Wednesday, July 05, 2006

The limit

I do not use credit cards. The underlying philosophy being that it would only encourage me to spend what I didn't have and would charge me for getting into debt. When I got my first debit card, I was sent a free credit card by HDFC, since I had a corporate account. I didn't use it, told them I didn't want it and when they tried to charge me for 'services', I cut up the card into four little pieces and posted it back. (Aside: This was the time when one frustrated telemarketer told me - "What is it with you Muslims? People of your community always refuse to buy credit cards." I was at a loss; how does one answer that sort of question? I should have said, "Really? Good for my community!" But I didn't.)

Besides, journalists were on the banking blacklist back then. Many papers published reports saying that mediapeople were one of the groups that had awful credit ratings. Then, the media boom happened. Salaries shot through the roof and once again, the random phone-calling began.

All this while, I resisted. But lately, it has been very inconvenient not having one. To book rail or air tickets. To shop online. To book hotel rooms in advance. To establish credentials. One needs a credit card, and I ended up asking friends or family to book on my behalf.

That was why, when a turbaned, timid-looking salesman interrupted my fruit-salad break outside my office, and asked me if I'd like an ICICI credit card, between the slice of mango and the slice of chikoo, I said, 'Yes, please. I would'.

This turbaned salesman (TS) beckoned to his companion, a more articulate senior, I presume, and they followed me to my office. They asked for proof of identity etc. I cited passport numbers, pan card numbers, Form 16, visiting card, ATM balance-enquiry slip etc. The senior salesman (SS) asked me to just sign the form and said he'd do the rest.

I was taken aback. "How will you fill up my application form? You don't know me at all."

SS said, "Oh, we have your documents and we'll call you if we need any further information. Just remember one thing. When the bank calls you to verify your details, don't mention that you live in a rented accomodation."

It turned out that ICICI, as a matter of policy, will not give credit cards to those who live in Delhi but do not own a house there, which is more than half the population, I'm sure.

"But what if they ask for proof of residence?" I objected.

SS said, "Oh, don't worry. This verification business happens online or through the phone. They won't come knocking at your door."

I was uncomfortable with the lie, but the two of them persuaded me that I didn't need to lie. They'd do all the lying. I just needed to keep my mouth shut about living in a rented place.

They got up to leave again, but I insisted on filling up the form myself.

In the section that asked how many years I've worked at my current and previous jobs, SS told me to put in 5 years. "Or at least 3 years."

I refused.

He said, "But ma'am, that is the way things are done. You just write double the actual figures. That's how credit ratings are established."

I still refused.

At any rate, these guys left, TS' face all grins; his incentives would probably come through, after all.

In the evening, the bank called, to verify details. When I was trying to strike a bargain with the mango-wala.

A minute later, SS called me back. "Ma'am. There is a problem. You're a reporter and ICICI, as a policy, does not give credit cards to journalists. So, why don't you just change the employment details? Shall I put down 'self-employed'?"

"But how can I do that?"

"It's very simple ma'am. Nobody checks these things. I'll manage the form."

The mango-seller was cheating me, I noticed; putting a little 200 gm weight on the same side as the chosen mangoes.

I took a deep breath, struggling to bring a smile into my voice (tehzeeb, tehzeeb! never forget your tehzeeb). "I see. Listen, if ICICI bank has a policy of not giving credit cards to journalists, then I don't want a card from ICICI bank."

I turned to the mango-seller and pointed out, politely, (tehzeeb, remember?) that he'd been cheating me. He threw up his hands, as if he was being victimized in some way, and returned some of my money in loose change, as if he was doing me a favour. The correct thing to do would have been to throw his mangoes at his face, turn into a perfect domestic harridan and give him the tongue-lashing of the month. However, I simply took the change and left. (Aside to self: Hurree Babu was right. I might as well get myself a T-shirt that reads 'Kick me please. Everybody else does.')

Being the trusting idiot that I am, I haven't even bothered taking down the salesmen's names or phone numbers. Now, the temptation to call them, asking them to return my photos and documents, bringing back that form with my signatures on it, is overwhelming. I really would like to tear it up into tiny little bits, in front of their noses. (Of course, I intend to ask them if they wanted a cup of coffee, while I do that. Tehzeeb etc). As a matter of principle, I wouldn't name those particular salesmen because other salespeople do the same, probably. They must've been trained by their seniors to 'manage' forms this way.

