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Does phone banking really help?
Dhvani Desai, Outlook Money
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July 18, 2007

A current ad for a telephone sports the tagline: "It's not one thing, it's many." That, in essence, is what a telephone has become. Among the many things, it can be half-a-banker too. Banks mainly use two systems to address phone queries. Your need will define your choice.

Interactive Voice Response (IVR)

"Welcome to XYZ Bank. For English, press 1. For Hindi, press 2," says a recorded voice. And thus it goes on giving you options. Depending on what you want, you keep punching in the corresponding numbers and an automated system keeps recording your choices and/or giving you the information you want.

There is no human interaction. For routine procedures, it usually works quite well. Ramnath, head (phone banking), HDFC Bank [Get Quote], says that 72 per cent of the 2.4 million calls the bank gets every month get terminated over the IVR system.

Agent Assistance Service

Somewhere in the IVR, one option will tell you: "To speak to a phone banking officer, press X." If you do, you can speak with a bank representative and have your problems sorted out by her.

Concern about security prevents a lot of people from using phone banking. Every customer of a bank is given a TIN, or telephone identification number, uniquely for phone banking. It is different from the ATM and Internet codes and has to be punched into the IVR system.

Most of the time, the people at the bank's end of the line are call centre executives. Security systems usually make sure that they cannot access the TIN of bank customers. On your part, you should never divulge it to them.

With your security worries at rest, what can and can't you do over the phone?

Emergencies. Phone banking is extremely effective in emergencies. For instance, if you lose your credit card sometime, say, in the evening, you can immediately call up your bank and inform it about the loss rather than wait for it to open the following morning. This minimises the likelihood of the card getting misused. Similarly, phone banking would do if you want urgently to stop payment on a cheque you have issued.

Complaints. It also makes lodging of complaints easy. Make sure you take the 'complaint number' from the phone banking officer. "All issues can be resolved over the phone or through e-mail," says Sumant Kathpalia, head of consumer banking, ABN AMRO Bank. Parag Patankar, chief operations and technology officer of Development Credit Bank [Get Quote], adds: "Response (to complaints) is governed by strict timelines and defined escalation metrics."

Phone banking fails when the nature of your problem is unique. Umesh Pandey, a Mumbai-based customer of ICICI Bank [Get Quote], called up the bank to ask about the formalities required for buying foreign currency. His call was transferred to four different people, none of whom had an answer.

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