Monday, September 10, 2007

Online Banking@ICICI Bank: Beware

Few months back, a friend of mine sought to transfer some money from his ICICI Bank account to to my ICICI Bank account. We choose the most convenient route, which was an online transfer. Was it that that convenient indeed?. Read on.

It so appeared that the account number I sent by mail to my friend was wrong by exactly one digit. A real costly mistake indeed. My unsuspecting friend promptly executed two transfers and the money, a sum of few thousand rupees, landed in a third account, which wasn't his intention.

As soon as we learnt of the error, we reported to ICICI Bank, and surprising enough, this completely wired bank decided that this cannot be reported to the call center. One has to visit the branch. So be it we said, and dutifully filed a written report at the ICICI Branch where my friend has his account. We were advised, that the Bank would seek to reach out the third account holder, and after his/her permission , reverse the transaction. Not so simple. For months, my friend kept following up with the ICICI Bank staff by phone.In the course of this period, the bank kept saying that the delay is because the customer has not updated his/her telephone number and not responding to postal communication.

We then visited the branch once again. We were pointed out that bank really cannot give any SLAs on rectifying this error, since the error has happened from the customer side. Also, that the receiving account was short by 'some amount'. We also learnt that this is not an unheard of occurrence at that branch.

The error happened because in ICICI Online Banking money transfer, there is no payee validation mechanism to ensure if the account indeed belongs to the person who you are seeking to transfer the money to. A paper instrument, bears the payee account name, and has to be deposited along with the correct account number. In case of a mismatch, it would not be processed. In ICICI online system, it just vanishes behind a number. So risky.

So with much follow-up, a major part of the money was transferred to my friend's account, which I helpfully took from my friend, and the mode chosen was non electronic. The deficiency of an amount of over thousand rupees, one understands, is because the wrong payee had that much deficit in his/her account. So, whatever he/she owed to ICICI Bank for whatever reasons has now become my friend's liability and therefore, mine.Cool!

We were told, in slightly coated words, that the Bank has taken some precautionary steps to prevent such an error, and we have neglected that. The hint was to an sms message that goes to the payer whenever he/she adds a new payee to make a transfer. The sms contains a numeric code, which has to be keyed in to complete the process. According to the bank, we should have noticed the error at this stage. I am tempted to challenge this. A real validation would happen only if the sms comes to the payee who would pass it on to the payer.

So, next time you are about to make an online payment via ICICI Bank, look at the good old cheque leaf as a valued alternative. Or consider transferring an amount of 10 rupees first, call up the other party and check if they received the same. Do not assume fancy systems to be more robust and foolproof. An application is only as good as the process design given to the programmer.



MS Vivek Chaitanya said...

Earlier ICICI Bank had a provision that if you key in the account number, the account holder name is also used to appear.That served as the best validation.But thats past. I don't know why ICICI Bank removed that provision.

Now the only alternative is to be more careful while typing in the account number. I do transfer money to various accounts often.But I will ensure that I check the receiver's account number 1000 times!

Rohit Tiku said...

Dear Rajesh,
It is like depositing a cheque with the wrong a/c number.
Just imagine the effort you would have taken there also for getting the payment back.
Currently there are lots of safeguards in place to ensure that such errors do not take place.
In any case, the process for reversal is cumbersome and rightly so.
If it is "too conveneient", then I can assure you that the extent of misuse would be tremendous... After all there are many ingenious people around who are not just waiting for such oportunities but actually go to the extent of even planning them..

Sara said...

I use UTI-now AXIS bank,there you can verify the name behind the account.Once I was on the verge of doing the blunder, had it not been with the name associated with the account.BTW, I am a big fan of AXIS, they are so customer-friendly and even overseas, I dont have any problem with them ever.

HARISH'Z said...

Hi Rajesh,

I am exactly in the same situation right now. I am supposed to transfer 15000 to my friend's account. Since, he is not having an icici bank account, he gave one of his colleague's account number.
After transfering the amount, my friend's colleague didnt receive the credit. Later, he verified the account number and informed me that it was an incorrect account number that was provided to me. I already gave a written complaint and also got to hear the same cock and bull story from the bank that they have to take the consent of credit party to debit their account. Any suggestions on the course of action based on your past experience.

Rajesh Kumar said...

@ MS Vivek Chaitanya: Thanks for the comment. ICICI probably feels that privacy would be compromised if they have a system where people can see the names behind the accounts.

@ Rohit: Thanks mate.

@ Sara: Happy customer speaketh!

@ Harish'z: Pray twice everyday and keep following up.And say more prayers. And be optimistic.The Lord is not so bad.

Amit said...

I think another aspect to see is the the Knowledge of the frontend Staff dealing with the customer. Are they knowledgeable? Are they capable? If not then consumer has to be very careful before availing the service from these banks...I am experiencing that Staffs at these banks are just data entry operators without much knowledge and power to take decision. Customer are mostly said that head office will decide, mail will be sent bla bla …