HDFC Bank’s invite-only program that unethically assumes you are already in and are willing to pay for it

Before you read – please see the sequence of points in this post:

1. Original blog post that explains what HDFC Bank is indulging in
2. HDFC Bank’s response to my query about this unethical practice
3. My perspective on HDFC Bank’s response (that I have emailed in response)
4. Other publications/blogs on this issue
5. My email to RBI’s Banking Ombudsman #1
6. My email to RBI’s Banking Ombudsman #2
7. My email to all the Board of Directors of HDFC Bank
8. A list of other HDFC Bank account holders who are as surprised as I am, about this unethical charge
9. What can you do, if you are impacted too, as a HDFC Bank customer, or simply as an annoyed bank customer in India

1. Original post

My first salary was credited to a HDFC bank account. In New Delhi. I have since had HDFC accounts—salary, personal, home loan, car loan, you name it—for over 2 decades.

Now, I’m not adding these details to sentimentalize this post. (Oh well, that first salary part is a bit maudlin, I accept!). The point is, there’s way too much banking between me and HDFC that I can’t wash them off if the need arises and move to another bank, without a lot of wasted time and effort. So, why am I even considering that?

Let me explain what the problem is, first.

I received a mail from HDFC Bank on January 30th. The subject said,
“Dear Karthik Srinivasan, Welcome to HDFC Bank Preferred Banking Programme!”

I get at least 2-3 emails from HDFC every week. All of them ensure that they call me a ‘preferred’ banking customer. This has been going on for over 2-3 years, if I recall right. Now, I have no idea what this ‘preferred’ banking entails. I’m totally open to the possibility that I was shown a laundry list of fine print when this account was opened and I may have signed it too.

Anyway, I opened the mail curiously, to know why I’m being welcomed into something that I’m adequately a part of. This was the entirety of that mail.

hdfc mail 2

Crux: an invite-only program where a virtual relationship manager has been assigned to me.

My first thought: Oh great! The once-every-2-years that I actually call someone from HDFC bank can be slightly easier now!

Then, I notice this.

A nominal Programme Management fee of Rs. 100, per quarter is applicable per customer ID, on the Virtual Relationship Management Programme for Savings and Current Account holder, effective Jan’16 post 1 year of completion into the programme.

Service tax applicable.

If you wish to opt out of the Virtual Relationship Management Programme,
Click here

What?

Let me deconstruct that.

I was enrolled into this ‘program’ in January 2016. After a year of being in the program that I did not ask to be enrolled into and have no recollection of being in (I did check my emails from 2015, in December, and 2016, in January and February, as also emails from HDFC when I had opened this account), I will, from now on, be charged Rs.100 per quarter to be in this program.

And, service tax extra.

What cheesed me off is not the nominal amount. It was,

If you wish to opt out of the Virtual Relationship Management Programme,
Click here

This is an opt-out program.

So, I clicked on the link and performed the 2 actions needed to unenroll myself out of this invite-only program that presumes I’m already in.

hd1

hd2

In simple terms it means, HDFC depends on a customer’s action to not charge him/her. The usual, sane and honest method is, ‘HDFC depends on a customer’s action to charge him/her’. It means HDFC seeks consent to charge a customer. What they are doing is seeking consent to not charge a customer.

In other words, HDFC depends on the customer to,
1. open the mail,
2. read through the contents,
3. notice a way to opt-out,
4. click the opt-out link,
5. choose ‘No’ as confirmation and
6. submit the form
… to not charge him/her.

If the customer doesn’t perform even one of the above 6 tasks, he/she will be charged.

To make it even more explicit, figuratively, HDFC presented me with the following:
I, Karthik Srinivasan, agree to pay Rs.100 (plus service tax) per quarter towards the Virtual Relationship Management Programme. Unless I click on the button below to indicate my preference not to be part of this program, I’d be charged for this service.

This is clearly unethical and disingenuous.

It particularly hits home for me because I was in Flipkart, handling their corporate communications when they faced a similar issue. Back in 2012, when Flipkart launched the ‘save credit card’ feature (where customers have an option of saving their credit card details for easy payment in the future) after getting a PCI-DSS certification, they rolled out the feature where the check-box for saving the card is checked, by default. This is a classic opt-out tactic that is known to increase sign-ups/uptake of whatever program you are running.

