The curious case of Manish,Vanish and ICICI: Or,why we need more competition in bankinghttps://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/web-edits/the-curious-case-of-manish-vanish-and-icici-or-why-we-need-more-competition-in-banking/

The curious case of Manish,Vanish and ICICI: Or,why we need more competition in banking

ICICI has a Do Not Call registry too. But that applies to tele-marketing alone. We clearly have a grey area in the law.

This is not apocryphal,it is a genuine letter written by a 98-year-old British lady to her bank. The entire letter can’t be reproduced. But this quote gives the general flavour:

“I noticed that whereas I personally attend to your telephone calls and letters when I try to contact you,I am confronted by the impersonal,overcharging,pre-recorded,faceless entity. From now on,I,like you,choose only to deal with a flesh-and-blood person…. Please find attached an Application Contact Status which I require your chosen employee to complete. I am sorry it runs to eight pages,but in order that I know as much about him or her as your bank knows about me,there is no alternative. Please note that all copies of his or her medical history must be countersigned by a Solicitor,and the mandatory details of his/her financial situation (income,debts,assets and liabilities) must be accompanied by documented proof.”

And so on.

I have just received a notice from my bank,which states the following:

“As per the provisions of Reserve Bank of India Master Circular (RBI/2009-10/73; DBOD. AML. BC. No. 2/14.01.001/2009-10) on Know Your Customer (KYC) norms dated 01 July 2009,it is mandatory for all banks to update the customer identification documents (including photographs) for all accounts held with them on a periodic basis.”

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If I don’t comply,my account will be frozen. Fair enough,a bank must know its customers. For the last six months,my wife and I have been inordinately interested in ICICI Bank and the bank has been inordinately interested in us. Neither my wife nor I bank with ICICI. Therefore,this mutual interest requires explanation.

We presume ICICI had a customer named Manish Arora and having borrowed from ICICI,Manish Arora has become Vanish Arora and has defaulted and decamped.

Unfortunately,ICICI thinks my wife’s mobile number is Manish Arora’s,and every day,she gets an average of four calls from ICICI enquiring about his whereabouts. We do not know a Manish Arora,but we do know his mobile number. That requires an explanation too.

How do we know Manish Arora’s number,if we don’t know him? Because one of these anonymous callers from ICICI gave us the Arora number,which differs by a single digit from my wife’s number. If they know that,why can’t they get it corrected? Because he works in call centre and the business of correcting records is someone else’s job.

ICICI has a Do Not Call registry too. But that applies to tele-marketing alone. We clearly have a grey area in the law. RBI requires banks to know their customers. By implication,RBI also requires banks to know who are not its customers. However,banks haven’t interpreted it that way. In economic theory,this is known as the principal agent problem. For instance,payment reminders can also be given to non-customers.

Since ICICI regards us as customers,should we — horror! — try unparliamentary language? ICICI doesn’t countenance with,rightly so,unparliamentary language. But there we have a problem — the ICICI clause on unparliamentary language applies to customers,not to non-customers perceived to be customers.

What do we need? More competition in banking.