Also, as a matter of principle, I wouldn't accept a card from a bank that doesn't trust journalists, as a matter of policy. But can somebody tell me - what sort of principles does ICICI bank have? I'm not angry enough to sue, but it seems to me that being discriminated against, as a matter of policy, is good grounds for a rather visible round of litigation.

That apart, I have a salary account with ICICI. I was willing to let the bank directly debit all credit card dues from this account. This account always has one month's salary as a minimum balance, which I do not touch, come hail or storm. They could easily have verfied this by looking at the last year's bank statements. No loans, no defaulted payments... But they do not want me as a credit customer. Yet, if I lie about owning a house in this city, running a small business from this house for the last 5 years, they'd give me a higher credit rating. And a premium card with a credit limit that's close to a year's income... what sort of banking sense is that?

(Aside: Can somebody tell me of a bank that doesn't mistrust journalists and doesn't require you to own houses?)


Rabin said...

Truth: Banks actually can't deny a product because of someone's occupation, so long as that person is able to produce the necessary income documents.

Real Truth: Some banks do discriminate not only because some professions are considered as 'bad credits' but also because people of these profession have a high chance of highlighting any bad experience with the said bank in the public limelight (hence journalists).

Truth: Any customer acquired by a bank for savings or for credit should have a thorough background check done on them (KYC) before they are made customers

Real Truth: Some banks at the interest of volumes have sacrificed the quality of their KYC procedures. This can have disasterous implications from accounts that funnel money for terrorism to good ole grafting. Some banks recently have been pulled up for their shoddy KYC procedures recently that has allowed fraud in stock market. Most people involved in credit card sales also are ill-trained and are susceptible to dubious practices.

Kindly remember to:

a) Fill all forms yourself and retain a copy (however tideous it may be), you might end up finding that a card has been issued and used in your name fraudlently. Kindly obtain acknoledgement of these forms from the official as well.

b) Try ascertaining the identity of the individual dealing with you and try and confirm the same. You are after all giving most of your private details (bank account number, passport number etc).

c) Try to avoid auto debits to your savings account till you are resonably certain of the operations of the credit card.

Most proper banks would send you a letter on receipt of your form. And ours (like quite a few other banks) would most certainly deal with journalists.

A residence proof is a requisite, this could be a lease agreement, a confirmation letter from the company, utility bill etc . Most companies are rated by the banks that issue credit cards and the documentary requirement might even change from company to company.

The residence proof is asked because some people have an uncanny knack of leaving town without informing their credit card agencies. But little do they know that their details get added to a global database which would mean that they would have a problem in accessing credit (not just cards) from the banking system wherever they go.

(oops didn't really realise that I had gotten on a soap box there...regret the length of the comment...too tired to chop and change)

jaygee said...

I was a journalist when I applied for and got my first card.. it was not even so called 'free' so its usually a bank thing. Those that ply the world with free cards... are the one that do this.

Anonymous said...

You know if u transfer some of your angst from ur writing onto unknown salespersons and mango sellers.. you wont need that T shirt!

wise donkey said...

i doubt if icici wouldnt issue a credit card to journalists..
maybe it would take few more days, for it to be processed at the next level.

its a bad idea to let others fill ur form for anythin and a good idea to keep a photocopy of application form.

u might think all u have to do is to keep ur mouth shut, but then they are going to write you own the house and ur sign is goin to be on the application form..

these intermediaries are more focused on targets and therefor try to fudge the details.

apply for icici credit card, and fill in the right details, and wait to see if u get a letter from them denying the application..

I think there would be a prejudice against lawyers too..
btw ICICI Bank Easy Deposit Card
is linked to ur fd with icici and doesnt require any income proof etc.

telemarketer !!
and they might not check all, but they do check..

inti007 said...

why blame the credit card companies. Who would trust the journos?

s said...

It is a fact that ICICI does not give credit card to mediapersons. (Try Citibank, HDFC or the staid ABN AMRO). It is also a fact that many journos don't pay up and have this reputation. Lawyers too!

Many banks also don't give you a credit card if you live in a 'Muslim colony' like Jamia Nagar, even if you own the house.

