Sucheta Dalal :Rural race
Sucheta Dalal

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Rural race  

Mar 19, 2006

Even as the race to grab a slice of the rural market is hotting up among the large private sector banks, the Big Daddy of them all—State Bank of India (SBI)—is already way ahead. Like others, technology is the big enabler for SBI too. For instance, Chairman A.K. Purwar points out that when he visits rural branches these days, customers’ first demand is for an ATM. So much so that ATM usage at SBI is growing at a whopping 15% a month and in February it recorded 30 crore ATM transactions. The process of computerising the bank’s 13,700 branches was not always easy; sometimes computers had to be transported by camels and elephants to remote branches. In many places, the bank runs computerised operations even when the town has no roads and only intermittent power supply. Along with this, SBI has increased its focus on micro-finance and Small and Medium Enterprises (SME). Today, says the Chairman, the bank is talking to almost half a million Self-Help Groups to push micro-finance and its cumulative disbursement is already over

Rs 2,300 crore.


Off the floor


In these days of dirt, pollution and infection, many people were revolted at an advertisement showing a woman being spoon-fed ice-cream that had dropped on to the floor. The advertiser, Nitco Tiles claims the tiled floor is ‘‘dirt free’’. The Consumer Education and Research Society (CERS) called this unethical and worried that children would get the false impression that it is okay to eat food off the floor and conveyed its protest to Nitco. The company’s legal department has come up with an interesting defence. Nitco claims that its television commercial advertises its vitrified tiles which ‘‘are indeed dirt free’’ because, unlike normal tiles, these are straight cut and leave no gap between adjacent tiles. Since there is no scope for dirt accumulating between tiles, it claims the floor as ‘dirt free’. It further says that “children today are highly intelligent and do not imitate everything shown on television” and hence it found “nothing unethical about a person show eating things fallen on the floor”. Unethical may be the wrong word, but what about hygiene? Forget children, if viewers were so intelligent, why would many action films and advertisements carry warnings that “fights are performed by skilled stunt persons” and should not be imitated?


Air complacency


Air Deccan has put off its Initial Public Offering because its investment bankers’ idea of the share pricing is apparently below the management’s expectations. The company, in money-raising mode, is busy announcing new destinations and releasing more tickets priced at Rs 500. That is great news for travellers, but doesn’t gloss over certain important issues. Without denying the role of its Managing Director Captain G.R. Gopinath in shaking up the aviation sector and making air travel affordable, a conversation with him reveals a strange disconnect between him and his customers. Gopinath is justifiably proud of the number of Indians he has been able to fly for the first time in their lives. But he is so focused on the great benefits he has offered Indians, and his own need to scale up operations and remain ahead in the race, that he has little time or sympathy for passengers. The airline says it has a record of “90 per cent on time or a maximum of one-hour delay in flights”, but that is not the public impression. Even if the company does have genuine issues like poor infrastructure at small airports, it cannot ignore customer inconvenience, especially the anger at abrupt cancellations. The airline simply does not get the fact that the cancellation of a one-hour flight involves an eight-hour alternate journey by road or rail. Its first-mover advantage and launch of new destinations continue to grow market share but has probably bred a degree of complacency. With several competitors such as Kingfisher, SpiceJet and Go Air snapping at its heels, Air Deccan could do well to improve its empathy and communication skills.


Not Google


This one foxed even the guys at Google. Bankim Gor, our reader, found a website called which claims to offer a home-earning opportunity by placing promotional links. For Rs 990, the company claims to “use a platform” along with Commission Junction ( to help people make money through the Internet by ‘‘simply taking (their) promotional links (with our tracking code in it) and placing it effectively on the net’’. It claims to get paid ‘‘whenever someone clicks on links provided by us and does some activity on these sites, like free joining, free registration, free information download’’. The frequent reference to the Google platform suggests an affiliation with Google without explicitly saying so. Gor decided to write to Google for clarification. The company replied saying: ‘‘Thank you for your note. Please be advised that this site isn’t affiliated with Google. We appreciate your bringing this to our attention, and we’ll investigate.’’


-- Sucheta Dalal