It means, customers, who are previously unaware that Flipkart had a ‘save-card’ feature now need to take note of this feature and uncheck that box to opt out of this feature. In other words, Flipkart had pre-decided that customers want to be a part of it. And unless a customer explicitly asks not be part of it (by unchecking the box), they will continue to be part of this.

After this service was launched, there was a lot of hue and cry about Flipkart’s unethical practice in rolling out this feature. What was truly admirable, back then, was the fact that Flipkart not only acknowledged this error in judgement and set right the process (to opt-in; that is, give customers an unchecked box and let them exercise the option to be a part of this program, or not), but they also blogged about both the error and the reason why they changed it.

Here is the blog, from 2012.

HDFC is treading a far more dangerous ground. Flipkart did not charge money from people who forgot to opt out. They merely saved some data without explicit consent. HDFC, in this case, is going to take money from people who may have either ignored the mail, or forgotten to see the message about opting out in the mail. I’m fairly sure there are RBI guidelines that determine that any charge levied on the customer should be done after seeking explicit permission to do so. That is, after explaining to the customer that they are going to be charged for specific services. And not merely inform a customer that they’d be charged from now on for a service and only if they choose not to be part of it, will they be left alone without a charge.

The irony is that this HDFC mail starts by calling it an ‘invite-only’ service. The crucial point is that my option to decline the invite hinges on my opening and reading this email fully, and taking appropriate action.

I emailed HDFC Bank asking them why this is an opt-out and not an opt-in. I tweeted to them too. I got the following response after 2 days.

hdfc-response

They have merely reiterated the status quo to me – that this is what it is, but hey, we did give you an option to get out of this scheme and about being charged. Tough luck if you didn’t read the mail.

You could ask me a question based on ‘caveat emptor’ (buyer beware), which says, ‘that the buyer alone is responsible for checking the quality and suitability of goods before a purchase is made’. The argument could be, I, as a customer, should be vigilant and alert enough to go through all communication from my bank and take note of the charges proposed to be levied on me and communicate my intent to agree or disagree appropriately. This is a fair argument, but let me present how it may look like, in the real world.

You enter your favorite, and usual, cloth store. You try out 3-4 clothes and decide that you don’t like the fit and decide to try another store. As you walk out, the sales guy calls you back and says that you need to buy them. You ask him why. He says that the price tags in each of the clothing pieces you tried have a fine print that if you try them, you’d need to buy them too. That your trial amounts to a legal contract between the seller and buyer. This is opt-out. If it was opt-in, before you enter the trial room, a store person would have told you the rules and sought your consent.

If you have got this email, or recall being in something called ‘Virtual Relationship Management Programme’, please do check your email and take action based on your interest and intent.

So, considering all this, and the effort it’d take for me to close *all* my HDFC accounts and move to another bank, I’m not going that route. Instead, I’m going to try another route – to try and make HDFC own responsibility for this lapse in ethics and apologize, not just to me, but in public, to all their customers.

I’m going to share this blog every single day for the rest of the year – one day in the morning and the next, in the evening (and so on) on Twitter. And once every week on Facebook and LinkedIn for the rest of the year. I’ll tag relevant people to each tweet/post as necessary to ensure that it is read and understood by as many people as possible.

I’m very curious to see if my bank has an ethical stand on this issue at all.

2. HDFC Bank’s email response to my query

I received a couple of calls from HDFC on February 3, 2017. They tried to convince me with the content of the tweets (above) and after my telling them repeatedly and firmly (and politely) that I’m not convinced and that they are merely repeating the same thing again without addressing what I’m alleging, they sought 2 days’ time to revert. There was no response after 2 days, so I continued my daily updates on Twitter.

Then, on February 9, 2017, I received the following email.

hdfc-letter

3. My perspectives on HDFC Bank’s email response

My issue remains the same, while I fully appreciate all the efforts from HDFC in improving the benefit for customers.

1. Regarding testing the service for 1 year – I have no recollection of any communication from HDFC about launching VRM for me. I keep getting a call from ICICI or HDFC that says, ‘Sir, we have appointed a dedicated service manager for you and he’d like to come and meet you’. I say that I’m not interested, every single time.

2. The opt-out experience is the fundamental crux of my blog post above. I have explained in detail how disingenuous it is. If it complies with regulatory requirements (I HIGHLY doubt it would, particularly when customers are charged), it still doesn’t mean it is ethical. HDFC is looking at compliance, I’m talking about ethics. Vastly different topics.

