Every bank has specially curated services for their customers residing anywhere around the world. But why would an NRI need special financial services? The NRI (Non-Resident Indian), Person of Indian Origin (PIO) or Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) needs NRI accounts to allow a smooth flow of funds within India and overseas. With an NRI account, it is extremely convenient for account holders to access their funds and income from abroad.
What is NRI banking?
The NRI account or NRI banking is a critical process that requires many financial regulations and has many obligations. Banks authorized under the Reserve Bank of India can open NRI accounts for Non-Resident Indians, Persons of Indian Origin (PIO), or Overseas Citizens of India (OCI). Banks provide various banking services to NRIs. NRI may receive funds from any foreign countries or within India. The money received from any foreign country can be deposited in the NRE account and money received within India must be routed through the NRO account only. The amount received in either of the accounts is taxable. The amount they may receive from primary income sources (jobs or business) or any other investment of NRI customers.
Different types of accounts that an NRI can open in Indian banks
The NRI Accounts are classified into three types, Non-Resident External (NRE) and Non-Resident Ordinary (NRO), and Foreign Currency Non-Resident Account (FCNR). Each of these accounts offers specific services tailored for its NRI account holders. It helps the account holder to manage their investments, remittance to their home country, payments, and more. The salient features of the different accounts make it easy for the Government and banks’ regulatory systems to track the inward and outward movement of money.
NRE saving accounts – The NRE saving account is created to help people save their foreign income earned outside India. Indians residing in foreign countries can freely deposit money in their account. They can also enjoy the full repatriability of their money with the tax being waived off as of now in India. NRI family members living in India can access the account anytime and anywhere only either by Power of Attorney or a consent letter. A few of the banks do offer NRE accounts to marine officers as well as students pursuing careers abroad.
The NRIs can open and maintain NRE Accounts with the income they earn from their employed country. The accounts must be denominated in Indian Rupees. An NRI can and can open a current, savings, recurring deposit account, or fixed deposit account and jointly maintain and operate the NRE account only with another NRE account holder. The deposit maintained in this account can only be from the money earned in foreign countries and not from India. An NRI can withdraw the saving in the country currency where the NRI resides. Hence, the amount may fluctuate based on the current currency exchange value.
The account holder can transfer the fund of one NRE account to another NRE or NRO without disruption. The principal and interest amounts are exempted from taxation, making the income from the NRE accounts a tax-free account. The NRE accounts allow the NRIs to invest in India. NRI customers however cannot deposit cash in Indian Rupee Currency in the NRE accounts, but they can withdraw the Cash in Indian currency. No cash in Indian currency can be deposited in the NRE Accounts.
NRO saving accounts – The NRO saving account is created to help people save their funds gathered from earnings in India. Indians residing in foreign countries can freely transfer money at competitive exchange rates to the NRO accounts, which the NRI family members or dependents living in India can also access through Power of Attorney or consent letters.
An NRI can open an NRO account with earnings arising from India. The source of income can be many like rent, pension, dividends, interest, and more. An NRI can deposit in Indian INR or other currency in an NRO account but can withdraw the amount only in INR. The NRO account can be managed or operated jointly by an Indian resident or an NRI. The interest accrued on the income in the NRO account falls under taxation. The main objective of the NRO account is to save the amount that the NRIs earn in India.
FCNR accounts – FCNR is a kind of fixed deposit account opened to deposit income earned overseas. The accounts are maintained in foreign currency. NRIs, a Person of Indian Origin (PIO) or Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) can deposit amounts in FCNR accounts. The amount in FCNR account can be deposited in currencies like US dollar (USD), Pound Sterling (GBP), Japanese Yen (JPY), Euro (EURO), Australian Dollar (AUD) & Canadian Dollar (CAD). In India, the Reserve Bank of India approves the currency in which the money is deposited in the FCNR account.
FCNR accounts are term deposit accounts instead savings accounts. Fixed Deposits (FD) are designated in INR currency popularly known as NRI FDs. The interest rates do not fluctuate throughout the tenure of the deposit. As deposits and withdrawals are made in foreign currencies, the rate of interest remains stable in FCNR accounts till maturity. The NRI account holders can jointly operate and maintain the FCNR account.