I'm sure ICICI wll notice this post. I'm told they follow blogs and what they are saying about the company

pawan said...

ah, well, I too showed my dad's workshop as mine while buying my car. The discrimination against writers... But then as one of my writer friends told me that she refused to give her flat on rent to another writer because writers are supposed to be poor people.
:):):) :(:(:(

Nikhil Pahwa said...

Annie, giving credit is risky business, and if they discriminate while giving credit cards, should one blame them? Agreed that it should be on a person to person basis, but to expect them to evaluate each person individually would result in a tradeoff with growth.

The people you encountered were probably direct selling agents (DSA's), who often resort to unscrupulous means to meet targets. Better not to trust DSA's, whether for credit cards, mobile connections or even an internet connection. Better to crosscheck with the company. I usually tell telemarketers (when I'm not telling them to f'off) that when I need a credit card, I'll contact the bank directly.

Caveat Emptor

(Welcome back. No post on your first sip of desi chai?)

mrajshekhar said...

to follow up on nikhil, the dsas get paid for every application that the bank okays. not for every application they bring in. that is their incentive to make your application as attractive as possible for i-bank.

incidentally, the commission they get is not too high from what i know. it ranges between rs 10-15 for every form that gets the divine nod. and yet, in this boom economy, with banks aggressively rolling out new promotions, even an average agent can make more than his basic salary (rs 3,000-3,500) through the commissions alone.

end of dissertation. also, welcome back, annie. :-)

MediaYug said...

हमारी पहल रंग लाई....कल रात (बुधवार) एक सुधी दर्शक ने हमें ये बताया कि किस तरह जानामाना चैनल एनडीटीवी एम्स में डाक्टरों की हड़डताल से एक व्यक्ति की मौत के बाद खबर चलाए जा रह था। वहां मौजूद संवाददाता ने ये जताया कि लोग असंवेदनशील हो चले है और कोई भी मदद को कोई आगे नहीं आ रहा है। मीडियायुग ने पहल करते हुए चैनल हेड से ये बात बताई। फिर आज सुबह ही उस व्यक्ति के परिवार वालो के लिए आर्थिक मदद एनडीटीवी ने जुटाई। कही न कही ये हमारा विश्वास मजबूत करता है, कि टीवी मीडिया में संवेदनशीलता बची है। हमें एक कदम खुद उठाने में केवल सोचने की जरूरत होती है...आपकी एक लिखित पहल हमें मजबूत बना सकती है। गंभीर विषयों पर अपने लेख हमें भेंजे।


annie said...

rabin: thanks for all that info.
jaygee: in retrospect, i shouldn't have been so uppity about the HDFC 'free' card that turned out not to be so free, after all.
anonymous: now, now. was that a nice thing to say?
wise donkey: hmmm. should try directly. maybe.
inti007: for the same reason that people begin the day with the newspaper/bulletin. journalism stands on a foundation of assumed trust.
unrestcure: life/nation-building etc are risky propositions too. would it be okay to discriminate against any one group of people, in that context? is it okay for a prime minister to say that 'X community is generally aggressive; we will not give them citizenship'? interesting question, isn't it?
s: i certainly hope they do.
pawan: writers discriminating against writers? what is the world coming to?
rajshekhar: will keep in mind
thanks for all the advice, you people.
mediayug: janaab, nyote ke liye shukriya, lekin, aapki maatrao.n ko kya ho gaya hai?

Nikhil Pahwa said...


Must everything lead in that general direction?

I guess I'll have to (finally) post that final post on discrimination and related matters.

In this particular case, a nation isn't the same as a bank. Hasty generalisation.

delphine said...

hello. Banks keep calling me for they think I could be a very good customer. But they instantly refuse it when they come to know my spouse's job...he is a police officer. I am waiting to catch up with some bank for a credit card,...

Raj said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Raj said...

ICICI bank is nuts. It was the first bank i applied for a credit card in since I had a salary account there and I even worked for an ICICI group company. But they took 2 months to finally give me a "mini" card abt which I ranted here. In the meantime, I already had cards from Citibank, HSBC abd SBI.

I think all the three banks are good when it comes to credit cards. Try them. Specially Citibank.

PS : I Had to delete the previous comment cos I forgot to give the url in the link.

Shashikant said...

