Kids Corner


Make in India?





I just finished a 40-minute conversation with a bank employee in India, a conversation which in any even half-respectable bank in Switzerland would not have lasted more than a few minutes because of the simplicity of the information I was asking for.

It became a real talkathon with India. I still do not have the information that I required but have had enough amusement to be able to share it with readers.

The Indian Prime Minister shouts from housetops, “Make in India” in all the countries that he visits.  But how does one “Make in India” when even the most basic things take ages to get sorted out in that country?

Listening to high praise from people I know about how Indian banks have become sophisticated, I finally decided to open a bank account with one of the largest private sector banks in India. My experience as an IAS (Indian Administrative Service) officer in India having cured me of envisaging any relation with any public sector Indian bank, I opted for a private sector bank which was supposed to be dynami,c from what I had heard.

A senior Indian banker now in Europe put in a “sifarish” (personal recommendation) for my case. I was called up by somebody from the bank in India who asked for my personal details.

Online forms were filled in. The website turned out to be very detailed with lots of bells and whistles but not very user-friendly but that might be due to the fact that I am not exactly an IT wizard.

Each time I required some information, it took multiple phone calls, followed by some ignorant person at the other end asking more or less the same questions every time: Sample: “Saar, are you interested in having a bank account with us?” I restrained myself from answering that I wouldn’t be calling an Indian bank to purchase vegetables, would I?

Finally, after a lot of messages back and forth, I got a communication on the 17th of May, 2016 that account number xxxxxxx had been set up which could now be operated by me. Obviously, I now wanted to activate the account by wire transferring some funds from Switzerland.

Well, I have been trying to do so since then till today. Without success.

I sent two messages requesting the dedicated non-resident (NR) service team to send me the IBAN and SWIFT code for the bank in India to which I wanted to transfer the funds. Never received any reply to my messages except a general marketing letter dated the 30th of May, 2016 which gave me a plethora of useless information about the bank’s services but without providing me what I had asked for.

Faced with this lack of answers, I called the bank’s help-line today. Had a 40-minute conversation on an intercontinental phone liaison with a courteous robot-like person who kept repeating the same lines without seeming to listen to what I was asking. All I wanted to know was the IBAN for my account and the SWIFT code for the Indian bank to which I wanted to send the money. What I kept getting was guidance that I could get a debit card, to which I kept replying that I did not want a debit card from an Indian bank since I already had enough credit/debit cards from issuers outside India.

I had to explain to the gentleman the IBAN and SWIFT codes are, since he seemed to think these were the names of some newly discovered geographical features on Mars. I explained to him that I was working as Managing Director with a reputable banking group in Geneva, so I knew these were standard and universally-used banking terms which are essential for properly executing a wire transfer of funds and not exotic services that I was asking for.

The Indian bank employee helpfully advised me to visit their nearest branch. I patiently explained that their bank had no branch in Switzerland. He said they did have a branch in New Zealand. So I had to explain that there was some distance between Switzerland and New Zealand. Having both country names ending in “land” did not mean that they were situated close to each other.

The conversation kept getting better and better.

Torn between rising irritation at having to deal with basically a moron and the desire to at least get the essential information that I required, I did not put the phone down at once. I explained that non-Rupee transfers would obviously have to pass through their correspondent bank from where the IBAN of my account in India would guide the proper crediting of the funds being sent.

After every bit of conversation, the person used to ask me to stay on the line, go off the line and then come back as if he had been asking somebody, maybe a supervisor, for guidance. If so, the supervisor must have been as much of a moron as the person I was talking to, since the level of knowledge did not improve by even an iota.

After 40 minutes of polite but futile conversation, I gave up. I still do not have the IBAN for my account in the Indian bank. I still do not have the information about how to wire out the funds from my account in Switzerland.

If this is “Make in India” quality standard, anybody thinking of actually doing so needs to give it serious thought.

Day before yesterday I attended the inauguration function of the new 2016 collection in a fashion shop owned by a fellow Sikh in Geneva. He is such a friendly and helpful individual that I went to his shop even though his goods cater to a much younger clientele.

We began discussing the quality of the clothing he gets made in Italy, India and China. He told me that his best clothing items are made in Italy, not in India. He recently gave a whole lot of polo shirts depicting a turban-wearing Sikh polo player as a gift to a polo club near Geneva. He showed me a sample of what he had given as this gift. They were made in India.

He also showed me similar apparel items made in Italy and China.

He asked me whether I could detect any deformities in these items. I could not at a cursory glance.

He then showed me that the button holes on the items made in India were not all perfectly symmetrical in dimension or alignment while those made in Italy or China were perfectly symmetrical. We both had a good laugh about it.

So he gets the high margin items made in Italy, the middle margin items made in China and the lowest margin mass volume items made in India.

I suppose this is not what the Indian PM wants when he toms-toms his message about “Make in India” in the countries he visits overseas. There needs to be a quantum leap in service quality for any serious discussion about “Make in India”.

