, the magic card and its secret code reached me in separate mails. The world had really changed; I had no other option, but to believe.

The traditional banking used to be one of the simplest businesses on earth. With an easier logistics than a teashop. You take money from people giving them an interest, and then you give it to other people for a higher interest. But with this simple way of business it’s almost impossible for banks to have cozy couches and coffee for their customers. And just for the comfort and convenience of their customers, these poor new age banks are pushed to adopt dubious methods, departing from their simple business model.

For a person like me an offer like allowing zero balance was the most comforting of all thoughts. There were innumerable instances the thought of my-hundred rupees-that-I-can’t-have came tormenting, while coughing-up for the cheapest, yet precious, bottle of alcohol. The new banks only demanded an average quarterly balance of five thousand rupees, and I can withdraw to the last paise. It took exactly three months for me to figure out the new business model of these generous banks. Average quarterly balance means I have to keep at least five thousand rupees in the bank, just like a lifetime fixed deposit! Not exactly like a fixed deposit, because they wouldn’t be giving me the 16-20% interest on my deposit as the old, grumpy banks. And if I didn’t keep the balance they will charge 40% interest on the amount as a fine! Not at all fine with me. Still I can have zero balance, only if the amount is a multiple of hundred, because ATMs keep only hundred rupees notes. And if try to withdraw the amount less than hundred from their cash counter, they will charge hundred rupees as the service charge. That means, the banks can keep the change. When was the last time, you tipped like that while being sober?

It’s not just an almost interest free, lifetime fixed deposit, and free change I’m giving to the bank. Just for my added convenience of cozy couches and one time coffee. I’ll pay hundred rupees every year for my ATM card; and I’ll pay usage charges if I access the ATM more than thrice a day when I’m in town, or more than twice in a month when I’m outstation. If I use my card to make a purchase, I’ll pay a service charge for that convenience too. Cheques are more profitable, especially if they bounce. If a cheque is bounced, the bank doesn’t have to pay anyone. Not just that, they will charge fine from the one who issued the cheque, and from the one who presented it!

At this point, I’m more than tempted to tell an anecdote. One Mr. Nice Guy opened a bank account to help his MNC-bank-executive friend, who had a tough time with the necktie and the sales target around his neck. Mr. Nice Guy gave five thousand rupees, and three days later his ATM card and secret code came in different mails. A couple days later the code for telebanking came by another mail. And a few days later another mail came with the codes for Internet banking. Mr. Nice Guy didn’t bother to open any of these mails, because his only good intention was to help his friend to reach closer to his target, not to use the account. About two years later, Mr. Nice Guy went to the bank to close his account and collect his five thousand rupees and its nominal interest, and found his account has hardly two thousand rupees. A sweet bank employee explained it very sweetly to the furious Mr. Nice Guy. He was charged hundred rupees for his Internet banking facility, making his balance in the account to rupees four thousand and nine hundred only. And every quarter, he was paying the fine for not keeping his average quarterly balance of five thousand rupees, like a very comfortable customer.

Since I had learnt the secret behind the cozy couches and stories under the carpets the hardest way, I was not very surprised to read the news that in US alone banks make 40-50 billion USD through unexplained service charges. Service charges for giving you back your own hard earned money, which you had lent to the bank! And this figure is only for personal banking. I couldn’t find the corresponding figure for India, even after googling for hours for it. But, I’m sure, even if the amount they make in profits would be less in India, the percentage wouldn’t be much less. And I believe, even the ones who will explode with anger at a rickshaw driver for two extra rupees are more than comfortable with these glossy banks’ grand robbery. Now I understand what they exactly meant by zero balance.

“But – you see, a bank or a company can’t do that, because those creatures don’t breath air, don’t eat side-meat. They breathe profits; they eat interest on money. If they don’t get it, they die the way you die without air, without side-meat. It’s a bad thing, but it’s so. It’s just so.”

From The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck.

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At Fri Jun 01, 03:21:00 pm, Blogger Me said...

Even if you have a bank account or a telephone bill, banks will not give you a credit card or a loan if you're a lawyer, journalist or neta! This guy from a private bank called me once and told me I'd been selected for a gold card and all I needed to do was fill a form and the card would be mailed to me. And no hidden costs! Two months after I'd signed on the dotted line, I received a letter rejecting my application. Application? I thought it was a 'form' I was filling. And they rejected me for being a journalist after 'offering' me their gold card! Disgusting!

