I’ve long thought about how to handle the barrage of mail and calls from readers, viewers, friends and family asking for help to deal with a financial problem. The most worrisome are those that complain about a case of mis-selling, that is, the sale of a financial product by a banker, agent or planner, through deception about the product’s features, what it can do for the investor, its costs and its ability to solve an articulated problem of the investor.
The temptation to pick up the phone and get the problem solved is high. But that makes it good for just one person, leaving the deeper problem intact. And the messy issue of becoming a power broker yourself in the process—and a part of the problem. The regulatory change will happen but it will take time. Is there another way to crack it for somebody who has been hit by a wrong financial product and is in financial distress? The good news is that there is a way out. I find that the people who complain fall into two buckets. One, those who want somebody else to fight their battles. Two, those who are willing to engage with the problem but are uncertain of what to do. This piece is for those who find themselves sitting in bucket two. Want to do, but don’t know how. Chances of redress are highest for those in bucket two. And the feeling of empowerment is something the entire refunded money can’t buy! I’ve now seen a few people who have had their money refunded by banks, insurance companies and art funds that used verbal lies to sell these products. Here’s a three-step guide to a Money Back do it yourself (DIY).
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Step One. Articulate your problem. Skip the angst and the rant, just document what your problem is. Remember, you are trying to reach people who have a zillion things they need to deal with and you need a document that has all relevant details so that just a forward can take your story to the next level. A format can go like this:
I have had an account with AllisWell Bank since 1996. My account number is 83218877.
In March 2009, when I asked my relationship manager Mr Glib Talkwalekar for an investment option for a one-time bullet investment, I disclosed to him the following:
a. I am not willing to take risk with this money
b. Now that I am almost retired, I do not have regular income flows from the next year
c. I wanted a financial product that would need a one-time investment and a guaranteed return from it thereafter
Mr Talkwalekar offered me a GrowandGlow Ulip. He told that if I invested for three years, my Rs 24 lakh (Rs 8 lakh each year premium) will double and then give me 12% return a year for life. I was not happy about “staggering” my investment over three years but he assured me that this was my best option. On his advice and verbal assurance I went ahead with this product. When I got the policy document, I saw that it was a 20-year product that I had to fund. When I asked Mr Talkwalekar, he said: “I am there to take care of these things. Trust me.” Last month he said that this is now a five-year product! I don’t have the money to invest for another three years and he said there is nothing he can do. I am beginning to understand that I have been cheated. This is a case of misrepresentation and fraud since verbal assurances were used in a relationship of trust to sell a product that turned out to be different than what I had agreed to. I took notes during each meeting with Mr Talkwalekar and I am attaching a scanned copy of those notes. I escalated the matter to the branch manager in a letter a month back and got a reply that said that since I signed on the policy, I agreed to the terms and conditions. My issue is this: I trusted the bank and went by the verbal assurances of Mr Talkwalekar who is an employee.
Step Two. State clearly what redress you want. The time for compensation for lost return or mental agony has not yet come in India. You are most likely to get back the money you invested—ask for that. Refund of premium or money invested. Letters that ask for large amounts of compensation do not get taken seriously. Do not threaten. Invoking the names of the finance minister and the prime minister makes people reach for the trash button.
Step Three. Identify the people you will escalate the issue to. Copy the bank officers you have already engaged with. Naming people works since nobody wants to be on the radar of the regulator or the top boss in a mail that clearly has truth in it and is from a deeply aggrieved customer. Google is your friend in finding the email addresses of the CEOs of the bank, insurance company, art fund, and top bosses of the regulatory authorities of banks, insurance companies and mutual funds. You don’t need to know anybody to get all this information. Address each regulator separately and copy the bank officers.
Why should it work? Big-ticket compensation in the UK has unnerved parts of the banking industry. One large private sector bank was encouraged to send a message to its customer-facing staff to desist from even one case of mis-selling. Rabble rousing won’t work. But if you have a genuine problem, chances are you will get redress if you work at it.
Monika Halan works in the area of financial literacy and financial intermediation policy and is a certified financial planner. She is editor, Mint Money, and can be reached at email@example.com