World Consumer Rights Day 2012

Our Money, Our Rights: Campaigning for Real Choice in Financial Services

The right to choose is one of the eight basic consumer rights. A consumer should be able to select from a range of products and services, offered at competitive prices with an assurance of satisfactory quality. For the wider economy, the right to choose is fundamental to the creation of a genuinely competitive market that drives innovation and rewards firms, which deliver good-value products and customer service and punishes firms, which do not. Consumers should not be forced to tolerate excessive charges, poor service or irresponsible corporate behaviour due to lack of choice. But this basic consumer right is being undermined in financial services, one of the most important sectors for consumers and the economy. Even when consumers are fed up with their bank or financial service provider, they feel that either it is too difficult or not worth switching. As a result, there is often little incentive for banks and other financial service providers to improve their services or cut costs.

Each year, the global economy creates an estimated 150 million new consumers of financial services. Most are in developing countries, where consumer protection and financial literacy are still in their infancy. The recent global recession had further worsened the situation. In a world, where banks are highly interdependent, a banking crisis anywhere in the world will further undermine consumer confidence and could have unpredictable international consequences. The global dimension of financial services and the increasing interdependence of financial markets, as well as the common challenge of effectively regulating complex and fast moving markets in financial consumer services, adds to the urgency for better regulation of such practices.

Consumer Unity & Trust Society (CUTS International) organised a public event on the occasion of World Consumer Rights Day 2012 in Jaipur on March 16, 2012. Senior officials from Reserve Bank of India and Banking Ombudsman; Department of Consumer Affairs, Government of Rajasthan; various senior managers of banks such as the State Bank of India, Indian Overseas Bank, South Indian Bank, State Bank of Bikaner and Jaipur, and Cooperative Bank; and other banking officials and representatives of various consumer organisations and activists participated in the event.

George Cheriyan, Director, CUTS International, in his speech explained the importance of the theme ‘Our money, our rights’, campaigning for a ‘real choice’ in financial services. He said that this year the Indian Consumer Protection Act has completed 25 years of its existence and this is also the 50th year of John F Kennedy’s historical speech to the American Congress on March 15, 1962 in which he upheld four basic rights of consumers. Speaking on the theme, George stated that after completions of more than 40 years of Nationalisation of Banks in India, still 60 percent of the people are not banked. Therefore, financial inclusion needs to be given priority along with enhancing quality of services. He added that UID would play a key facilitator in Financial Inclusion. Mahatma Gandhi National Employment Guarantee Act had given a boost to financial inclusion by opening a large number of accounts, without any efforts by the banks. However, banks need to have mechanism to reach out at the grassroots and enhance quality of service delivery. Allowing SB account portability in India is an effective way to induce competition among various service providers and improve quality of services. Otherwise they will lose the consumers.

Amarjeet, Singh of CUTS made a presentation on ‘Financial Consumer Protection’ stating the challenges including policy and practical and the way forward to strengthen the same.

K. Sundari, Deputy General Manager, Reserve Bank of India (RBI) and Secretary, Office of Banking Ombudsman (BO), Jaipur enlightened the audience by presenting an overview of Banking Ombudsman and mechanism of seeking redressal through it. Sundari also briefed the participants about fairness in financial services and role of banks in handling the complainant in case of financial abuses. She further added that there was less number of complaints in the year 2012 as compared to 2011.

Sanjay Jhala, Enforcements Officer, Department of Consumer Affairs, Government of Rajasthan shared his personal and professional experience and emphasised on behavioural aspect of consumer and service provider relationships and constraints due to ignorance. He also mentioned that state government has started Helpline No. which has received 416 complaints in February 2012. Further, he added that people can interact directly to Principal Secretary, Department of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution Government of Rajasthan on 3rd Thursday of every month. More than 75 invited representatives of service providers and consumer organisations attended the meeting

For more information, please contact:
Deepak Saxena /Amar Jeet Singh
CUTS Center for Consumer Action, Research & Training (CUTS CART)
277, Sindhi Colony, Bhaskar Marg, Bani Park
Jaipur 302016, India
Ph: +91.141.2282062, 2282823/2282482
Mobile: 91-93513 66827/ 98290 15812
Fax: 91.141.4015 395
Email: ;