It’s that time of year – time to file your tax returns. So you get your Form 16, and then add other details. Maybe you got a cheque from elsewhere, or made donations to charities, rent, EMIs. Even if you don’t have any of this, you do have bank interest.
A quick survey of colleagues: most do not declare bank interest. I didn’t either, from sheer laziness. But then a tax scrutiny dragged on for a year, and when they couldn’t find anything wrong, they jumped onto the missing bank interest, slapped on taxes and penalties, and sat back, proud of having earned an extra Rs 2,432 for the exchequer... Anyway, now I do.
The point is, you probably need records for the last financial year from your bank. Now, if you’re the meticulous type who clipped their nails and combed their hair before going to school, and who today punches and files away every bank statement and bill carefully sorted by date in colour-coded files... stop right here.
Don’t read this. I know you have the interest figures noted in your diary and memorise them daily.
But if you’re like me, and couldn’t find the annual statement from three banks if your life depended on it, you need help from the bank. Luckily, in this e-age, that help is easier to come by. Or is it?
Go to the branch!
In two years of struggling with the income tax department, I had to pull out obscure statements and supports going back three years.
But let’s try out the simplest of things: last year’s bank statement. That’s what I needed last week, for members of the family and their respective bank accounts. And we couldn’t find all the monthly statements.
I figured that at least with the tech-enabled private banks, that would be trivial. I was wrong. Here’s my experience, best to worst. Oh, and none of the banks had done the simple, customer-friendly thing: email an annual statement in April as a simple PDF file.
ICICI Bank: The only bank I could get this smoothly and instantly – a statement for any period in the past five years, in several formats: text, spreadsheet (I just wish they had a nicely-formatted PDF too, complete with logos). Now, don’t expect physical customer service from this bank (even their marketing folks ignore my mails). But they’ve set up things for self-service, so it works. Good going.
Kotak Mahindra Bank: Lets you download statements three months at a time (why, oh why?). Nice PDF format. I was able to get statements even for three years ago, on the fly.
Citibank: I could download last year’s statement in two chunks – any six months in the last 18 months (why not a full year?). But when I needed an older statement, I had to make a phone request and they sent reams of paper. For my credit card, though, I could request for PDFs by email.
Standard Chartered: “Sorry, we are only able to retrieve details from the last 90 days, please adjust your start date”. But they quickly emailed me the statement for the previous year. Yet, why manual intervention, when you can do this automatically?
HDFC Bank: “Only transactions for the last six months can be viewed online... please contact your branch.” That’s HDFC’s standard refrain. I can never figure out why this most tech-savvy of Indian banks insists that for every little thing, I should contact the branch. And by the way - they do not give you a phone number for your branch. So “contact” means “go there”. However, I was able to make a request for an email statement, to be sent in four days.
American Express cards: Can’t get statements online older than a few months. In fact, can do very little online with Amex. Good service, but they haven’t even discovered email. Send them a postcard, or pick up the phone, and they’ll send you what you need.
United Bank of India: Couldn’t access their site because of “a problem with the security certificate”. Called them. “Take your passbook to your branch!” I was told, and the lady slammed the phone down.
I end the list with a public-sector bank only to show that even with HDFC’s and Amex’s issues, they’re way above in the e-list. I’d have once rated HDFC right on top (my first mobile-payment was via HDFC bank in the late 1990s) but sadly, its tech is not backed by a customer-friendly feel; every little service, online or offline, is charged for; and I don’t want to “contact the branch”. Ever.
So here’s the banker’s guiding online-potty-training-for-the-e-age mantra: get the basics. Help your customers help themselves, and save your resources and employee time. Put statements online, without silly restrictions. And save a million tonnes of paper – but that’s another story.
Prasanto K Roy ( firstname.lastname@example.org , twitter.com/prasanto)is chief editor at CyberMedia, publisher of Dataquest, Living Digital and other titles