Canara Bank reverses decision to charge for updating passbooks
Moneylife Digital Team 18 February 2011

The Bank had decided to charge Rs10 for updating passbooks of account holders from other branches, but relented after a customer insisted that such basic services should not be charged

"Hum hain na." That's a sentiment that almost every bank will paraphrase and advertise to assure customers about its services. But how much does a customer have to pay for this service?

When a customer of a nationalised bank protested against new charges to be levied, the officials reversed the decision. Banks, however, insist that it is becoming increasingly difficult to continue providing basic services free of charges and customers will have to start paying up.

Canara Bank put up a notice at its Lokhandwala branch recently, announcing that from 15th February every customer would have to pay Rs10 for every entry in the passbook being updated. VS Venkataraman, one among the old customers, protested, saying the move was "absurd". He wrote, "It is the bounden duty of the banks to update the pass books of their customers. This is the minimum service expected from a bank free of charge and the depositor is entitled to know his balance."

While most private banks do not issue pass books, they send statements to customers periodically free of cost. So, the idea of a nationalised bank asking for money to provide this basic service would appear unjust. Mr Venkataraman said, "The nationalised banks should adopt the practice of sending regular statements to customers, if they are not prepared to update the pass book free of charge.  Alternatively, they should update the pass book once a month free of charge."

Moneylife intervened on his behalf and spoke to members of Reserve Bank of India committee on depositors' issues. MN Gopinathan, member of the committee and shareholder director of Bank of India, replied and assured that Canara Bank had taken the necessary steps.

"I took up the matter with Jagdish Pai, the executive director of Canara Bank. I got a revert from him now that Canara Bank has decided not to levy charges for updating pass books. I should also clarify that Canara Bank was charging Rs10 only for updation of passbooks at a branch other than the one where the account was maintained. This too will not be levied," Mr Gopinathan said.

However, he explained that customers must understand that banks, like other commercial institutions, must make profits so they can serve other people as well. "Banking is a commercial activity and banks are expected to earn profits sufficient to satisfy capital adequacy requirements. While banking is an essential service, it is not quite reasonable to expect banks to render free service," Mr Gopinathan said.

He explained that banks earn less than 5% on a savings account of a customer which is a nominal amount. So if a customer has a savings account with a balance of Rs1,000 the bank will earn only Rs50. "This", he said, "just about covers the cost of one or two transactions. In fact more than 90% of the deposit accounts are not profitable at all. Already banks do a lot of cross subsidisation to maintain the accounts of a majority of the customers."

Therefore, he explained, that services like transfer of funds (amounting to more than Rs25,000) from one branch to another, must be subject to charges. He said that "in any case, no one, including the government, can afford to provide service free of any charge. At least the cost has to be recovered." Besides, he said, the charges levied by banks do not cover the costs.

While it is understandable that services must be paid for, the charges must be reasonable and justifiable. Give-and-take a little on both sides.

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