Discrimination by profession is not really a new thing. Post-2000 crash, banks simply refused to give home loan to anybody whose profession was remotely associated with technology. Things changed in just 3 years. Now they give loans to tech people at preferential rates.

Also, this case looks like a disturbing trend of generalizing certain incidents. Suppose, if the bank had had a couple of bad experiences with media people, then immediately they take a U-turn and implement some measures which go on to become corporate policy. How else can one justify arbitrary rules such as no-rented-house?

BTW, the same ICICI bank sent me couple of cards I didn't even apply for.

Pirate of the Arabian said...

I think enough banks have gotten their fingers burnt by throwing credit at chappies from out of town (specifically call centre types)

The easiest way to fob off a credit card call is to say you're a mechanic/waiter/petrol pump attendant/ with no house, 2000 bucks a month salary and 3 kids.

You'll be automatically black-listed.
Don't go for credit cards.
They ruin your life
They'll be sticking you with hidden fees/ annual charges/ some crap holiday-scheme you never asked for.
ICICI is particularly fucked when it comes to the way they handle their collections.
After settling my deal in 2 half payments to pay off my card, I still get collection calls 3 years on ... even some random thug calling up to say the house i live in will be seized!!
Not even my house!!

navin harish said...

I got a call from ICICI for a credit card and went through the same thing as you, signed up a form and then they called me about 15 times to get the details to fill it up properly. I live in Andheri east in Bombay and the nearest landmark I gave was Fantasy Land. They told me not to mention that landmark when the verification call happens because Fantasy Land is in Jogeshwari and it is an "unservicable" area. HSBC also offered me a credit card since I have an account there and they asked my details through phone and asked me to lie to the person making the verification call that I have filled up tht form and have signed it. and when I asked why they want me to lie he said "Sir the person doing the verification call knows nothing, (s)he is not even an employee of HSBC as the bank has hired an external agency to do the verification.

It sounds like they are making it easy for you but in reality they are encouraging defaulters to get credit card and the bank is not going to suffer a loss because of defaulters, they will spread that loss over the people like us by charging more service charges, less interest on money we have in bank and more interst on loans we have to pay.

Alltough said...

Strange as it may sound, but I finally decided to not have any bank accounts.I just had to close them. With no steady income, the bankwallas would rip me apart by charging me for everything under the sun for no regular flow of money into account. It almost seemed like my account sole purpose was to keep having the bank charge me till it came down to zero. It is all understandable, salaries, overhead expenses, bank is a profit organisation and all that jazz, but (like tehzeeb) I wished they asked before they charged me for anything. If technology can allow them to bombard me with hajaar ads in my inbox, they could even use technology to inform me for my charges.

No credit cards, No debit cards, no bank accounts. I live in a primitive world. It is absolute bliss.

AKS said...

There is another community that is discriminated against though not this openly, and I am sure you wouldn't mind that, - Politicians.

I was negotiating a car loan for my car a couple of years back. Everything was done and a person visited my place for what they called "verification" - he asked me a lot of questions (was smart) about income, family, profession, need for a car etc. etc. AND VERY SMARTLY (looking perfectly casual) he asked any relatives who are in politics?

I paused and answered NO, and immediately asked why he had asked that. He ofcourse shrugged and made up some statements about the fact they keep asking soem irrelevant questions also - its a tactic of good verification he explained.

My agent later told me that had I said a yes to that question - I would have not get the loan in all probability. He explained you see recovering money from a politician or their relatives is next to impossible. Ahem...

I will not share the name of the Nationalised bank because I got a good loan from them, also receieved a good service and so I wish them to have minimum NPAs

the mad momma said...

yeah.. i got that a couple of times too... but then suddenly one fine day a sales rep came to the tv office i was working at and literally distributed cards to all of us. i had no qualms faking the criteria... and i still have the card so many years later... have an add-on too.. needless to say, i am perpetually in debt.

nancy said...

and whatever you do.. don't EVER get a credit card from CITIBANK.. the sods have been debitting my account with monthly charges to some card they apparently issued me - and which disappeared into etherspace. Like you, i dont' like credit cards - but with todays online world,have decided to join the bandwagon.

Anuja said...

I'm aghast!

maybe you shd just ask your usual bank account (if it is not ICICI) to give you a credit card. I'm a self-employed journo, and HDFC gave me a card without prob as a i had been their customer for a while...


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