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Are your belongings in the bank locker safe? - Outside View by PersonalFN

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Are your belongings in the bank locker safe?
Nov 20, 2014

This Diwali, a lot of you might have bought precious metals in the form of gold coins, gold bars and so on. Many people prefer holding a portion of their investments in physical assets. But the question is where do you keep these expensive investment instruments? Usually people prefer keeping their assets (especially jewellery, gold and silver coins or bars, important documents etc.) in bank lockers as they are perceived to be safe. But, are your belongings in the bank locker really safe?

You see, Section 152 of the Indian Contract Act, 1872 states that, "Bailee when not liable for loss, etc., of thing bailed.-The bailee, in the absence of any special contract, is not responsible for the loss, destruction or deterioration of the things bailed, if he has taken the amount of care of it described in section 151." So to simply put, the bank is not responsible for the contents of your locker, if it has provided for its protection. Hence, unless you can prove that your contents were stolen or damaged due to the carelessness of the bank, there is no guarantee that your loss will be reimbursed.

It is noteworthy that, banks are not aware about what is placed inside the locker. And therefore, they hold a firm ground that they should not be held responsible in case the contents of the locker are lost. Also often, contents of the bank locker are not insured.

Thus, PersonalFN is of the view that for the safety of your valuables, it is important that you keep the following points in mind while opting for and while operating a bank locker:

  • Read all the terms and conditions carefully before you sign up for a bank locker

  • Ensure whether the bank has adequate security measures for the protection of your locker belongings (including cameras, alarms and so on)

  • Check the condition of the locker and the area where the lockers are located

  • Place fragile and perishable commodities in appropriate containers

  • Keep with yourself a list of all the items that have been placed in the locker
As you might be aware, there are two keys to your locker, one of which is always with the bank. While unlocking your locker, make sure that you are alone and the bank personnel has left

Make sure that you drop in the bank from time to time to check on your locker contents

Before leaving, make sure that the locker has been correctly locked

Remember that, sometimes bank employees, in their eagerness to achieve business targets, take customers wanting to opt for a bank locker on a ride by asking them for deposits beyond what is specifically permitted. They may ask you to become a priority customer so as to increase your chances of getting a locker soon. What should you do in such cases?

Well, if bank personnel sets any pre-condition for offering lockers, you should simply ask to have it in writing. Most of the banks will be hesitant to give anything in writing and may put you on a wait-list. If you are dealing with a private bank, you have limited options at this stage; but you can still write to the customers' grievance department or to the compliance officer. They must take a note of your complaint and have to get back to you in writing. You may also take your case to banking ombudsman in case you are still not satisfied and feel that the bank is deliberately denying you a locker.

If you are dealing with a public sector bank, you are slightly well equipped as you can launch an attack of questions under Right to Information (RTI) Act. You must write to Central Public Information Officer (CPIO). Please don't forget, now heads of all major nationalised banks are CPIOs. So you may address a letter branch heads, after making sure he / she is a CPIO.

PersonalFN believes that although unfortunate, there is a lot of uncertainty and risk in today's world. However, if you follow the above mentioned points, then the chances of losses are reduced. Moreover, by being a vigilant customer, you can also avoid being misled by any bank employee.

PersonalFN is a Mumbai based personal finance firm offering Financial Planning and Mutual Fund Research services.

Disclaimer:

The views mentioned above are of the author only. Data and charts, if used, in the article have been sourced from available information and have not been authenticated by any statutory authority. The author and Equitymaster do not claim it to be accurate nor accept any responsibility for the same. The views constitute only the opinions and do not constitute any guidelines or recommendation on any course of action to be followed by the reader. Please read the detailed Terms of Use of the web site.

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