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Prayers for India … but my bank let me down

My bank shocks me. I know what’s going on, but even then, they still shock me.

What’s going on?

My bank depended upon offshore services for customer services. Those offshore services were based in India. India locked-down with four hours notice and, as you may have noticed if you watch the news, is now suffering the worst outbreak of COVID19 in the world. To everyone in India, I send my prayers.

Nevertheless, my bank shocks me.

Why?

Because they depended so much on offshore services in India for customer services that they now cannot deliver any customer service. Worse than this, they haven’t been able to deliver any customer service since March 2020. It’s now May 2021. Fourteen months after the crisis hit, their telephone number starts with this message:

Due to the coronavirus outbreak, we have fewer colleagues available to answer your call. Please bear with us, but your call may take over an hour to be answered.

My bank shocks me.

But it’s not just my bank. It’s most banks that relied on outsourcing and offshore services.

This hit home when reading Bloomberg the other day:

  • Standard Chartered said that about 800 of its 20,000 staffers in India were infected with coronavirus
  • Barclays are shifting jobs to the UK as so many of its 20,000 Indian employees are impacted
  • as many as 25% of 8,000 employees in some teams at UBS are absent
  • at Wells Fargo’s Indian offices, which employs 35,000 people, work on co-branded cards, balance transfers and reward programs is running behind schedule

The thing is that India is not just a country of offshore call centres, but it is the centre of key developments of bank systems and structures. The biggest banking software and service firms are based in India. Most development and service for bank technology structures are supported by India.

It goes further than this though.

If you aren’t familiar with Aadhaar and the India Stack, just look at the way in which they’ve banked the unbanked, issued identities to those unidentifiable and created payment structures for all who need to pay. In a decade, India has gone from most people unbanked to most people banked. It’s also a beautiful country.

So, as we watch the devestation this virus brings to the world, I watch the developments specifically in India with shock and awe.

It is not just my bank that shocks me. It is the way in which this virus has been met and dealt with by different countries and different governmets. I mentioned a year ago the politics of pandemics, and have now seen many articles and papers about the subject.

What gets me is why did India have such a disastrous situation today when, as evidenced by my bank’s frozen offshore services, it locked down fast with just four hour’s notice? As of 7th May, India has had over 1.2 million people infected by COVID19 and 235,000 deaths (probably many more).

Why?

Why has India such a disastrous situation today?

Well, most in India who I talk to blame the government and politics.

According to critics, India’s Prime Minister Narenda Modi placed the interests of India’s multinational corporations above the people. India’s super rich achieved a 35% growth in their net worth between April and July 2020. Cyrus Poonawalla, whose Serum Institute of India is the country’s biggest manufacturer of vaccines, saw his wealth increase by 84.7% to US$13.8 billion (£9.9 billion).

I’m not a politician or a political person, but when I look at the disaster taking place in India, it is obvious something has gone wrong. Equally, as a country full of friends and companies that I know and love, I am saddened to see the situation they are in.

On the one hand, they’ve done the best job in the world at financial inclusion; on the other hand, have they put profit over people?

Either way, I look at what’s happening in India and send my prayers. It’s a country full of amazing and bright people, and my favourite business book of all time is If God was a Banker. If you want to understand what has happened in India in the last decades, this book will tell you. The more important question however, is what will happen in India in the next decade?

 

UPDATE: MAY 12

Someone has criticised this blog entry, on the basis of saying how my bank was affected and wrapping it into the Indian pandemic crisis. They point out that I’ve written this as someone who would turn to a neighbour and say sorry about your house burning down, but can you lower the noise of the fire engines. It was not meant that way and so, if any of my friends in India and around the world are offended, I apologise. It is a blog that is meant to express the love for my friends in Bangalore, Chennai, Kerala, Mumbai and other parts of India, whilst recognising that offshore services have been severely impacted by the pandemic. In particular, as I write every day about technology and finance, it is recognising that the backup and recovery structures for offshore services had not been tested and are now being severely tested, which is a hugely relevant subject to the community I deal with. Trust this update makes sense.

 

 

About Chris M Skinner

Chris Skinner is best known as an independent commentator on the financial markets through his blog, TheFinanser.com, as author of the bestselling book Digital Bank, and Chair of the European networking forum the Financial Services Club. He has been voted one of the most influential people in banking by The Financial Brand (as well as one of the best blogs), a FinTech Titan (Next Bank), one of the Fintech Leaders you need to follow (City AM, Deluxe and Jax Finance), as well as one of the Top 40 most influential people in financial technology by the Wall Street Journal’s Financial News. To learn more click here...

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