Sundeep Bhutoria

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ess bee

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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Fine print – devil in the details

I got an email from a gentleman in response to one of my blogs who said that he had a bitter experience with Standard & Chartered Bank. He was holding a SCB Titanium Card offered free for lifetime and was offered a Platinum card by the bank at an annual charge of Rs 6000/- plus tax along with a Priority Pass card that entitled him to use domestic airport lounges free of cost, but US$27 was to be charged for using international airport lounges. Being a frequent traveller he paid and accepted the card.
 He used it at the Delhi and Kolkata lounges after confirming with them that no charges were payable but to his surprise, he soon received a bill of USD 27 plus taxes on usage. He felt cheated and that the Bank had sold him the card by misrepresenting facts.
May be true. But I, however, think that the gentleman may have missed something in the fine print that is usually printed so small that it is quite a formidable task to read it with naked eyes. Most of us skip it.
I have often wondered what is the rationale of printing the terms and conditions relating to transactions or purchase of product or services in very small fonts barely visible to the eye. These fine prints or disclaimers pertaining to every agreement, purchase, sale, investment or contract are a very important aspect of any transaction. Hence, it merits proper attention and understanding and should actually be in large legible print so that no one can miss it.
The history of fine print stems from the concept of Caveat Emptor which means “Let the buyer be aware”. But I have never come across any fine prints or Disclaimers that is legible. They are always in, as the name suggests, fine or very small print. So how can a buyer be aware! It seems the intention is to discourage the purchaser from reading it and at the same time going by the rulebook to ensure statutory compliance.
When we purchase or invest without reading this fine print it means we are accepting something without knowing the facts as to what one could do if the product or service is not up to the mark. Disclaimers would hold the customers or investors solely responsible for all contractual deeds and actions. One can imagine the seriousness of this issue while dealing with medical products, investments and other services that may involve life's earnings.
Newspapers, magazines, television programs, films often say “Views expressed are that of the author and not that of the paper or channel” meaning that they would not be responsible for any damage or loss that may occur due to any errors or omissions or even correctness of the matter.
The fact of the matter is that most people feel discouraged to read the lengthy, hardly-legible stuff that come as a footnote tucked in somewhere. This is where we unknowingly accept a position that places the other party on a higher ground to dictate terms once the product is sold. Imagine the fate of students who rush to enroll in various education courses without reading the fine print or disclaimers to later find that the courses do not have the proper affiliations necessary for getting a job. Sometimes the fine print has clauses that state Rules Are Liable to Change Without Notice.
If we are not able to read such important points then we are likely to end up on the weaker side of the law if not on the wrong side, in case there is a dispute or deficiency in service. Fine print, I think is a cunning ploy to keep the customer ignorant while fulfilling the legal obligations as a seller or service provider in most cases.
Many investment companies have a caveat or the risk factors spoken out in a very fast tongue in the advertisements. One gets the feeling that the company has something to hide but is compelled to say it because the law of the land mandates it. So why not a verbal vomit which few can understand and make sense of.
So watch out! The devil indeed is in the details.
ess bee 

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