Of Insurance Companies and Customer Harassment – A True Story

There is no such thing as customer service in India as we all know. All that goes on in this country under the guise of “providing services” is just a sham of organized ripping off of unsuspecting people of all their money under the guise of something or the other, and helped on by the law. Not only does the hapless customer lose his hard earned money, but is also rewarded with unimaginable misery from running around begging those scheming, cheating and opportunistic corporate vultures to get his hard earned money back (or what is left of it).

This happened to me too. A story of deceit, cheating, harassment, lies and falsification, inflicted upon me by a group of thugs who like to call themselves a Private “MNC” Insurance Company. One of those “New-Generation” newfangled corporations who claim to represent the “new” India run by above mentioned scheming vultures wanting only to rob you of your money, the kind which will show you gleaming buildings and hot chicks in suits grinning like toothpaste models in their advertisements. They promise eternal devotion to you and throwing around hollow jargon, somehow make you believe you can double your money faster than Ambani can his. And you believe them only because you don’t understand a thing about how the system works, but of course you “know” the person. Anyway, here is the story. It is a bit long, please try to read through the entire thing…

Prologue

There is this not-so-friendly neighborhood insurance company branch office in our town, headed by the evil, scheming branch manager. Let us call him Megatron. However, most of his dirty work on the field is carried out by his loyal minion, who is, of course, Starscream. And as it happens, Starscream is our neighbors’ brothers’ brother-in-law’s cousion or something like that, so his dedication to us was supposedly unquestionable. But little did I know that was not the case. He relentlessly hounded till he could sweet talk me into buying one of his “whatever-they-call-it” money multiplier schemes. And his boss Megatron honored us with his presence while the agreement was being signed.

(Please note: The incident is real, but the dialogue is fictionalized. The names of the company and those involved have been left out intentionally as I am not too fond of legal notices. Unfortunately, there is no insurance against insurance companies. And I don’t have any money.)

SCENE 1

Me: “So are you sure this will work? I am investing Rs.10,000 per year, you better make sure the money grows, as you say. And we can close the policy after three years right? Are there any other T&C?”

Starscream: Yes of course! Actually, you should invest something more substantial. Like, you know, a lakh or so. There are some terms and conditions, you can read the document…

Megatron: Ah, but I would say it would be a waste of time, it is all just legal mumbo-jumbo. You need not worry, I am here only, right? I will take care of everything and your money. You can always come back and catch my neck!” (The guy gives out the perfect salesman laugh)

Me: “Well, okay, fine. I think we will start off with this 10,000 for now. Do I have to fill in this form?”

Starscream: “No no no, no need. Leave the paperwork to me. Just sign here, here and here, and give me the cheque. I will take care of everything.”

I don’t really know how they managed to convince me, but he must have said something to the effect of:

[quote]Starscream: “Don’t worry! We will ensure that you get the highest returns because our company has the highest guarantee returns of the NAV of the accrued interest in the equity scheme mutual fund of the wealth management from the complicated India to the America of the sub prime of the market value of the everybody!!!”[/quote]

"Hand over your money. I will totally take care of it."
Animevice.com

SCENE 2 ACT 1

Three years pass.

Me: “Three years are up, right? Can I stop paying now and surrender the policy? What is it worth now?”

Starscream: “Yes, sir! You can now cancel the policy. Let me check what is the fund value.” *Taps on laptop* “Now the value is Rs.29,862.” (keeps straight face)

Me: (after a few seconds of stunned silence and then incredulously) “WHAAT?? WTF??!! Are you joking? I lost money?? What the hell are you talking about? Is this your guaranteed return??!! No, I mean, this was supposed to be an investment, right?? I paid 30,000 bucks over three years!! And now you are saying I actually LOST money?? Are you making fools out of us!??”