The tenure of maintaining an FCNR account can be in between 1 year to 5 years. The minimum period of opening an FCNR account is 1 year or above. If the term deposit account is pre-mature and closed within a year, the account holder will not be paid any interest amount. The principal and interest amounts are exempted from taxation as income from the FCNR account are tax-free. A roundabout of 360 days is considered one year for FCNR deposits.
Irrespective of the types of accounts NRIs hold in banks, there are many rules and regulations applicable for the NRI account holders to operate and manage their accounts in India from foreign countries. However, the applicable rules and regulations may vary from country to country for transferring the money and repatriating the amount.
Common issues faced by NRIs to invest or house their money in India
NRIs face many issues and complications whether they wish to open an account and invest in Indian banks. A few of the common issues are mentioned below,
- Investing in the Indian market for the NRIs is complicated as an NRI must undergo stringent regulations while investing in the Indian market. There are many restrictions applied to NRIs investing in the Indian market. Let us take an example to understand the limitations fully. While accepting investments from US-based NRIs, only a few banks acknowledge investments from NRIs living in the US. Let us consider a US-based NRI willing to invest in Mutual Fund in India; they must sign many formalities (paperwork and compliance) to gain investments from the American and Canadian NRIs. It is after the Government implemented Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FACTA) over the NRI investments. On the contrary, the NRIs residing in other countries must update their residential status by submitting necessary documents.
- NRIs also face two common issues avoiding tax or double taxation. If an NRI earns income in India that exceeds the specified amount through interest from the NRO accounts, mutual funds, equity shares, domestic fixed deposits, rents, capital gains, etc., they must file income tax. Vice versa, an NRI might end up paying double taxes against their investment in some countries. However, India has signed a treaty with over 90 countries known as the Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement (DTAA) to avoid the issue of paying double taxes. NRIs can pay taxes in either of the countries – a country they currently reside in or in India, where they have earned their capital gain.
- NRIs most commonly invest in traditional fixed return assets in India, like fixed deposits in banks, gold, real estate, etc. There are many regulations, transactional compliance, limited information on the Indian market, market volatility, applicable taxes and more that restrict NRIs and refrain them from investing in other assets. However, NRIs have multiple investment options that can offer them high returns in investments, like mutual funds, IPOs, direct equity, ETFs, and more.
- Millennials and Gen-Zs NRIs are driven technologically. They wish to invest in digital assets like NFTs and cryptocurrencies. However, the market volatility and ambiguity and the apprehension regarding their legality in the Indian market do not allow the NRIs to explore the possibilities and put their financial portfolio at risk.
Why do banks need special approaches to manage NRI banking?
Security, flexibility, accessibility, usability, and functionality are the main aspects of managing the NRI accounts. For a complicated process like NRI banking, validating the touchpoints are essential. NRI banking involves a massive volume of critical transactions. Hence, banks must protect the NRI accounts from Anti-money Laundering and cyber threats, maintain system compliance, follow strict regulations, and more.
Banks nominate Relationship Managers / Officers to focus more on NRI clients. They treat them with special attention by bundling services like Portfolio Management Services, Handling Execution of Wills / Power of Attorneys, Taxation etc., and linking these special services with the deposit accounts of the NRI clients.
The banks that offer specially tailored services to their customers are less in number. A few that offer all the banking services may not have branches in all the countries. Sometimes the representatives would not be able to guide the customers adequately. These create roadblocks for the NRIs to bank conveniently, efficiently, and safely. Banks must adopt special approaches to ensure they do not disappoint their NRI customers. Let us break down the approach banks must take to offer the services anticipated by the customers from their banking partners. We will further explore why the customers need these approaches.
- Digital experience – An NRI needs many online banking and financial transactions like new bank account opening, investments, remittance, loan applications, etc. Banks can tailor digital services and offer strong digital banking support to the NRI customers based on their specific requirements. Since NRI customers live in countries that may be in different time zone and have many constraints, NRIs require 24/7/365 digital support. They must be able to access the banking services without any disruption. Hence, offering an outstanding digital experience becomes necessary for managing NRI banking.