At Fri Jun 01, 04:26:00 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

i know what ur saying. shanks cheers

At Mon Jun 04, 11:32:00 am, Blogger Jubin George said...

Devanshi: Didn't know about that exemption of three powerful categories from issuing a credit card. May be they have a survey report that tells them these categories seldom pay their bills :p Issuance is at the sole discretion of the bank, so I doubt whether one can challenge the bank's decision legally. But this exemption is not specified in any of any bank's documents, and I personally know people from all the three categories who have one or more cards. Anyways, I guess, you can consider it as a blessing in disguise :)

Shanks: Nice to see you in the comment section, after a long long long time :)

At Thu Jun 07, 05:22:00 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

jus love the way you think and i cant agree more !

- mani

At Thu Jun 07, 11:12:00 pm, Blogger Jubin George said...

mani: It was nice of you to drop by, and leave a comment. I wish someone would suggest me an escape route :)

At Thu Jun 07, 11:29:00 pm, Blogger clash said...

Hmmm...profits, rule the world. But how long? I wonder.

At Fri Jun 08, 10:09:00 am, Blogger dharmabum said...

i liked that credit card thing. in fact, i got a call yesterday and used the trick - the guy calling was flummoxed, to say the least.

At Sat Jun 09, 12:34:00 pm, Blogger Jubin George said...

clash: Till it reaches zero-balance? I have nothing against anyone in making profits; my problem is only with robbing, especially robbing me.

dharmabum: Nice to know that the idea works! But, I was telling only the truth. Every word of it. Though that kind of calls are more than irritating, I know poor things are doing it only for a living.

At Sat Jun 09, 01:14:00 pm, Blogger shenoy said...

why do you think citibank's line (for e.g.) is 'where money lives'? no matter whose money it is....

At Mon Jun 11, 02:29:00 am, Blogger StandbyMind said...

So true..
and so wel written man!

At Mon Jun 11, 10:00:00 am, Blogger dharmabum said...

yes, they only do it for a living, and so i try not to be rude to them. there was this girl - i listened patiently and tole her i wasn't interested but asked her if she'd like to have a cup of coffee with me ;)

At Mon Jun 11, 03:52:00 pm, Blogger Jubin George said...

shenoy: How bad of me to talk nasty about such 'honest' people! :)

aman: Thanks for droping by. Hope to see you here again.

dharmabum: Hope she didn't invite you to her office for that cofee! :)

At Wed Jun 20, 11:41:00 am, Blogger amooma said...

Man, that was strong!! Lucky me not to get that credit card. Disgusting the way all those service charges pile up on u.

At Thu Jun 21, 11:43:00 am, Blogger Jubin George said...

amooma: They steal a hell lot from your debit card too! And that's what I found the most absurd. Nice to see you here after a long time :)

At Fri Jun 22, 07:10:00 pm, Blogger Bullshee said...

I was shocked at your last story!Thats just down right dirty banking!Didn't your friend even get regular bank statements letting him know 'Sir, we're joyously screwing you!!!??'

At Tue Jun 26, 01:26:00 pm, Blogger Jubin George said...

bullshee: Of course he got quarterly statements, along with many other mails that tell 'Sir, we have a new, attractive way to screw you'. He never bothered to open the mail that brought the card and PIN, and you expect him to check the statements and new offers?

It was very nice of you to drop by and leave a comment. Would love to see you here again. :)

At Mon Jul 02, 09:07:00 pm, Blogger Matangi Mawley said...

tht was very well written!

At Mon Aug 13, 10:26:00 am, Anonymous Lorra said...

I agree that nowasays we can't live without banks, it is unfortunately, but that's a fact. We all live in credit and it is kinda sad that all our lives we owe money to somebody for a car, education or house, but that's the way it is and we should face it and try to find reliable bank and a good credit card that fits us, that's the only way out to my mind.

At Mon Aug 13, 12:58:00 pm, Blogger Jubin George said...

lorra, thankfully I still can manage without one. And I don't think there are any reliable banks. It's unfortunate, but that's a fact.

At Tue Aug 28, 01:35:00 pm, Anonymous Lorra said...

I wonder how can u manage without one? Don't you at least have savings? I mean if you really do, I envy you. As to reliable banks that's true.


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