Awareness Key Can Unlock Banking Woes : Patric Barla

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Patric Barla,  Banking Ombudsman, Bihar and Jharkhand

With increase in the number of banking troubles, the Banking Ombudsman’s office is becoming increasingly important, but people need to be informed to avail the redressal services, feels Patric Barla, Banking Ombudsman, Bihar and Jharkhand. Excerpts from an interview with Elets News Network (ENN)

What kind of complaints does the Banking Ombudsman’s office have to handle in Bihar?

Two states — Bihar and Jharkhand — come under the jurisdiction of the office of the Banking Ombudsman, Patna. Approximately, 8,512 branches are operating in these two states, and 8,518 ATMs are operational. We have made a category-wise analysis of the complaints received at our offices and we have segregated complaints into various categories.

The complaints received are mostly related to deposit accounts, remittances, ATM cards, debit and credit cards, loans and advances-general category, loans and advanceshousing, charges levied by the banks without giving prior notice to customers, pension-related complaints, failure to meet the commitments, issues relating to courts and court of commitments – banking court and standard court of India, and finally, notes- and coins-related complaints.

How do you solve these complaints? Is there any specific method that you have developed?

We have divided the complaints into two categories – maintainable and non-maintainable. In maintainable complaints, we keep those cases which come under Banking Ombudsman guidelines. Under the nonmaintainable category, complaints received are out of the Ombudsman’s scheme. As per our process, the complainant has to approach the banks first and if his complaints are not resolved in 30 days, or the complainant is not satisfied with the response given by the bank, or his complaint has been rejected, he can approach the Ombudsman within one year. But if the reply has been received from the bank and he is not satisfied, or if he has not received reply from the bank, he has the option to launch a complaint with us within 13 months.

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In respect of complaints where he has approached us without first approaching the banks, we treat these complaints as first resort complaints and send them to the bank for necessary action, and at the same time, we inform the customer that since he has not closed complaints as per the procedure given in the scheme, his complaint has been sent to the bank and he should approach the bank. But, if within 30 days he doesn’t get a reply, then he can approach us.

This we do as an exercise to educate the customer about the procedure and scheme. The complaints we treat as maintainable, we process them as per the scheme and then send it to the bank. We follow up with the bank to monitor the complaints. Until the time we get a satisfactory reply from the bank, or the complaint is dispose of to the satisfaction of the complainant, we don’t close the case.

Last year, we had handled 3,942 cases, out of which 98 percent complaints were digital.

IT plays an important role in businesses today. How has the banking sector developed its IT skills for making the services easily accessible to the customers?

To begin with, today complainants can file their complaints via e-mail. There is also a provision for lodging the complaints online. One can go to Banking Ombudsman’s website and use the format for forwarding the complaints. We send our replies online to those filing their complaints online. Similarly, if we receive complaints through e-mail, we send the reply through e-mail only.

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We have also complaint tracking systems, which are posted in CBS and monitoring is also done through CBS. Our data is available category-wise and district-wise on the website. As per our analysis for 2013-14, around 50 percent of complaints were received online.

Do you also organise training sessions, workshops or seminars to educate customers?

We organise awareness programmes where we make the bank customers and the chambers of commerce and industry representatives aware about the schemes, purpose of the schemes, its implementation and how people can lodge their complaints. We also hear their problems and wherever possible, we try to do on-the-spot resolution of their complaints. However, if it is not possible to resolve the complaints on the spot, we try to resolve them at our office. Every year we also do town hall events where a large number of bankers, customers, representatives from central offices of various banks and other top bankers assemble. We inform the customers and SMEs about the schemes and code of commitments, which is prepared by the Banking Codes and Standards Board of India.

We also prepare annual reports that give us an overview of the total performance and activities done by our office. The report is submitted to the Governor. As per the instructions given by our central office, we also share the information of our annual report with the media. Every year, we organise press briefings for Bihar and Jharkhand and inform about our schemes and activities in detail. This has helped us in reaching out to the customers in a better way for resolution of their grievances.

Complainants can file their complaints via e-mail. There is also a provision for lodging the complaints online… one can go to Banking Ombudsman’s website and use the format for filing the complaints

How do you reach out to your customers in the rural areas?

We also organise programmes for financial literacy centres, and through them, we try to spread awareness about our programmes. These centres are operating in the rural areas, so we educate them about our scheme, so that they can disseminate the information in the rural area.

We have also organised workshops for district managers with the same purpose — to educate them to generate awareness. RBI has set up the store and we displayed the salient features of the schemes and gave the visitors details of our plans. We conducted around 14 programmes last year, which has helped immensely in generating awareness about the role played.

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