Prior to our trip to India, my wife and I signed up for a NRI (Non-Resident Indian) banking account with Citibank. Essentially this is an account which gives you certain privileges and a better interest rate and it’s designed for expatriates like me. The benefits are far superior then simply using our Canadian debit cards to withdraw money. We are able to transfer money from CAD to INR (Indian Rupees) and can have INR money sitting in an account earning far higher interest then the Canadian banks can offer, without maintaining a minimum balance. This is great!
Citibank India was nice enough to send us the Debit cards in mail quite promptly (within a week of signing up). The only thing missing were the PIN codes for these debit cards. Up until the day we left (December 17th), we had yet to receive the PIN codes. Assuming that we would be able to change the PIN numbers when we got to India, we didn’t really worry or bother to look into it. Two days later, on December 19th, when in Delhi we wanted to withdraw some INR to have with us for daily expenses. We ended up going to a Citibank ATM knowing well that we don’t know the PIN numbers for the debit cards. Not a problem! I tried randomly entering what could be default PIN’s and eventually locked out my card. I knew this was going to happen. This is good and I was ok with that. Now it’s time to seek some help and call someone at Citibank in the hopes that they can reset the PIN’s over the phone.
So at 8pm, while in the ATM booth, I tried calling Citibank India customer service. After fumbling through 4-5 phone numbers and a few agents I ended up getting routed to someone who told us that they cannot reset the PIN numbers over the phone. The only way to reset the PIN numbers was to go to a nearest branch and submit a written request to have the PIN numbers reset. My jaw dropped, not at having to go to a branch, but that I had to write a written request. I asked the person on the phone if I can verbally give the permission (with some identity checks ofcourse) to have the PIN reset. She said this was not possible, because a request for PIN reset results in the PIN’s getting mailed to the default mailing address within 3-5 business days of request initiation. My jaw dropped, again! My primary mailing address is in Toronto. So how the heck am I supposed to get the PIN’s which are mailed to the Toronto address while I am in India? She suggested that I could change the primary address to an address in India. Fantastic, I said! “Can I give you the address to send the PIN’s in India?” To which she said: “To change the primary address, you need to go to a branch or fax a written letter indicating the address you want to change to.” This is getting even more interesting now. At this point I was frustrated enough and calling Citibank India using my Canadian mobile phone, and incurring long distance charges. So I hung up and went to dinner with my wife’s family.
The next day, we ended up going to a Citibank Branch in Delhi (Connaught Place). We asked them to submit a request for address change and PIN reset. To my surprise they informed me that I cannot submit both requests at the same time. I must first, submit the request for the address change, once that is completed then I can submit a request for the PIN change. All in all it would take approximately 10 days to process. This is getting even more ridiculous now. Had we known that this is how excruciating the experience was going to be dealing with Citibank then we would have just used our Canadian Debit cards to withdraw money.
Finally, we asked the branch to send the PIN numbers to another branch in Ahmedabad (Gujarat), a city we were going to visit the following week. On December 26th, we managed to pick up (all in all a 10 minute process) the PIN’s and were able to get access to the funds. Now here is the other interesting part. Over the few days we had accumulated some cash from relatives and wanted to deposit this cash into our account. So naturally we made it to the ATM with our new PIN’s and tried to deposit the cash, only to find out that you can’t. In order to deposit cash, we must go and speak to a teller. This doesn’t make any sense. Why do we have a debit card if we cannot both withdraw and deposit money? So we go and fill out more paper work (deposit slip) to deposit the cash. Had we been able to deposit the cash through the ATM, we wouldn’t have to fill out any deposit slip and we wouldn’t have to bother the teller. And there was only one teller at this branch to handle all customer requests. Lucky for us there was no line-up.
This whole experience has left both me and my wife a bit jaded with Citibank. Maybe here in North America we try to make people more self sufficient, but in a developing country like India it makes even more sense to give people the ability to do their banking on their own rather than having to deal with a person at all times. On top of that, is there really the need for so much paper work? To submit an address change, I have to send a written request? Why can’t I just do it over the web? Why can’t I do it at the ATM? What is the need to generate more paper when in this day and age we can automate these kinds of functions?
Citibank, if you are reading this, you may want to consider bringing much more automation to all your ATM services within India. Assuming this is the process which gets applied to all Citibank presences in India (ATM or Branch). This much manual intervention can be eliminated and there can be huge amount of cost (and more importantly time) savings that can be achieved. Hopefully the next time around when we visit India again, things have improved and become more efficient for the greater good of both Citibank and their customers.