Starscream: “No sir, we meant that if you continue the policy paying just Rs.10,000 per year for the next 12 more years and then you will get guaranteed returns! And now this is the fund value as of today, it actually depends on market corrections and fluctuations in market values of the equity schemes we have invested your money in. But if you continue with us for 15 more years, we will give you assured returns!”

Me: (furious) “What? Whaat?? You cheated me out of my money, and now you dare give me gyaan with your empty, meaningless, senseless financial jargon?! I know these things don’t exist and you throw these words around to fool gullible people out of their hard earned money! The world would be a much better place if your kind would just vanish! If I had invested 30000 in an SBI FD in my grandfather’s name, I would have got Rs.39,000 by now at 10% interest. I can’t believe I trusted you scheming corporate scumbag frauds! Hell, there is no need to invest in get-rich-quick Ponzi schemes with people like you around!”

SS: “Sir, please calm down. We work according to market and company policy, and only in favor of the customer. And we are not like those old banks. We are the new generation! You know, modern! See, we have all the high tech stuff like internet and SMS banking! We are even on Orkut! And personalized care! Why don’t you continue for 15 years saar? We will assure re…”

Me: “Hey! Enough!! What do you think I am, stupid? Don’t try to teach Sachin Tendulkar to bat, ey! No way I am ever in my life going to invest a single Paisa of mine in any MNC finance company, ever! Now what is lost is lost. Tell me how I can cancel this shit and get my money back, cheats!”

SS: “Hey, we did not cheat you. It was unfortunate that the market behaved in that way and you lost money. I will see how to cancel the scheme. I will come to your home in a couple of days.”

Me: “Shut up, or I will beat the shit out of you!  Thank God I didn’t put in any more money. Now I how people who lose money in money chain and MLM scams feel like. You better do or by God you will hear from me!!”

SCENE 2 ACT 2

A week later, Starscream and Megatron land up in my place. Megatron tried his vocal best to convince me to continue the policy, his minion backing him all along. But I stood my ground. Finally, after half an hour, he relented.

Megatron: “Since you are adamant on cancelling the policy, we will do that. Fine. But it is sad to know that you don’t trust us.”

Me: “It is your fault. You should’ve told me earlier about the 15 year thing and your policy of making customers lose money! I wouldn’t have invested in your swindler’s scheme then.”

Megatron: “See, it is not our policy. We never lie to customers. It is all the market. And you should have read the policy document carefully, everything was written there. We had explained all of this to you, you must have forgotten. Anyway, I will come in two days to cancel the policy.”

SCENE 2 ACT 3

Sure enough, a couple of days later Megatron lands up again with Starscream in tow. But not before they tried to convince us again to continue the policy.

Megatron: “Well, give us the policy document, we will cancel it and the cheque will come in the mail in a couple of weeks.”

Me: (Apprehensively) “Is that the way to do it?, I mean, shouldn’t there be a receipt, signatures and all?”

Starscream: “You don’t believe us sir? We are here only, no? You can come to us any time! And we are the ones who are going to do the process anyway, right.. Don’t worry, we will take care of everything”.

I relented. They collected the document, thanked me for the coffee and left. I thought I heard them laughing as they drove away.

SCENE 3

Thinking that the policy will be safely cancelled, my wait started for the cheque bearing whatever money remaining to arrive. Initially Megatron would assure us that “he is taking care of everything”, “the policy cancellation procedure is in process and will be completed soon”, “the policy has been cancelled, cheque will be mailed soon and so on.” But as months kept dropping off the calendar with no sign of any cheque, he switched over to the usual ‘customer support’ excuse templates like “I am looking into it”, “Systems are down”, “I am in the hospital”, etc, and finally one fine day, became unreachable. Starscream seemed to have dropped off the face of the earth as well. Finally, after 3 months, exasperated, I logged onto the very “high-tech” (complete with spelling mistakes) website of the company and after a lengthy, complicated and confusing registration experience, found that the policy is still active! Hell yeah! So much the con of man! I finally got wise and called Megatron from a friend’s phone. He picked the call. I introduced myself and asked him where the fuck the cheque was. He mumbled something and hung up on me! I tried again from a pay phone and the result was the same, only that the hanging up was immediate. That was when I lost it. I decided to take matters to the next step and wrote a very agitated mail marking every address I would find on the website. I asked them to share the methods they use to train the staff to lie so effectively, and demanded to know when I would get my money back.

