How Bank Customers Suffer From the RBI’s Sexist Regulations

Women customers are made to jump through hoops to get any work done at a bank – all in the name of ‘RBI rules’.

RBI headquarters in Mumbai. Credit: Reuters/Vivek Prakash

RBI headquarters in Mumbai. Credit: Reuters/Vivek Prakash

Two citizens – let’s call them A and B – married to each other, professional, taxpaying and long-time customers of a bank, changed their residence recently. Soon after, they went to the bank to get their address changed. A simple enough task, one might say. But being used to the tedious procedures involved, they made sure they had all the documents that were needed.

The list of documents needed for change of address is long and on every organisation’s website. It includes the rent agreement, if it has been duly registered by the relevant authority. Regular renters know this and yet, they also know that not every official on the spot recognises that.

In the banks, these officials are known by other names, ‘service manager’ being the most common one. And if one has sufficient funds locked up in the bank, they give you a senior-level employee called a ‘relationship manager’. They are smartly dressed, with the men wearing ties even in July.

“Would you have any other proof of residence? Driver’s licence, passport or better still, an Aadhar card?” one such bright spark asked A and B. “No, because we have just shifted and this is our first port of call since we do not want our statements landing up at the old address,” came the logical answer from the two.

The service manager looked doubtful. A rent agreement was not a ‘card’ that could be instantly photocopied and he was not sure if the training programmes had mentioned it. He would have to consult his colleague, who also did not want to stick his neck out. So the matter went to the branch manager.

To cut a long story short, a bit of firm pushing, coupled with the name of the manager of the old branch did the trick. Photocopies were made in large numbers and the address changed. Over tea, A and B were asked if they would consider an insurance policy.

A month or so later, the first statement of citizen A arrived at the new address. When citizen B’s did not, a further visit to the branch was made. What was the problem? They needed proof that B was married to A. A marriage certificate would be best. Self-attested, of course. This was ridiculous. B was signatory to the rent agreement, had a job, had her own account and besides, no one had brought it up during our first meeting.

RBI rules, came the answer. Wives have to give proof of marriage. B was livid. A woman can’t transfer an address in a bank where she has held an account for 13 years without giving a marriage certificate? The sales manager, a woman, looked apologetic.

This time even her manager could not help. A tattered old copy of the marriage certificate was unearthed from old documents, photocopied and handed over. Arguing with the system does not work.

Some questions arise. Does the RBI really have this rule in place? If so, it is simply offensive and sexist. Raghuram Rajan, before you finally leave, could you get this changed? And also, can the change of address be a swifter procedure with zero hassles, especially for the millions of renters all over the country?

And while we are at it, can the RBI stop the regular and interminable know your customer (KYC) drives it forces on millions of small bank holders? The same set of documents, given barely a year ago, have to be re-submitted. Even if one-tenth of the KYC norms had been diligently applied by the banks to tycoons and magnates, they would not have had non-performing assets and Vijay Mallya-like situations on their hand.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power with the assurance of minimum government, maximum governance. That shouldn’t just mean ‘ease of doing business’. That credo should make a difference in the lives of ordinary citizens. On that front, there is little or no change.

The passport office, for example, will still reject documents it has listed as acceptable on its website. Women have to go through extra hassles to get their passports. There is always the helpful and ubiquitous middle-man who will do it for a fee. But not everyone wants to go that route.

The dice are still loaded against anyone who wants to do things the straight way.

This article originally appeared at the Economic Times.