Can we view complainants on social media as social auditors?–Times of India

Clipped from: https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/blogs/ecopinion-by-atul/can-we-view-complainants-on-social-media-as-social-auditors/Atul

Atul has 19 years of experience in the field of banking, financial inclusion, macroeconomic analysis, and market research. Statistical and financial analysis have been his area of interest and he is an expert in multivariate statistical modeling. Atul has worked in several countries of Asia and Africa. He has conducted workshops on microfinance and multivariate analysis for national and international corporates. As co-founder at Prime M2i Consulting, Atul leads development of new products and clients. He has played a leading role in developing M2i’s assessment frameworks and tools. LESS … MORE

The Reserve Bank of India’s initiative to manage an integrated ombudsman for grievance redressal is a laudable move. Operationalizing it will be a big test for the central bank. The expectations are high, and one hopes the ombudsman will deliver. It will hopefully also show the path to other regulators on grievance management and redress. 

The convention so far has been that an aggrieved person first takes up her case with the business entity – banks or other regulated financial entities. There is an escalation matrix, and only when the complainant is not satisfied with the attempts at resolution, does she approach the regulator. The regulator also, initially takes the matter up with the business entity. This is a time-consuming process and adds to despondency of the consumer, particularly if the final resolution is not as per her expectations. 

The easier way out for a consumer who believes that she has been wronged is to lash out on social media tagging the service provider. It almost always elicits a prompt response requesting the complaint to be routed through a direct message to the service provider. At times, the response of the service provider to a complaint through the direct message is a link to their grievance channels on their website – making the complainant do circles. More often though, there is a sincere effort made to redress the complaint. 

Seen from the perspective of the business entity, a person who makes a public complaint on social media is a nuisance with the potential to harm its reputation. Sometimes the choice of words used, and the aggressive tone of the complaint may appear as being unfair on the business entity. However, the fact remains that the bargaining power of a business entity is significantly greater than that of a common consumer. A well-meaning corporate should never shut the consumer out, only because she has chosen to air her grievance in public. It should rather view this as a social audit of its services.

When it comes to publicly available and used infrastructure for financial services, such as UPI, the regulator must also take note of the publicly aired grievances on social media. Take for instance the case of a digital UPI payment gone wrong. I have come across instances of people who have been left baffled by their experience of undertaking digital transactions. A particularly interesting case was when an attempted digital payment went through but the mobile UPI application used, continued to show that the transaction had “failed”. It was only after a week that the beneficiary, who himself isn’t particularly financially or digitally literate, could verify that the transaction had indeed gone through, and his account had been credited. During all this time, the payer lived with the thought that he had been duped of his money by the “app” company. In a similar case, a person who is no stranger to the digital world, chose to first raise a complaint on the channels provided by the “app” company. The complaint page required a bank statement that showed that the account had indeed been debited, to be uploaded, although this was a non-essential (non-asterisked) field. The upload failed despite several attempts. While the complainant still submitted the other details as required, there was no formal acknowledgement of whether the complaint had been registered. After waiting for a day, the complainant made his grievance public on a social media platform. No surprises that there was a response from both the “app” company and the complainant’s bank. In due course the issue was resolved. 

In the examples above, there was no real damage done. At the same time, it must not be forgotten, that millions of people who undertake digital transactions have basic literacy. Failed transactions lead to a sense of uncertainty that in the most benign scenario erodes trust, and in a more serious scenario, may lead to perpetration of frauds. Imagine a situation where a malevolent loan collection agent, in the ruse of a transaction that shows as failed erroneously, makes a microfinance client do the same transaction again, only this time to credit his own account. 

This is where social media savvy social auditors can play a role. These are those people who are aggrieved because of a real or perceived deficiency in service that they had to suffer and take to social media to voice their grievances in public albeit sometimes in colorful language. They also use hashtags to make their issues trend and tag influential social media handles.

More often than not, they share the details of the problem faced and also identify themselves. Also, given the KYC undertaken by social media platforms, they are identifiable, even otherwise. From an audit perspective, you can view this as an auditor raising a red-flag. If a regulator takes note of such activity and performs analytics on the nature of problems being faced, it is likely that some potentially serious issues can be identified. Analytics on trending social-media issues is neither expensive nor uncommon. It needs to be used also as a tool to analyze and understand grievances. 

With experience, the common Indian has come to trust regulated financial service providers. Still, the changes happening on the technology front, particularly in the financial services domain are rapid and transformative. These changes can be overwhelming for a significant proportion of our population that remains on the fringes of the literacy divide. We must ensure that their trust remains intact and use technology and analytics for this purpose.

Disclaimer

Views expressed above are the author’s own.

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