SCENE 4, ACT 1

I got some automated return mails which like all good “customer support” replies, asked me to go through some process while totally not answering any of my questions. Looking for other options, I dug up a phone number from the internet and called customer support. After 3 calls and pressing a lot of buttons I was finally directed to a very nice person, who seemed had become immune to customers’ shouting. Let us call him Ironhide. Ironhide patiently listened to my problems, and corrected me about the surrender process (which I had suspected all along): I have to surrender the document (personally) to a branch, fill in some forms, sign at some places, get a receipt, provide them with a cancelled blank cheque and an account number, and the amount will be credited to the account within 8 working days.

Me: “But.. but… Megatron said he would “take care” of everything?”

Ironhide: “That is not how it works… There are processes to be followed, customers are often mislead by employees who trick them into stuff. We have received many complaints like this”

Me: “Great. But why do they do this?”

Ironhide: “Mostly to meet their targets, maybe. Or maybe he just wanted to get back at you.”

Me: “I thought so. Now what do I do?”

Ironhide: “You have to submit your policy at any branch in India.”

Me: “I don’t have it, Megatron took it”.

Ironhide: “Oh yes. And you don’t have any receipt? And you say he is not picking your calls when you try to contact him. And you are in another state. Wait, is there anyone else who was witness to this process?”

Me: “No, I don’t. Yes, yes, yes. Starscream”

Ironhide: “OK. I will initiate a conference call with all you three in about 2 hours. Please attend the call.”

SCENE 4 ACT 2

Megatron: “Hello?”

Ironhide: “Hello, this is Ironhide, from the Jhumrithilaiyya head office. With me are Mr. V in whose name you had taken a policy. And now, they say you have taken the policy document for cancellation but have not actioned on it. Don’t you know this is not the process? Why this mix up? Please explain?”

Megatron: “Mr. Ironhide, I have no clue what you are talking about. I vaguely remember seeing this name somewhere, but I have no idea who they are and I don’t know anything about any policy document.”

Me: “Huh, What? Who are you kidding? Hey, this is V, you know me and my family very well. In fact, you have come to our house FOUR times, first to sell this thing and later to collect those documents! How dare you lie on my face??”

Megatron: “Mr., I have no idea what you are talking about! Why should I come to your house? I am a branch manager! I don’t know who you are, please stop wasting my time. Mr. Ironhide, don’t you know the process, we are not supposed to take stuff directly from customers. I always follow procedure.”

Me: (Shouts) “Who the hell cares who you are! Branch Manager it seems! And what procedure!? You came there and took the document with you, saying you would take care of everything. And now you say this?!! At least return the document, you lying …….!!”

Megatron: “Boss, I don’t know who you are and what you are talking about. I don’t have any document. What would I do with it? Stop wasting my time with this nonsense. Do you have proof that I took the document whatever you are saying? And don’t shout at me.”

Us: “Proof? No, but you took it! I know…”

Megatron: “Don’t talk if you don’t have proof. Now I have work to do. Then you everyone.” *Click*

SCENE 4, ACT 3

Me: “What will I do now? The lying SOB of an employee of yours has cheated us and is now lying about it!”

Ironhide: “I am sorry about that, but I am unable to help you since you don’t have any proof that he actually took your documents, though I believe you. Forget this, I will suggest you another way out. But it is a little complicated”.

Me: “Great. That is all I needed. Complications.”