3. I have never, ever received communication on charges for VRM. Most comments in this blog post, and on Twitter, point to many people not having any awareness about this charge.

4. The laundry list of ‘key benefits’ for a ‘nominal’ Rs.100! Wow! Where did this list suddenly materialize from? You see the original opt-out mail from HDFC, above? Doesn’t that portray that the Rs.100 charge is *just* for VRM? But now, miraculously, there are many more benefits for Rs.100. I’m sorry, but the point is still the same – please explain these to your customers, and let them agree to pay the charge per quarter consciously. Do not just take the money off their accounts just because you believe that the ‘nominal’ fee’s benefits far outweigh the charge. Let people, who actually own the money, decide that.

4. Other posts on HDFC’s unethical move:
1. 400 crores scam by HDFC Bank. You could be a victim too, even with other banks. Read how.
2. This blog post carried in Moneylife Magazine online
3. Dhirendra Kumar of Value Research writes in The Economic Times (March 6, 2017)
4. How HDFC Bank may discretely charge you for new ‘services’ and how you can avoid it (OpIndia)
5. Dhirendra Kumar, in Value Research website: Time to really pull up India’s out of control banks
6. A Well thought (but misguided) Strategy or a Scam – Program Management fee for HDFC Classic and Preferred accounts (Humlog.net)

5. My first email to RBI’s Banking Ombudsman (details here)

Sent on February 11, 2017 – To C.R.Samyuktha, as mentioned in RBI’s Banking Ombudsman website.
Email ID: bobangalore@rbi.org.in | Status: No response or complaint acknowledgment as on March 11, 2017

rbi email 1

6. My second email to RBI’s Banking Ombudsman (details here)

Sent on March 11, 2017 – To C.R.Samyuktha, as mentioned in RBI’s Banking Ombudsman website.
Email ID: bobangalore@rbi.org.in AND CC: Chief General Manager, Consumer Education and Protection Department, RBI (email ID: cgmcepd@rbi.org.in)

mail rbi 2

7. My email to all the Board of Directors of HDFC Bank (details, including email IDs, here)

Sent on March 11, 2017.
To:
Mrs. Shyamala Gopinath – chairperson.bod@hdfcbank.com
Mr. Partho Datta – Pdatta.bod@hdfcbank.com
Mr. Bobby Parikh – Bparikh.bod@hdfcbank.com
Mr. A. N. Roy – Anroy.bod@hdfcbank.com
Mr. Malay Patel – mpatel.bod@hdfcbank.com
Mr. Keki Mistry – Kmistry.bod@hdfcbank.com
Mrs. Renu Karnad – Rkarnad.bod@hdfcbank.com
Mr. Aditya Puri – Managingdirector@hdfcbank.com
Mr. Paresh Sukthankar – Psukthankar.bod@hdfcbank.com
Mr. Kaizad Bharucha – kbharucha.bod@hdfcbank.com
Mr. Umesh Chandra Sarangi – Usarangi.BOD@hdfcbank.com
Mr. Srikanth Nadhamuni – Snadhamuni.BOD@hdfcbank.com

HDFC BoD mail - blog post


8. A list of other HDFC Bank account holders who are as surprised as I am, about this unethical charge

1. Here is Rashmi R Padhy talking about the same opt-out problem with regard to a Classic Banking Program.

rashmi

2. Here is another customer of HDFC mentioning that the opt-out link did not work for him!

nemo

3. Here’s Raveesh, freshly after getting HDFC’s mail.

4. Here are 40 more people (click on the thumbnails for complete list).

h4 h3 h2 h1

 

 

 

 

 

 

5. Here are a lot more utterly annoyed and surprised customers of HDFC Bank who are wondering about the mysterious Rs.100 + taxes that they accidentally found out from their statements: On Consumer Complaints website.

6. A lot of surprised customers debating this unethical charge on DesiDime website.

— 
9. What can you do, if you are impacted too, as a HDFC Bank customer, or simply as an annoyed bank customer in India

Option 1: Write to the RBI Banking Ombudsman – details here.
The text of what I wrote, in case you need it, is here. You may copy-paste and edit it as you want.

Option 2: Write to all the Board of Directors of HDFC Bank – details here.
The text of what I wrote, in case you need it, is here. You may copy-paste and edit it as you want.

