Thursday, May 21, 2015

Sending funds to individuals in India: reflections on life in a call centre

For the last 18 months I have been helping to support a young university student in Kolkata, India. I used World Remit, every month, to send a modest amount to the student's Indian bank account. It always worked (somewhat to my surprise) until three weeks ago. After about 10 phone calls and emails (cumulatively about half a day) World Remit eventually conceded they had indeed made an error though it is “very rare”. They promised to refund me.

In the meantime, having lost confidence in World Remit, I tried another company - called Moneygram. I bargained that I would be very unlucky to have two failures in the same month. But that is exactly what happened - though this time for another reason. Alas, the student wrote to me:

“I am really sorry I have not got the money..whole day I have been going from one money gram to another, I have been to 16 money gram but none have given me the money... All of them told me if the sender is foreigner then they will be not able to pay the money...Foreigner cannot send the money through Western union as well as money gram.. The sender should be Indian origin only then they can pay..

So, upset, I called a Moneygram representative. I imagine he was (and still is) sitting in a dismal call centre (as were and are the numerous World Remit and also Visa card people I have contacted in the last week). The representative told me that all 16 agents in Kolkata seen by the student are wrong. He suggested that I advise my intended recipient to go back to one of them and ask them to phone Moneygram. But my recipient is from an ethnic minority, she faces discrimination, she is also female and very young. I think few if any agents in Kolkata are going to go to this trouble to phone Moneygram when they “know” the answer.

I was also upset that the Moneygram person I phoned showed no empathy and did not apologise for the trouble that the student had incurred. But I am more upset with the company - don't they encourage their representatives to be sympathetic? Perhaps not. Or perhaps they do and the reality of life in call centre is scarcely bearable.

Is this the fault with Moneygram or the agents in Kolkata? It's hard to believe that all 16 could be wrong (it's upsetting too that the student tried so hard -- I put that down to youth and inexperience.)

Given the urgency for the student, and given that World Remit promised to refund me I tried them again - third time lucky I hope, with the funds going direct to her bank account. 

This worked, and I eventually recovered two refunds (minus Moneygram's charge).

The situation has improved greatly - I have much worse stories from two decades ago, including the loss of A$2000 (the Indian bank claimed to have not received it). But it is still far from ideal.