Internet Transactions : Some Experience

Internet Transactions

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Use of internet for purchase of goods and for transfer of funds is a very fascinating experience. It is as if all control is in ones own hands. The days of going to bank to withdraw money and then go shopping and finally buy the thing is now in stark contrast to do all these things from fingertips – and perhaps arrive at a more informed decision. However, this can happen only in relation to certain standardised goods. Though the convenience of internet is available for all things under sun – but perhaps, one would prefer to use such facilities with discretion and care – and in relation to only certain specified goods of ones choice.

Perhaps individual psychographics is equally important – as I have seen even wealthy people disparage internet transactions with suspicion. There are all sorts of stories of someone telling them as to how someone else was defrauded! If perhaps, one investigates such stories further – maybe 80% are pure imaginary, for the rest – it might begin with sharing of userids and passwords and misuse of the same.

However, if one has to keep up with times, technology is an inevitable fact of life whether one likes it or even if one prefers to be a luddite. If one has to keep up with times, it is in the interest of the individual to adopt to the technology – and particularly in case of financial transactions, use of internet is an inevitable technological product that has come to stay.

One should remember that technology is value neutral – it is how one uses it is important. Technology can be blamed – only if it has been badly implemented. However, mostly technology relating to money is tested extensively before implementation. Thereafter they are audited – extensive system audit is undertaken to check whether there is any fault.

I have recently done the following kinds of transaction:

Buy books
Buy fancy products
Pay electricity bills
Pay telephone bills
Transfer funds – intra bank transfer
Transfer funds – inter bank transfer
Pay for Donation to Temples
Buy railway ticket
(Update Jan 2009: Paid Life Insurance Premium)

All these were done using different means:

By using internet banking facility
By using debit card (I dont yet use a credit card!)
By use of different payment gateways – ICICI, Citibank, Axis Bank, HDFC, Visabillpay, CCAvenue

All the transactions were successful – except in cases, where perhaps the payment gateways/bank facilities were down for maintenance. Though the gateway or the bank page never quite pointed to such a thing – it only gave the message that the transaction could not be authorised or that the transaction was not successful.

In one case of interbank transfer (among many such interbank transfers done by me), the money had not reached the desired account even after three days. The receiving bank confirmed that they had not received the transaction. This was an NEFT transaction from SBI to Axis.

I did lots of internet search regarding that – and ultimately found RBI – the big boss of banking. They have the email id: nefthelpdeskncc (at) rbi.org.in where one can enquire about the status of the transaction. I emailed them in the afternoon – without expecting much. (One is often used to no response from government bodies for long period of time – or no response at all). But to much of my surprise, I received reply within an hour – that the transaction had not reached RBI. They had also CCed the reply to couple of other officials.

When SBI branch was contacted – they said that the transaction was successful – as seen from records. I said, that same record is in front of me and that shows the transaction was successful – yet the money had not reached Axis bank. I also showed them the reply from Axis bank and the RBI regarding the transaction. The concerned Branch higher ups were contacted and they speculated that if such transaction had not gone through, the Bombay clearing center would come up with such transaction and it would take some time that the money would come back to my account. They also said to give a written complaint – which I did promptly.

So it seemed there was not much to do except to wait what happened to the NEFT transaction – because, when the transaction did not materialise even after three days – and had not reached the RBI, as per NEFT rules, it should get back to the account from where it had started.

To my utter surprise – the amount reached its destination in Axis bank the very same evening ! I dont know how the thing got resolved – but I do suspect that it was the intimation to RBI that did the magic. (Postscript: Yes, it is the RBI that does the magic – after checking their records they instruct the bank to process the transaction at their end. Emails written to RBI are treated officially as complaint to RBI regarding erring bank)

There was yet another case, where in one instance during online booking of railway ticket, the browser did not refresh properly to the irctc website. So, while the payment materialised, the booking of ticket failed. I immediately contacted the railway call center – and equally to my amazement, they only asked me the user id, then the lady at the other end acknowledged that payment had taken place and ticket booking had failed. As she said, the amount would be refunded and gave me the reference number. Later on, I also found out that the option of failed transaction was there in the site itself containing the full details of the amount received by irctc, without the ticket getting booked. The full money was refunded to the bank account the very next day – within 30 hours! And even the bank refunded the commission deducted for the transaction within 48 hours!

So, such experiences reinforced my faith in the internet transactions – the system does work – and there are proper procedures in place to resolve the issues. Also, in cases of other transactions, whenever I have written to any service providers, they have usually replied.

However, there are also cases where people manning the technology are simply inept or dont want to adopt to technology. In one such case of online donation to maavaishnodevi.org where it is written on their website that puja prasad and receipt of donation are sent to the devotees on their donation to the site under various schemes of donation. We donated Rs. 1100 to it through its online facility. The technology worked correctly and smoothly recorded our donation and even on the day of puja ‘executed’ it properly. However when it came to prasad and receipt to come – it did not come. I sent email to their administrator and helpdesk umpteen times – yet there was no reply. I tried the telephone umpteen times – no one took up the phone except on one occasion. I told the issue and got the person on the other end to write down all the reference numbers of the donation and he promised that the prasad and receipt would be sent. But despite of that, these have not been sent till date.

I have found that it is usually the ‘institutions’ – the bigger ones who do not generally reply to email / written queries / complaints. They dont even reply to written complaints – whatever be the issue – either they solve it or they are simply mum – even if the problem continues to exist – whether it be a public sector bank or a private sector bank. They would leave pending some request for over a month that they can do in five minutes.

Even in terms of technology, there are stupid rules that have been made by banks in internet banking. For example, SBI does not allow transfer of funds from any SBI account to a SBI pension account through internet banking – while at the same time allowing for NEFT transfer into such pension account from any other bank. This simply defies logic and commonsense!

The work culture and culture of technology is subservient to the nature of society itself. If the people who are manning the technological products themselves are not attuned to such work or are not provided proper training or are not properly authorised to resolve the issue – then it is a problem for the customers/ users of technology.

However the system of internet transactions have clear audit trail – so one should be confident in use of such technology. But living in a democracy, with the evidence of the virtual world, one should be ready to take up the case in the real world as well if the need arises!

Also, despite of many positives, it still seems that many of these technologies are not ‘complete’ technologies. This is in the sense, that some banks internet transaction sites would work properly only with an Internet Explorer and not with other browsers like the Firefox. Even within that some of the portions of the menus would not properly load. This is particularly true of Axis bank, where one cannot use some features if one is not using Internet Explorer!

Then there are other kinds of technical snags that one finds as one gradually starts using such facility. It so happens that to get some of these technical snags resolved one has to visit the bank branch often. The very reason for which one usually takes such internet banking accounts in the hope that they will not have to visit the bank branch – this hope gets belied!

Much worse is the situation that the officers looking after internet banking desk of such bank would acknowledge their ignorance to issues and say that in their end everything is all right. Such ignorant behaviour from bank personnel creates unnecessary frustration to the internet banking user who would hardly have thought of absence of support on technical snags from the bank people. It has been my experience that the banks have not set up proper technical support in this respect. The Call Centers are hopeless being manned by staff who only know the usual procedure and for any technical issue or trouble would tell to contact the branch.

And in such case of so many overlapping jurisdictions one fails to understand who is controlling which aspect of the technology. It is like technology is still being driven by the old bureaucratic mindset – whether it be the PSU banks or the new generation banks.

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