Friday, February 29, 2008

Of credit cards, cash and India's growth story...!

Every thought of how paying telephone bills either in cash or by credit card can actually be a reflection of India's growth story? I never could have imagined the connection between a regular telephone bill payment and India's GDP growth rate, till recently!

My internet connection at home was misbehaving and I had to land up at Airtel's customer service centre in Noida last Tuesday. I reached this centre at around 1.30 p.m. , just after lunch. As I walked into the crowded service centre, the first thing I noticed was the change in the layout since I last went there around 6 months ago. The service centre was cleaner, more spacious and had an air of class about it. I had only 20 minutes to wrap up my conversation about my faulty internet connection at this service centre. I went straight to the enquiry counter and explained that my internet connection at home was not working properly at times and that there were issues with it. The service agent checked up the status on my bill payments and noticed that there was on bank transaction that had not reached the phone company in time- so much for online banking! I told him that it was not my problem, as I had paid the bill on time.

Eventually, I managed to cancel that old bank transaction and asked the service representative to fix the issue with my internet connection immediately. He suggested that I make an on-the-spot payment for my old bill and that he would immediately put in a request for speedy resurrection of my internet connection. I did not have time to argue and agreed.

When I then asked him about the billing counter, he pointed me to the far end of the service centre, where I noticed two queues - one for credit card payment and one for cash payments. And the queue for the credit card payment option was at least 3 times longer than that of the queue atthe cash payment counter. That sight had a message for me, that was loud and clear. And it hit me hard(positively and brought a smile to my face!).

Although it may seem like a mundane billing counter, I thought that the longer queue for credit cards clearly demonstrated the kind of growth India is growing! I am not anywhere close to being grey-haired, but in all my growing years, when there was no internet, no mobile phone, no credit card in the country, it was cash all the way. And to see that the number of people owning credit cards far outscored the number of people lined up for cash payments at a remote customer service centre of a famous telecom company, made me realise how much this country has progressed. Not only was the ownership of mobile phones increasing, but also, the ability to pay bills using hitherto high-end products was a revelation! I don't live in 300 B.C., don't mistake me!

These indices of a larger number of credit card owners than cash payers may never hit the headlines of any newspaper. But for somebody who has seen the upward migration curve of India, the sight of those two queues at that service centre was a huge statement. It was an attestation of the new India that is ready to take on the world and live life, king-size!