Vis-à-vis banking, while it is true that India has certainly some brilliant bankers, the service quality level at the lower levels who answer the telephones is abysmal. I am not comparing the level to what I see in Switzerland. India is abysmal even in its financial centres which try to copy whatever we do in Switzerland.

Digressing slightly, I had an interesting experience about Press coverage and the different ways of news coverage between Swiss and Indian media during the Indian PM’s recent one day visit to Geneva. The Indian Press gave big headlines saying that the PM had secured Swiss agreement to the entry of India into the NSG (Nuclear Suppliers Group) as well as a commitment by Switzerland to share information about bank accounts held in Indians in our country.

I did not see any headlines in the Swiss Press about this visit. It was a total non-event. It happened one day after a popular referendum on five important subjects in Switzerland, including a proposal to pay an amount of 2500 Swiss Francs to every Swiss citizen, regardless of whether he/she worked or not. It was massively rejected 76% to 24%.

The results of the referendum constituted the headlines. Any reader looking at Swiss TV channel news or newspapers might even have missed that the Indian PM was visiting the country.

I asked a press correspondent friend of mine who had attended the Indian PM’s press conference about what he had seen. He replied that the Swiss President categorically ruled out allowing any fishing expedition by the Indian authorities about bank accounts held by Indians in Switzerland. He said that the Indian government had to provide specific information which might constitute the basis of information sharing but no general exchanges were mentioned.

I am always happy to see that Swiss people set more store by institutions and systems than by personality cults, while the Indian media thrive on personality cult projections.

The prime time Swiss evening news always carries news items about duels between the Herens breed of cattle, the Sierre-Zinal high-altitude race or the Glacier Patrol, a prized annual event for extreme sport enthusiasts. A country which gives importance to such news items rather than constantly highlighting 56-inch chest personalities (sic) reveals the hallmarks of a Switzerland that works efficiently based on systems and service quality rather than sheer hype.

Switzerland has not had and is not likely to have knights on horse-back galloping in to save the country and “make it great again”. It is an efficiently functioning direct democracy which does not require any of such characters.

Made in Switzerland” is an internationally recognised and respected brand of quality. I am privileged to live in such a country.

Made in India” is also internationally recognised. Which is why everyone chooses to go elsewhere. For good reason.

June 12, 2016

Conversation about this article

1: Sangat Singh (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), June 12, 2016, 4:23 PM.

Yogishwar Singh ji, If everything else fails, try 'hawala.'

2: GJ Singh (Scottsdale, Arizona, USA), June 14, 2016, 12:21 AM.

Maybe someone is trying to tell you something. Imagine what troubles you would have to go through if you have to withdraw funds from India instead of depositing. A nightmare! Compounded by the fact that every six months the rules / procedures change and you have to provide new documentation that never reaches the bank by mail or courier. This can be only rectified by actually making a trip in person to sign the documents. And guess what? Your signature does not match the original one that you provided at the account opening so you have to now provide additional documentation that has to be notarized. This goes on and on and on ...

3: Arjan Singh (USA), June 14, 2016, 6:03 AM.

I spent part of my early life as a child in India, and never had to deal with the banking industry in India. As an adult I did commit the blunder of opening a bank account with a leading Indian Bank. After a few years of horrible customer service experience, I decided to close this account. It has taken me more than two months of constant phone calls and emails just to close this bank account that has a balance of a mere $300 US. The customer service is so bad that in spite of me repeatedly requesting them to close the account, they have not done so. And on every phone call the customer services makes an excuse for requiring more information. I am starting to wonder how can a country even justify the business slogan of "Make In India", when a simple business operation of closing a bank account takes more than two months. This article truly captures the plight of the average citizen of India. The author has done an excellent job of summarizing the poor quality of business services of India. I wonder how bad the situation is at other smaller banks and institutions, not to even mention government offices, if this so-called premier bank cannot even complete basic transactions of their customers.

4: Dr Birinder Singh Ahluwalia (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), June 14, 2016, 12:56 PM.

Not undermining, in any manner whatsoever, the sentiments and experiences of the columnist and other commentators re this article, this is what I have to say: despite having some amusing moments while dealing with Indian bank officials during my banking endeavors with their banks, overall I had positive experiences in making transactions. Yes, Indian Bank officials sometimes do come across as tedious and redundant in their practices/dealings, but I think they do mean well and I believe they are swamped with antiquated rules and regulations they are required to follow in the course of discharging their duties. India must reform it's banking sector to catch up with the developed world, just as China is well on its way already.

5: Ari Singh (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil), June 15, 2016, 8:19 PM.

Switzerland also has a reputation for hiding millions for criminals and corrupt politicians from around the world. This is morally wrong. If this 'black money' parked in Switzerland were made 'white', the world would be a better place. As far 'Make in India' is concerned, let's not even waste time discussing it :( It's a lost cause, and the Indians know it, as does the rest of the world.

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