Option 3: Write to foundation@moneylife.in – hope this can help Sucheta Dalal and MoneyLife to pursue this via RBI and get HDFC Bank to not only stop this devious tactic, but also apologize to customers publicly.

Option 4: Sign the Change.org petition created by Sucheta Dalal that addresses this particular point (unethical charges) among many other points: Petition · Governor: RBI-Finance Ministry: Stop Banks Fleecing Depositors http://bit.ly/2nI6EPY

Comments

comments

Article written by

  • Karthick

    Wow. I digged thru my mail and I have a similar one from HDFC. Rs. 100 per quarter. I’m contacting HDFC immediately. Attaching this post!

  • Karthick

    My mail doesn’t have that opt out button/link. So I have to get in touch with HDFC customer care to opt out.

  • TLNOIW

    Terrible. But it seems a standard practice with many financial services outfits. Recently I got a message from CitrusPay thanking me for “signing up” with them. I was puzzled at first – then I realized that CitrusPay has an opt-out, rather than opt-in whenever you pay a merchant using CitrusPay. Why isn’t there a clear law that safeguards consumer interest in these things? Will a Change.org petition work? There is little or no activism here…

    • TLNOIW

      To be clear, the merchant uses CitrusPay gateway – it wasn’t my choice to use CitrusPay.

    • Ramu Sudarsan

      Ramu S ·
      HDFC BANK fined 3 lakhs for such unsolited promotional e-mails.

      https://indiankanoon.org/doc/65160954/

  • Reshmi Iyer

    I don’t see the opt out option in the mailer. How do I go about canceling this service foisted upon me?

    • In that case, you’d need to contact the bank, either via email or phone and ask them,
      1. How they charged you without your permission (ask them to show proof that they intimated these charges and you consented, knowing what you get, for the fee)?
      2. Ask them to opt out and reverse the charges.

      Quite a few people have done this, since they didn’t get the ‘otp out’ link in the email.

      • nyjoshi

        One thing I noticed was, my text said the following.
        If you wish to opt out of the Relationship Management Programme, Click here
        it had the word virtual missing and i could not find the email for the longest time. Maybe that can be added in the text as well.

    • Josh Gang

      Search for “Welcome to HDFC Bank Classic Banking Programme”.

      They have replaced “Preferred” with “Classic”.

  • Ravi Raman

    Corporate hunger!!

  • Raminder Hora

    This guy Karthik Shrinivasan is customer who any bank would avoid dealing with. First of all, you are defaming the bank for no reason. Thank your stars you are still a client, and HDFC is still in the market. You are not in courts thanks to that fact. Second of all, your long blog posts smells of ignorance on your part and not the bank. Please set your postal adress right and try to communicate with your bank often. People like you think they can just sit and the bank comes to you to change your diaper every now and then. Be thankful they save they money which otherwise you will spend drinking. P.S i do not bank with HDFC. I just find your post hilarious.

    • ziphire

      Raminder you have a weird sense of humour and I find that hilarious. You may not be banking with HDFC, guess you may be holding their stock.

      • JavaCoder

        ha ha

    • sayals

      Raminder, What’s wrong in Karthik’s demand? Is the bank not supposed to ask customers before charging? How can the bank levy a charge without consent of the customer? That too just by a mailer? This is unethical and fraudulent. I really fail to understand your grievance against Karthik on this.

    • JavaCoder

      1. You are blaming Karthik for no reason. He has elaborated properly the reasons why he thinks HDFC has done wrong to the customers.

      2. This long post intends to eliminate ignorance of customers who think it is normal for banks to charge them covertly.

      3. Customers endure pain in depositing, withdrawing, transferring money, standing in lines at the banks. Banks do not do not come to anyone’s house to do these transactions and no one expects them to do so. They are like shops.

      4. Why do you think we need to be thankful to banks? Banks protect our money and give interest and loans to us. But, don’t forget that they earn profits from our money by giving loans and investing in schemes of their choice.They earn through various charges used to operate our savings account, debit and credit cards. They are doing a business of profit. So, there is no need to be thankful to them.

      So, I find this post to be very much serious and your comment hilarious.

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  • Josh Gang

    Those who cannot find this mail with “Welcome to HDFC Bank Preferred Banking Programme” – search for “Welcome to HDFC Bank Classic Banking Programme”.

    They have replaced “Preferred” with “Classic” for some.

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  • Dr. Santosh Bhaskaran

    In my mail from HDFC, i have got link to apply for the service and not the other way round.