Bengaluru: One Man’s Twitter Campaign Against HDFC Bank Charging Its Users A Hidden Fee Through Its Emails
Companies in the 21st century capture the market by targeting its audience online. Avail the services of a company once, and be prepared to receive information about its offers and policies on your phone, email, and every other possible online medium. It’s the company’s method of retaining customers.
Recently, Karthik Srinivasan, a Bengaluru-based digital marketer, received an email from HDFC bank, welcoming him to their virtual relationship manager program as a new user of their preferred/classic banking account. The programme, assigned to him by default, was apparently for his benefit. Scrolling down the email, he noticed the fine print at the bottom which mentioned that the program was to cost him Rs 115 quarterly – Rs 460 a year. Moreover, users were signed up to the programme by default and could only opt-out manually through a tiny link, also at the bottom of the email.
Speaking to The Logical Indian, Srinivasan expressed his concerns with the ‘opt-out’ option, “I called the HDFC bank customer care and asked them how can there be an option to opt-out? There should be an ‘opt-in’ option for the users where they are given a choice to assess the utility of the program and then decide if they want to subscribe to it. The bank is auto-enrolling people for a charged program. Most people do not even open the mail or miss reading the fine print at the bottom.”
Srinivasan opted out of the program when he received the mail in January so it didn’t cost him any money, but he believes that there must be hundreds misled by the virtual relationship manager program.
When HDFC bank said that it has committed no legal gaffes and its opt-out facility maintains “fairness and transparency”, Srinivasan took to Twitter to passively convince the bank to resolve the issue. Since February this year, he has decided to tweet about it “every single day till the end of 2017” until HDFC Bank apologised.
— Karthik (@beastoftraal) February 1, 2017
Srinivasan is big on Twitter, with 25,000 followers. Staying true to his words, he took to the social media platform to educate all HDFC preferred/classic banking account users about the bank’s auto-enrolled charged program.
— Karthik (@beastoftraal) February 1, 2017
When the bank didn’t respond to his Tweets for a week, Srinivasan wrote a blog regarding the same.
On Day 9, he tagged HDFC board of directors, asking them to apologise to its customers. And the next day, the RBI also found a place in his Tweet.
— Karthik (@beastoftraal) February 10, 2017
He has even tried to convince the bank with humour.
— Karthik (@beastoftraal) March 18, 2017
His latest tweet, on Day 51, highlights HDFC bank’s desperate attempt to prove its innocence.
— Karthik (@beastoftraal) March 23, 2017
At least a thousand people have informed Srinivasan that they had no idea that they were being charged by default, and opted out of the program only after reading his tweets.
“There were a few users who didn’t even have the opt-out option attached to their mail and had to call the bank to reverse the charges. So if you call the bank specifically, informing them that you had no idea about the charged program, only then you will be reimbursed. All I want from the bank is to be transparent in the way it communicates about the charge to their customers”, Srinivasan said.
The Logical Indian community supports Karthik Srinivasan’s cause and we hope that HDFC bank resolves the issue as soon as possible.
Update: Karthik Srinivasan shared with us the public explanation from the corporate communications head at HDFC.
“Let me start by stating an article of faith: HDFC Bank is committed to the highest standards of ethics and business conduct. Naturally, I have been dismayed by words like ‘deceitful’, ‘unethical’ and ‘cheating’ being used in a section of the social media to describe our conduct pertaining to a certain Programme Management Fee.
I would like to set the record straight on this, and submit that the Bank has been fair and transparent with respect to this programme management fee in the following way:
a) Giving the customer the opportunity to experience the service for free for a year before levying any charges.
b) Communicating the charges to customers at regular intervals. A welcome mail is sent to customers introducing them to the programme. Subsequently, the nominal fee is mentioned in the monthly bank statements, 12 of them, during the course of the free trial. Information on the charge is also available on our website, and with the Relationship Manager.
c) Providing an exit option for those who do not wish to avail of these services.
Needless to say all this is in compliance with regulatory requirements.
Speaking of the Programme, well, I believe the benefits of the programme far outweigh the nominal fee of Rs 100 per quarter. While the benefits are detailed here: http://bit.ly/2nscKCP, the key ones are the following:
1) Discount of up to 100% on Locker charges
2) Unlimited usage of ATMs
3) Preferential pricing on loans
4) Waiver of charges for Non-Maintenance of the required Average Monthly Balance (AMB) on all accounts
While we believe this is a strong value proposition, a customer can exit anytime he chooses to by clicking a button.
I know banks in their zeal do sometimes go overboard with emails, often the only channel left to communicate with customers. I also know it puts off some of us. But some of these mails, like the monthly statement, are a must-read. Wonder if there’s a way out?