Ironhide: “What you need to do is, submit a declaration on an indemnity bond that you have misplaced the document along with an application for surrender. You can do so at the nearest branch. The branch in Bangalore is near Father of the Nation Road. You can find the address on the website. You just need to walk in to the branch, and our staff will be happy to help you.”

Me: “Right. Don’t tell me about the helping mentality of you bloody staff. That is what got me into this mess in the first place.”

Ironhide: “Sir, I am very sorry for what has happened. You can have my mobile number, call me in case you need any help.”

Me: “Well, fine. Thanks. I was hoping to get this resolved without any further complications… Well. Will go tomorrow and try to get this thing done and over with.” (#FML)

SCENE 5

Needless to say, the website was extremely useless. I located the place thanks to Google Maps and calculating a “shubh-muhurtham”, left office early and reached the branch after an excruciating journey across the city, only to be informed by their security guard in some strange language that in all their customer friendliness, the company does not allow parking for customers! I found a parking spot two kilometers away and walked to the place, as I did not want to antagonize the Bangalore Traffic Police by double parking, and my car has enough dents and scratches on it anyway. The place resembled more a paper recycling plant than an insurance company office. The grimy, dusty dimly lit dump was sparsely populated by a handful of tired looking people sitting behind shabby desks picking their noses and some others carrying paper and other assorted stuff around. An ancient security guard sat at the ‘reception’ desk, busy on a phone explaining to someone the all-important matter of how terrible the snake-gourd sambar at his cousin’s sister-in-law’s wedding was. I waited for him to finish. After another 10 minutes he put the phone down, looked around expecting to find terrorist infiltrators and saw me. He got up, pulled up his pants and asked:

“Surrender-a Enquiry-a?” (Tone of an Army Major facing a set of surrendered soldiers)

“Huh? Hmm.. Policy surrender problem?”

“Wait.” (Points to a rickety chair with enough grime on it to fill an average Bangalore pothole.)

15 minutes later, the guard points me to a cubicle in a corner occupied by a lady who reminded me of my kindergarten teacher, the one with the cane and big glasses, who would not allow us to go out to pee. I explained my situation.

I was gruffly offered a sheet of paper typewritten in Queen’s English with plenty of respecteds, humblys, therefores and above saids peppered among countless spelling mistakes. I was informed that the text has to be copied on Rs.100 bond paper, attested by a notary and is to be submitted back at the branch along with a copy of the printout from the website, ID proof, address proof and a blank cheque. When asked where I could get a bond paper, she vaguely waved her hands around which I took meant the entire city of Bangalore. Frustrated that things just keep getting more and more complicated instead of getting resolved, I made my way out of the dump and back home.

SCENE 6 ACT 1

Stamp papers. Filled with dread at the thought of government offices, processes and touts, I set out to find how I could procure the hallowed Papyrus. After making some calls and a doing lot of Googling, I learned that the process of issuing stamp papers in Karnataka has been overhauled and is now computerized. I could get electronically printed computer generated stamp papers at all sub-registrar offices (and now also at Post Offices, Banks etc as well, Find the complete list here of e-stamping centers in Karnataka here) in Bangalore by paying the value of the stamp paper across the counter in cash. You could then get whatever matter you want typed on this. Jayanagar sub-registrar office seemed as good a spot as any other. I made preparations for the battle ahead.

SCENE 6 ACT 2

I took a day off (yes!) and bearing all my apprehensions in mind hauled ass to Jayanagar, carrying a bundle of documents, photocopies included. I parked in a parking lot and walked a kilometer to the sub-registrar office trepidatious of what lay ahead. But to all my surprise, it worked out pretty easy! All I had to do was to pay the money, fill a form and my stamp paper was generated in 10 minutes! No touts, no bribes, nothing! Getting the matter typed was another thing altogether. I approached a “Typing and Notary Service” shop near the registrar office. But belied by wrong grammar and numerous spelling mistakes, the irritated typist insisted I correct all the mistakes in the text, fill in all the blanks and strike out what was “not applicable”. Unable to blame her, I complied and ‘did the needful’. A lot of waiting later, the text was typed, printed and attested by the friendly neighborhood Notary. The entire process took three hours, 300 bucks, a lot of waiting around, frustration, thirst and hunger (Plus Rs.112 for the paper). But finally my Indemnity Bond was ready to go!