- System support – An NRI may send transaction requests anytime. It is hard to determine the traffic of these requests. Sometimes it may arrive in bulk, and other days it can be significantly less in numbers. The banks’ systems should be up and running without any performance and functionality errors to ensure that the NRI customers do not face any inconvenience in transactions due to system errors.
- Security measures – An NRI may face multiple security breaches owing to the massive number of transactions. NRI accounts are highly vulnerable to a security threat and come under direct cyber-attack. The NRI banking requires special security measures to prevent cyber-attack, anti-money laundering, and other security threats. NRIs tend to have confidence in banks that take extra care to ensure platform security.
- Grievance redressal – NRI customers require a specialized grievance redressal cell to resolve many technical, system, and process errors that may arise during a transaction. Banks must efficiently and promptly resolve issues; so that the customers do not face any significant loss because of delays in addressing the errors. Also, the errors must not affect the transaction flow.
- Customer support – NRI customers require outstanding customer support. Banks cannot delay responding to customer requests as it may disappoint them. If there is any delay in response, customers will not think twice about discontinuing the services. Banks must manage their NRI accounts by addressing customer requests quickly.
Testing approach for NRI banking
Security – Security is a vital factor when it comes to testing the NRI banking process. As cited early in the document that NRI accounts are a mesh of critical transactions, which requires thorough testing to ensure that the remittance and other transactions are carried out without violating the secured account information of NRI customers. It puts banks in a bad light if banks fail to maintain sensitive account information for both them and the customers.
Functionality – Banks must handle multiple requests from NRI customers. The entire customer request and system entry require special attention and testing practice so that banks can smoothly execute and validate test results. Banks must enter the details like onboarding customers, feeding the information in their systems, converting to foreign currency on repatriation, calculating interest (360 days for FCNR), and handling the maturity phase. Functional testing becomes an essential part of ensuring that the system allows the entry of multiple information at the same time.
Performance – Not all NRI customers will send transaction and remittance requests at the same time. Hence, the traffic for NRI customers will vary from time to time. Sometimes there will be a bulk of requests sent by the NRI customers, and at times the requests will be fewer. The performance testing is crucial to validate the performance load on the system with multiple requests at a specific time. It confirms the system’s sustainability to withstand the performance load on a busy day.
Accessibility – Accessibility testing is critical to ensure that all NRI customers and their dependents of all ages, and physical or cognitive conditions can access the banking services without any inconvenience. NRI customers demand user-friendly applications, platforms, and solutions that offer ease of use.
Usability – Difficulty in using the application can be one of the reasons that NRI customers might discontinue using the applications. Users require interactive applications that work efficiently and meet all the user requirements. NRI banking must undergo thorough usability testing to check the user-friendliness, efficiency, and accuracy of the user platform.
Digital – The NRI customers require digital platforms for online banking, remittance, lending, and more. Banks are extending round-the-clock digital banking support to their NRI customers. Hence, digital testing is an essential factor for NRI banking. The quality performance, security, and functionality determine that the online transactions and other banking processes are carried out safely without any errors or disruptions.
User acceptance – Banks build applications keeping users in their minds. User acceptance is based on how users use the service and applications offered by the banks. User acceptance testing confirms that the NRIs can use the applications conveniently.
System Integration – Banks build their systems with adequate and applicable features and functionalities. However, there are frequent changes in the application features that can create issues if banks fail to test them on time. System integration testing helps bank test their application to ensure that all their system integration points are functioning without errors. Banks want to ensure that their NRI customers receive the apt services by addressing all customer requests without delay.
NRI banking is a little sensitive area of service because of its high volatility in compliance and vulnerability in maintaining security. Banks must be extra vigilant while catering to their NRI customer. NRI customers are maximum susceptible to cyber-attacks. There are multiple guidelines that banks and their customers must follow while investing and withdrawing the amount entirely to their current residing country. The Government imposes multiple rules on customers residing in countries under strict scrutiny. Banks have a very different approach while dealing with their NRI customers and must be extra vigilant towards managing and testing NRI platforms.
Yethi’s testing experience with NRI banking
Yethi has executed several transformational, business-as-usual, and upgrade projects across multiple services modules and platforms. We have tested numerous applications, including core banking solutions, channels, lending, payments, trade & treasury, etc.
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