Monday, November 27, 2006

Of dropboxes...

The dropbox or cheque dropbox as they are known is a fairly well known phenomenon now. But, the acceptance of the dropbox, both by banks and customers was a fairly long haul. This is entirely my perspective, so, correct me if I am wrong.

In an era before dropboxes, everything (remember those pay-in slips?) had a counterfoil and a rubber stamped acknowledgement. When the dropboxes first came, it was pioneered by the private sector which did not have as many branches as the public sector banks. It took people a lot of time to develop the trust to drop a cheque in a dropbox and hope that it will reach the desired account. It was a thousand times better than having to stand in a queue at the wrong side of a scowling/bored (usually) teller at a bank, but rubber stamps were absent as were acknowledgements. The initial days were tough. Even very recently, I saw a Bank of Baroda dropbox placed inside their branch, which, works, 9 to 5 plus or minus a few - which defeated the whole purpose.

The other bigger thing in India is that what is not face to face lacks trust. Online shopping took a long time to get accepted. Why, a few years back, a friend had ordered a gadget (a massager or something) through rediff and what he got was a pathetic broken thing. Trust doesnt come very soon in the Indian market place. Unless clothes are folded, touched, perhaps scratched or until vegetables are smelt, tips broken, squished - nothing can be purchased. When it came to financial transactions, anything that did not have a counterfoil or a rubberstamp was deemed untrustworthy.

And then there were hiccups. You placed a cheque in a dropbox and it never reached them. I did so in a Bangalore electricity dropbox and duly had my connection cut 15 days after the due date. All my pleas were of no avail. It does not reflect in our accounts they said. I had to pay the sum again standing at the end of a long queue - but nobody has picked up the cheque till date - six months on. It will perhaps be discovered during some future excavation.

But over time, dropboxes have gained traction in India and its pretty common so much so that many transactions today do not need an acknowledgement - like bill payments, cheque deposits. Indeed some banks have started a trend of charging you if you visit their branches! I wish some banks paid me everytime they forced me to visit their branches because of some lapse on their part - I would be rich.

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