SCENE 6 ACT 3

Battling the blazing summer sun, sweltering heat which must have been a million degrees, bad roads and monstrous traffic jams, I took one and a half hours to cover the journey of 10 kilometers by car and 2 kilometers on foot (because of their “keep-the-customer-away-by-not-providing-parking-strategy) to reach the PRIC office dusty, grimy, sweating, hungry and thirsty, only to be informed that it is “lunch hour” and will not be allowed to wait inside the branch due to “security reasons”. I would have to wait outside for 15 minutes till the “high-security” lunch was over. Tired and mindf***ed, I waited. I entered the office at the exact hour and stood around for a couple of minutes. The guard in his stained uniform and ill filling trousers materialized and threw me a toss of his head: “What do you want?” I knew what to say.

“Surrrender” (I meant it, literally)

“Wait”. (Same grimy chair)

I sat there reading a scratched poster pasted to a peeling wall in which the CEO of the company explained how “wonderful” and “valued” their customers were and how the company would give its left ball to “serve” above said valuable idiots. Lies again. 10 minutes later I was directed to a gentleman in a loosened tie and sweat drenched shirt. I explained everything and submitted my bulging folder of documents.

He examined the paper trail and nodded, asked me to sign at the X in some 10 spots, and explained how everything will be resolved in 8 working days. I told him that I had heard that before, but he assured me that it would be done without fail and gave me his mobile number. He that said I would be welcome to come and complain if things did not happen. He also apologized profusely for things that went wrong, and assured me that he would put my request on top of the queue.

Now with a throbbing headache in tow, I was too tired to argue or resist and all I wanted to was to somehow get home. It took me another hour and a half in blistering heat, dust and chaotic traffic to finally reach home. I rewarded myself with a liter of beer for the battle well fought. Yes, finally the ordeal was over. All that suffering for no fault of mine, only because I trusted some lying Canis lupus familiaris’ prodigies, and they took advantage of that.

Two weeks later, Aisi-Waisi Bank informed me that the amount has been credited.

I never heard from or saw Megatron and Starscream again.

Epilogue

All service providers suck equally. Their only aim is to meet targets and make revenue by hook or crook, right from the topmost layer down. All suits are just swindlers. All that obeisance and lip service paid to “serving customers” is plain eyewash that unsuspecting people be made part with their hard earned money. They very well know that customers do not matter because as we are a 120 Crore strong population they will always find more idiots to con no matter how many people leave. In this case here, the audacity the manager guy had to blatantly lie for reasons unknown was mind boggling. I am sure this is the culture propagated by the company. If I could afford a lawyer, this would have been a prime case for breach of trust, forgery, lying, cheating and corporate malpractice. But unfortunately, I can’t. The reasons for this is a topic for another post.

Anyway, lessons learned from this ordeal:

  • Never trust anyone who tries to sell you something, whoever they might be.
  • Especially so for insurance agents. Just kick them out no matter who they are if they as much as set foot on your property. They just want to swindle you, remember that.
  • Insist on receipts for EVERY transaction you make, no matter how insignificant it might be.
  • Keep photocopies of all your documents.
  • Read all Terms and Conditions of all financial products you buy. Fill out forms yourself.
  • Keep your distance from bankers and their ilk. Remember, all they want to do is meet their targets.
  • Nobody gives a shit about you.

As he always is, my dad was right about all these “modern” new generation companies as well. I am from now on sticking to PSUs. They make you wait, but I have never been harassed or cheated by them, and they don’t spam either. When was the last time you got a marketing call from LIC? Think about it.

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