Sunday, July 15, 2007

Bank accounts then and now

I opened my first bank account in 1989 when I joined St. Xavier's College in Bombay. The bank was located within my college itself, in a tiny room next to the Chemistry lab. It was called Corporation Bank St. Xavier's Extension Counter (Extension Counter because it was too small to be a full fledged branch). Opening the account was a 2 minute process where I wrote my name and my campus address on a small slip of paper and signed it. I was given a pass book in which all my transactions were recorded by the clerk; and I had to produce the pass book each time I needed to withdraw money. There was no cheque book for some reason.

I'd visit the bank once or twice a month to withdraw on the allowance my parents sent me. I first had to fill up a counter slip with a pen attached by chain to the counter and present it to the bank clerk, who would give me big brass token with a 2 digit number on it. Then I had to wait till my number was called by the cashier (who would be sitting inside a wooden cabin enclosed in steel wiremesh), take the cash and surrender the token.

Just as I was leaving college in 1992 the bank introduced cheque books, so I decided to keep my account there, as I didn't really need any other facilities like ATMs or loans; it also gave me a good excuse to visit my college once in a while. I have been using it ever since as my only bank account.

A month ago our company finance manager insisted that I get another "professional" account and build a "relationship" with a "good" bank, incase I needed loans; and most importantly that I should get a credit card because it was not good practice going to shops and restaurants and asking them to send the bill to the office to pay by cheque (seems perfectly fine to me).

I fell for the pitch and got very excited about getting an account; so decided to straight away get two new accounts: one with Kotak Bank and one with ICICI Bank, both of whose billboards' I could see everyday on my drive to work and back.

First I noticed that the forms were considerably longer than 1989 and they required 6 photos each, plus all kinds of ID proof. Plus I had to sign in atleast 10 places on each form. It took me a very long time to fill out both forms. I also had to open 2 accounts in each, one fixed and one savings, to avoid paying "bank charges".

My accounts opened and I got a large package from each bank with a letter from the "relationship" manager welcoming me to the bank (whatever happened to good ol' bank manager?) and informing me that I was eligible for all kinds of privileges and facilities, from holidays in Taiwan to emergency cash anywhere in the world.

I also got my credit cards, atm cards and a variety of privilege cards

Then the phone calls began.

In the middle of a meeting, a strange number would flash on my mobile and a marketing pitch would begin. In the first 20 days I must have received atleast 15 such calls, plus a few smses. If you hung up on them they would just call back a few minutes later. They just wouldn't stop despite calling the "relationship" managers and telling them strictly to stop calling me.

Finally, I let go of one of the two new banks, the one making the most calls and I am having some serious thoughts about shutting down the other one as well.

Meanwhile my banking continues with Corporation Bank St. Xavier's Extension Counter, who has never sold to me, never troubled me, never glamorized themselves; but just quietly keep doing their work. Isn't that how it should be?

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