Citi NRI Vs ICICI NRI Bank Account

Are you an NRI and confused which bank is better to open an NRE/NRO Bank Account in India? Keep reading if you answered yes. A few months ago, I had the same confusion and doubt in my mind. I researched the opportunities these banks provided me.

I was in India last December and thought it would be really nice to open an account while I am here. I had downloaded and filled HDFC Bank’s account opening form, but forgot to take it with me to India (which wasn’t a big deal.) I was confused if I should go with HDFC bank or ICICI bank. My family and friends in India suggested that I should go with ICICI instead of HDFC. I went to ICICI’s Faridabad branch with a relative who had an account there. There is no need for a reference to open an NRE/NRO account with ICICI, but my relative knew the bank employees. The employee photocopied my documents (Passport, etc.) I was impressed that they do such things in India, but I don’t know if it was due to the presence of my relative or they treat every customer like that. I was also surprised to see a lot of banners saying “Free Gift” to NRIs, who open an account with ICICI. It was surprising because, it wasn’t a NRI specific branch, it was just another random ICICI branch (I haven’t seen them all though.)

The bank employee gave me a packet, which had a check (cheque, whatever you prefer) book, ATM card, Internet banking password and PIN. We asked for the “Free Gift” and the employee said they were “Out of Stock” and they would deliver it later to my relative as I was about to leave for US the next day. They did give the gift to my relative. After a couple of days when I came back to USA, I logged onto ICICI’s website and entered my login details, to find out that my User Id is disabled. Through my relative I found out that it will take some time, as the bank sends all the documents to Mumbai head office and it takes some time. I waited patiently for few days and then contacted the ICICI again through [email protected] The NRI cell told me that they are not aware of the account status and I should contact the ICICI branch. The bank employee told me that my signature did not match, and I had made a small error (had an extra check mark) on the form. I had filled the form in front of the employee and she checked it for any possible error.

The saga continued and after several email exchanges – asking for updates the Faridabad branch sent me the scanned form and asked me to correct the so-called error and sign the form and send a letter stating, that these are my latest signatures etc. I sent the required stuff. After about 2.5 months (mid march) I got access to my online account. I was happy to see my account online, but that happiness didn’t last long.

I was unable to transfer funds online. After, a few email exchanges and a several telephone calls to 1-866-ICICI-4U, I (and ICICI) had no clue as to what’s going on with my account. I sent an email to escalate the issue and got a reply after a few days, but the Head – Customer Service office was able to find out the real issue and updated me as promised. The problem was that, when I sent the scanned docs my online account was enabled but the transfers were frozen until I send them the originals of those docs. But, it wasn’t documented anywhere in the entire system, but perhaps in some register (as in note book) in the branch (I assume.)

I had contacted Citi Bank NRI services late last year. I had to send them the filled account opening form. While I was frustrated with ICICI bank, I received an email from Citi Bank that they have an open house in Berkeley (a city near by.) I went there and submitted the filled form to the banking officer. The email said that they would have a photo camera, so if I didn’t have the passport size pics, they can click them there. The banking officer told me that he could not get hold of the camera, but suggested me that there was a photography store near by. He didn’t know much about what other Indian banks are supported for online fund transfer and asked me to check it on the website (which I couldn’t find out, until I had an a/c). I was told that it will take about 15 days for my a/c to open.

With my ICICI experience and comments from friends that Citi Bank (India) isn’t that great, I hardly had any hopes. However, on the 14th day I got an (automated) email that my Citi NRE account has been opened and I will receive my checkbook and other stuff within next 2 weeks. Next day I got another (automated) email that INR XXXX has been deposited to my bank account. 2 days later, I received a UPS package from Chennai containing my Internet Password and PIN. Finally, a day later, I received another courier from Chennai containing my checkbook, ATM card etc. I setup my online account easily.

I used my Citi NRE account to transfer money to one of my friend’s Citi Bank account in India. I was shocked to find out that he received the money almost after 5 minutes. I think ICICI takes about 2 days for ICICI-ICICI bank transfer. I then used Citi Bank’s “Free Draft” service to send a few drafts. They were delivered free of cost to door step. The turn around time was also quick (2 working days max.)

Citi bank has an intelligent keyboard system to enter password. It helps to avoid potential key-loggers. I don’t understand why ICICI bank takes 2 days to transfer money from one ICICI bank account to other? Four or more consecutive failed attempts to login into ICICI Internet account, disables you user ID. The ID could only be enabled only after you send an email to [email protected] In this age of the Internet, ICICI takes (at least) 2 working days to enable your Id. Haven’t they heard of something called “What is your mother’s maiden name?” They ask you to send your complete address and other A/C related info to the email and then I guess some human being matches it and enables your ID. Also, if you forget you password you call/write to ICICI and they courier your new password from India. I think all this can be made much simpler by an automated “forgot password” section.

On the whole, my experience with Citi bank has been much better than with ICICI bank. I wouldn’t blame the people working for ICICI for this, but the upper management who creates these non-customer-friendly systems. I think they have complicated things for themselves. I think 25% of the money they use for advertising should be devoted in their customer service department.

I would like to add that the above mentioned was my experience with ICICI and Citi banks in India. I knew few people who had good experience with ICICI bank’s NRI cell. One can not generalize the whole bank’s Customer Service using one incident.

From whatever I have understood after researching both the banks, I think if the primary goal for an NRE/NRO account is to transfer funds to India to family and for other purposes, then Citi Bank is a better choice. However, if you want to invest in Mutual Funds ( you don’t have too much choice as Citi Bank does not provide such a service till date. ICICI seems to have a monopoly in this sector and it doesn’t leave you with much choice.

BTW, I mailed my docs to ICICI’s NRI center today, let’s hope I get to use my own money by the end of April. Also, I should get a Rang De Basanti DVD from Citi Bank soon :).

Please do add your opinions/findings on this matter in the comments below.

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