Banking in India

Oh boy, where do I start?  This has been a tale of what they call here an “Indian nightmare”. Nothing went right.

To begin let me tell you about PAN cards.  These are cards required for anyone who is paying Indian taxes.  Thus Eric, as the wage earner, (I cannot work here because I don’t have the right visa) had to get one.  It takes a while and requires a copy of a signed lease, passport, visa, etc., etc., etc.  He gets it.

With PAN in hand we both went to the local HDFC Bank branch.  We chose this bank because it is an international bank, has many branches and ATMs countrywide and was recommended to us.

I was unable to take pictures inside the bank, but suffice to say it doesn’t exactly feel “safe”. Cashiers are behind desks with a 2 foot high piece of glass that is easily reached over.  There is one cash drawer but multiple cashiers.  So your cashier will make sure your check is valid (by making lots of marks all over the check), will pass it to another cashier who makes similar marks all over the check, passes the check back to the first cashier who stamps it and has you sign it again on the back.  And then?  Yes, the check goes back to the second cashier who finally gives you your money.  At some point they are supposed to check your ID, but this didn’t happen with me because I’m white, versus the Indian woman next to me who was rejected because she wasn’t carrying ID.

At the desks where you actually open your account there are either two or three people sharing one space, one computer and sometimes one chair.  Not sure what the other people are doing.  It isn’t clear how well trained they are.  This is very much an old-fashioned, paper-based system.

Back to my story. Our bank officers were quite nice and we filled out lots of forms, many signatures and after 2 hours left with a preliminary ATM card and check book.  That was the last time things worked for us.

Here is the list of things that went wrong (some of which were our fault!)

  • we changed phones from a prepaid plan to a postpaid (like in the US) and had to change phone numbers.  This completely screwed up the bank’s internal systems and it took me several visits and two weeks to get this fixed.
  • We got locked out of the account a few times and the texts went to the old phone number, which we couldn’t retrieve.  Required a trip to the bank.
  • Eric got a permanent ATM card about three weeks later so the temporary card stopped working.  But this one now sends texts to his new phone number.  One problem solved.
  • Anytime a new biller is added to the account or a bill is paid a one-time password is generated and sent to Eric’s phone.  So he has to be nearby when I’m working on bills.
  • Despite repeated attempts to apply for my ATM card it never came.  I never heard from the bank.  I called.  They’d say something was missing.  I’d fill out more forms. I’d wait.  I’d call.  You get the picture.
  • Four weeks later, in early April, they said because I didn’t have a PAN card myself there was another form that needed to be filled out.  I filled it out.  It got lost.  Two weeks later I called.
  • I filled out the form again.  Two weeks later I went to Citibank to open another bank account.
  • Today I found out that in March (that would be 10 weeks ago) Indian banking laws changed requiring all bank account holders to have a PAN card or…. NO ATM.
  • Tomorrow I apply for a PAN card.
  • When we get back to India we move our money because a bank that can’t communicate unless the customer calls to complain doesn’t deserve my business.

I’m one small account, but I need to send the message that this is really poor customer service!

A Rupee is a Rupee is a Rupee

Yesterday we went to the bank to open our account.  I could have said it was worse than my experience with Citizen’s, but that would be a lie.  In this instance US banking is as painful as it is in India.

As we were leaving we got stuck behind a car and then an armored vehicle.  There was a huge fight going on since the car did not want to pay the 20 rupees (that’s about 30 cents) for the parking.  The guys from the armored car jumped out with their rifle (yes, rifle!) and there were about 8 people yelling to get the guy to pay so they could leave.

Lessons learned:

  • It is easy to rob an armored car in India, just have a car avoid paying and everything grinds to a halt.
  • Our driver got out and paid the 20 rupees so we could leave.
  • The driver who escaped was completely unappreciative.
  • Once the payment was resolved everyone stopped yelling and got in their cars and drove off.
  • 20 rupees is a lot of money to people in India.