The host of services that postal savings agents provide to investors may now come with a price tag. The Tamil Nadu Postal Agents' Welfare Association has taken a resolution to levy a service charge on their clients, says its president, C.E. Prabhakar.
This follows the Centre's decision to scrap postal agent's commission for the Public Provident Fund (PPF) and the Senior Citizen Saving Scheme. And for other schemes, it was decided that the commission be brought down to 0.5 per cent.
For the 3,000 agents in the city, these proposals mean bad news. “The report claims that the amount mobilised by the agents remains unused. Why can't the respective State governments use it for infrastructure purposes?” asks P. Shankar, a postal agent for 27 years.
Agents wonder how cutting back on the commissions will translate to higher interest rates since bank rates are more competitive. “Despite the post office offering lower interest to customers for the Fixed Deposit Scheme, when compared to banks, it continues to be popular because of the service rendered by agents. If the customers are forced to come to the post office, they would rather shift to banks,” says S. Rajpandian, vice-president, Tamil Nadu Postal Agents Welfare Association.
For many agents in the city, this is the only source of income. The sudden cut in commission and the increasing daily expenses have only added to their woes. .
For Usha Natarajan, who has been a postal agent for 20 years, this commission helps pay off her loans. Many are reluctant to ask for a service charge from clients who they have known for decades. “How can I ask my clients? They are all senior citizens and our relationship may suffer,” says R. Sandhya, an agent for 11 years.
From December, a limit on the amount agents can deposit in the National Savings Scheme, for exemption of tax, has been reduced to Rs.10,000. “This has come in the peak season we have lost out on such customers too,” says Geetha Damotharan, postal agent in Ayanavaram.
Investors such as A.R. Mohanram believe agents play a vital role in encouraging people to opt for investment schemes at the post office. For the amount of running around that agents do they should be acknowledged with some remuneration, says T.V. Venkataraman, former chief secretary to the Government of Tamil Nadu.