Team Personal Finance
Many financial services entities are operating with skeletal staff due to the Coronavirus Disease-induced (COVID-19) lockdown announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Physical transactions will be scaled down, leaving the not-so-tech-savvy in a lurch. Since March 31 is the financial year-end, many financial tasks have to be completed. Given that physical access is potentially hazardous in these times, switching to the digital way of life would be desirable.
Investing online in the times of Corona
Although the finance minister has extended the deadline to invest in tax-saving instruments to June 30, 2020, you could use this time on hand to learn the ropes of online investing.
Though the branch offices of mutual funds and registrar & transfer agents are shut, they continue to accept online applications. If you have invested through the ‘paper and cheque’ route, you can still transact in your existing mutual fund folios using online means. Visit your fund house’s website or download its app on your smart phone and register yourself with the help of your folio number, Permanent Account Number (PAN), email ID and mobile number linked with the folio. A One-Time Password (OTP) is sent to your email and phone number. Use it to verify your identity and your online account is created. You can then easily redeem your investments. You are now set to sell, switch or even purchase new units.
If you already have internet banking facility, you can make fresh purchases or set up systematic investment plan (SIP) online. If you are investing through a mutual fund distributor, the advisor also can help you by creating a transaction on the website of a mutual fund.
“Using video KYC offered by mutual funds, new investors can start their investments in mutual funds without going to the funds’ offices, provided they have online banking access,” says Jitendra Solanki, a registered investment advisor and founder of Plan Special Needs. You can also go directly to the fund’s website and initiate video KYC (this is in-person verification or IPV to make sure you are alive) if you are not compliant. Take photographs of your PAN and an address proof and upload the documents. Fill the form correctly else, in case of discrepancy, the KYC application can be rejected.
Even in times of a lock-down, fund houses’ call centres are open to guide you in case you feel stuck. But be prepared to wait for a little longer on account of staff shortage. Separately, online distribution platforms are also available in case you want to open a digital account.
Trust digital banking
Effective March 23, banks have been undertaking only essential activities. These include cash deposits and withdrawals, clearing of cheques, remittances and government transactions. Also, banks have been working for fewer hours (around four hours) with limited staff. To avoid customers crowding at branches and to ensure safety in this pandemic, banks have requested customers to avail non-essential services through the mobile and online banking channels. The non-essential banking services that stand suspended include account opening, passbook printing, exchange of notes, foreign currency exchange, and so on.
Such limitations pose immense challenge for senior citizens’ and those who are not tech-savvy. Many may not be comfortable using net or mobile banking services to make regular payments, including paying credit card dues, utility bills, investment instalments, and checking their bank balance and statements. Dropping credit card cheques in drop boxes might not be a good idea as the skeletal staff strength could result in delayed pick-ups.
Harshil Morjaria, a Mumbai-based certified financial planner at ValueCurve Financial Solutions says, “In the present situation, senior citizens in the family should take help from a trusted family member or a tech-savvy friend to activate internet or mobile banking services. They can then make timely payments without defaults and any additional charges.”
To activate internet or mobile banking, you do not need to visit the bank branch with a physical form. The likes of State Bank of India, Kotak Mahindra Bank and HDFC Bank allow activation remotely – that is, from your home, using a debit card. For instance, all Kotak Mahindra Bank customers with an active debit card can register for net and mobile banking. They need to create a login password/PIN using their customer relationship number (CRN) mentioned in the bank’s passbook/cheque book, card details with card PIN and an activation SMS.
In addition, Kotak Mahindra Bank, HDFC Bank and Saraswat Co-operative Bank are even offering WhatsApp banking services. This facility takes care of basic banking queries and service requests from customers.
Pay utility bills online
Irrespective of lockdowns, this is one activity that must be done through digital channels.
Ideally, you must register for Bill Pay services that your bank offers. Registering billers and your details is a one-time affair, after which the facility will ensure that the bill is paid on the due date, without you having to move a muscle. Most banks allow you to register for bill payment, online. You can also take the Bharat Bill Payment System (BBPS) route. Several banks are present on the network, allowing you to pay your bill after entering the relevant details.
You can even pay your utility bills (electricity, mobile, gas, etc.) using mobile wallets such as Paytm and Amazon Pay. Paytm also allows you to pay your credit card bills. You can load the amount in your mobile wallets using debit cards. These bills can even be paid online using a debit card through the respective service provider’s website.
Protection is a must
If you have insurance policy premiums to pay, help is at hand. Life insurance companies have been directed to ensure that policyholders get an additional grace period – time available after the due date – to make their premium payments. You can now pay your health insurance premium up to 30 days after the due date, without running the risk of the policy being lapsed.
If you are looking to buy life, health or motor insurance covers, you can either do so through the respective company’s website or through online aggregators such as Policybazaar and Easypolicy, among many others. Premium payments can be made using electronic modes such as net banking, credit and debit cards. Life and health insurers have been offering their services through their websites, chatbots, mobile apps and also WhatsApp for quite some time now.
“Apart from policy related information, customers can update their details such as contact information and nomination. They can conduct transactions such as paying renewal premiums, setting or changing standing instructions and fund switching from the comfort of their homes,” ICICI Prudential said in a statement.
In the case of health insurance, the purchase process is likely to be completely online if there are no medical check-ups involved. “For us, a lot of sales processes are already digital. Renewal, too, has largely been through digital channels,” says Suresh Badami, Executive Director, HDFC Life Insurance. Policybazaar has launched a telemedical check-up to facilitate purchase of life and health insurance policies since physical check-ups will not be possible.
Finally, take enough safety precautions to ensure that you do not fall prey to tricksters who are on the lookout for vulnerable victims, especially in times such as these. Social media platforms have been abuzz with messages from fraudsters peddling fake apps and links devised to elicit sensitive account, card and PIN details. Never forget that a bank, insurance company, credit card issuer or a digital wallet will not ask for such details. The call centres are open, so don’t hesitate to seek help. With a skeletal staff though, your waiting time might just be a little longer.