Special customers deserve fair treatment

When we look at the right to fair treatment, this prohibits banks from discriminating against customers on grounds of gender, age, religion, caste and physical ability while offering products and services.
Representational Image
Representational ImageFile/ GK

The Reserve Bank of India’s Charter of Customers’ Rights lays down five basic rights for a bank customer. These rights of customers include right to fair treatment, right to transparency, fair and honest dealing, right to suitability, right to privacy and right to grievance redressal and compensation.

In case a bank violates any right, customers can approach the customer services division of the RBI. Remarkably, with this charter, the RBI enjoys legislative powers to act against the errant banks.

When we look at the right to fair treatment, this prohibits banks from discriminating against customers on grounds of gender, age, religion, caste and physical ability while offering products and services.

However, banks have been given the liberty to have certain special products designed for different segments of customers.

In the backdrop of this right to fair treatment, let me today rake up certain issues confronting persons with disabilities while seeking banking and financial services. Our banking industry has classified its customers into various segments.

Under this segmentation they group customers based upon similarities they share with respect to any dimensions relevant to their business - whether it be customer needs, channel preferences, interest in certain product features, customer profitability, etc.

But this segmentation is flawed if there’s no such mention of the disabled persons where the banks have a special strategy in place to cater to the needs of these special people.

We have been witnessing a lot of tailor-made financial products and services for general customers. But none of the banks has a tailor-made financial scheme for disabled persons. In fact, the impression has been carried that these kinds of people don’t need banking products and services, but charity.

There are specific Reserve Bank of India (RBI) notifications that mandate banks to offer banking facilities in a non-discriminatory manner to all customers. Nevertheless, there are many problems faced by people with disabilities while accessing banking services.

I haven’t come across any special bank staff having training or expertise in dealing with customers who have special needs. For instance, if a person who is hard of hearing walks into a bank branch for availing benefits of a scheme or service, the branch does not have trained staff who can understand or interpret sign language. This means that a disabled person always has to latch on to someone who is fully capable to help them.

Is there any way out for a person to open a bank account in the name of mentally unsound / mentally retarded person?

You can open a bank account for the person who is mentally challenged. Even those with disabilities like autism, mental retardation, cerebral palsy, and multiple disabilities can open bank accounts and operate them with ease. In this connections, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has directed the banks to accept the Guardianship Certificate issued either by the District Court under Mental Health Act or by the Local Committees for the purpose of opening and operating accounts of these mentally challenged persons.

Notably, the Mental Retardation and Multiple Disabilities Act in 1999 is in place with the purpose to provide for the appointment of legal guardians for people with these disabilities as mentioned above. The accounts can be opened and operated by the legal guardian as long as he remains the legal guardian.

What is the procedure to be followed by the bank branch if the pensioner is handicapped /incapacitated and is not in a position to be present at the paying branch?

There are instances when a pensioner may be too ill to sign a cheque or unable to be physically present to withdraw the money from his/ her account but may be in a position to put his/ her thumb impression on the cheque/withdrawal form.

There are also instances when the pensioner may not only be unable to present in the Bank but also not even able to put his/her thumb impression on the cheque/withdrawal form due to certain physical defect/incapacity. In order to facilitate these pensioners, the banks have been advised to adopt the following procedure:

Whenever thumb or toe impression of the sick/old/incapacitated pensioner is obtained, it should be identified/ attested by two independent witnesses known to the bank, one of whom should be a responsible bank official.

Where the pensioner cannot put his/her thumb or toe impression and would not be able to be physically present in the bank, a mark can be obtained on the cheque/withdrawal form which should be identified/ attested by two independent witnesses, one of whom should be a responsible bank official.

In addition to this the pensioner should also indicate the person who would withdraw the amount from the bank on the basis of cheque/withdrawal form and that person should be identified by two witnesses, one of whom should be a responsible bank official, besides furnishing his signatures, duly attested, to the bank.

Are visually impaired persons eligible for availing all banking facilities independently?

If one is a visually impaired or low vision person, chances are that most banks will not open his independent bank account. They will either insist that he should open a joint bank account with a sighted person or open a bank account with no cheques book facility or both.

Most of the time bankers hold even the most literate blind person at par with an illiterate person, which otherwise should have not been there. This attitude of the banking fraternity is in contravention to the standing instructions of the Reserve Bank of India and Indian Banks Association.

There are certain procedural guidelines advising banks that all banks must render the same services to a visually impaired person as it would to any other person without discrimination. Generally speaking, all banks must provide the same facilities to a visually impaired customer/prospective customer as it would to any other customer.

But at the same time the customers should be made aware of the risk involved in some of these facilities, which may be higher than that for a normal customer. There should be no hesitation on part of banks to extend additional facilities like reading and filling up of forms, slips, and cheques to such customers.

Banks cannot force a visually impaired customer to operate the bank account jointly with any person or in the presence of any person. However, on the request of visually impaired customers, banks have to allow him to appoint a person/persons as his power of attorney or mandate holder to operate his bank account.

However, the banks have to follow the same procedure for opening the account of a visually impaired person as it does for its other customers.

Facilities for withdrawal of cash as are provided to all customers regarding cash payments must be provided to visually impaired customers. In case a visually impaired customer makes cash withdrawals at the bank, then the payment must be made in the presence of another bank employee/officer.

The banks cannot deny cheque book facility to visually impaired people. However, cheque books can be issued only if the blind person can sign consistently. Even credit and debit cards cannot be denied to a visually impaired customer.

What about doorstep banking to senior citizens and differently abled persons?

There are RBI directions in place which makes it mandatory for banks to provide basic banking facilities including delivery of demand drafts, pick up of instruments against receipt, submission of KYC documents and life certificate at the premises/ residence etc. under door step banking facility to senior citizens of more than 70 years of age and differently abled or infirm persons (having medically certified chronic illness or disability) including those who are visually impaired.

The service shall be provided at the specific request / demand and in lieu of service charges.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.

The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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