India now has a Credit Information Bureau. These things existed for years in US and look how they saved THEIR economy from bad credit! CIBIL, apparently, knows all about any loans, credit cards and outstanding debts that you have ever taken. This information helps banks to weed out habitual offenders while disbursing new loans. The CIBIL system can detect 'smart people' that try changing their address or birth year while re-applying, to create a report with patterns and histories. This is an important and much needed part of an organized financial sector.
While I completely support this move, my problem is with their lack of transparency. The information is only available to banks (members) and not to the concerned individuals. Their FAQ proudly states they are also beyond the RTI Act.
I believe there is no reason for agencies like CIBIL to hide their data. Knowing that I have a positive or negative credit score will not allow me to 'game' the system. If it does, the system needs to become stronger. Hiding the information does little to deter the rogues but could play havoc with the innocent.
Any system that pretends to be holier-than-thou and shies away from transparency in the name of 'security' is merely a ticking time bomb. Whether it was the great Indian bureaucracy or the WMD-hunting Bush regime, a 'closed' system was always rotting from within while failing to be effective in the stated, noble goals of larger good.
Unlike the West, India has no laws to regulate such agencies. While they are free to collect data on us, they are not required to send free credit reports. We must have a right to know what information they possess and also, the right to contest that information before it is too late. Our financial existence in this connected world depends on it.
A couple of personal "helpdesk" experiences with stock-reply happy banks have made me wary of such noble initiatives, if not supported by an equally noble redress mechanism.
When I started my career, HDFC sent me a free card and promptly levied some faltu charge on it. I got the card cancelled and never had or needed a credit card after that. Five years later, I started traveling international for work and needed a card with some decent limits. Applied to HDFC (which remains a trusted bank, otherwise) and was told that I am ineligible for a card since the system shows me with an open, defaulted card. They wanted me to find the old card and submit it for cancelation with a written letter. Five years after I cancelled the card. I was stunned. Luckily, this happened before CIBIL existed. I quickly got a card from another bank.
A second instance, more recently, was when Kingfisher Airlines decided to debit me twice for a flight ticket. The first debit shows up on my card, the second debit is merely "blocked". The result is my credit limit is exceeded until they "release" the funds. The card company and the airline are passing the buck, the former threatening to levy "over credit" charges and the latter saying they never blocked any funds. In the absence of a credible consumer court, what stops these agencies from giving us the run around?
Most people may not even notice such errors on the complicated statements. Not many in India (including me) possess the knowledge to detect, understand or follow-up on such financial jiggery-pokery. Faced with the daunting follow-up required, some may even elect to ignore this given the small amount.
In the CIBIL era, this goof might come back to haunt five or ten years later. Refusal to pay for the airline's mistake could cause us dear. The only way to prevent future shocks is to periodically know your credit score in an open, consumer-friendly manner.
By now, I am sure the powers-that-be have enough proof about the failure of self-regulation among financial insitutions. An overhaul of these hallowed institutions is overdue, before it hurts India worse than our friends in US.
An excerpt from their FAQ, more here.