When I was growing up in Indiana I was one of the few minorities in a town of 12,000 people. I would always hear the typical stereotypes about Asians being smart in math. Some how math was never my strongest subject and during my adolescence years it was highlighted quite frequently. My math teacher, Mr. Brother’s would hand out the graded tests based on your grade (highest to lowest) and invariably I would get back my test in the bottom 25%, god I hated that fu!@&% math class so much. However, it’s probably why I gravitated towards computers and Lotus 1-2-3. Funny thing, my hatred for math started even before I got to Indiana.
When I lived in Chicago one of our closest family friends had a son that was basically a supercomputer made to look like a dosa eating South Indian. Shyam was the all-star brainy kid of Chicago and I’m sure I was not the only kid in the greater Chicagoland metro area to get compared to him. Typical comments like “Well, Shyam can spell that” or “Shyam did 1599 on his SAT, he missed a point because he was busy writing to the New England Journal of Medicine about curing cancer.” At one point I thought the Chicago suburb of Schaumburg (pronounced “shyam-berg”) was named after him because he was so damn smart.
When I moved to India in 2005, I thought I would be surrounded by human Intel dual-core processors that would put Excel to shame. Slowly though I started to realize that only a subset of Indians are good at math. The more I looked around, the more I realized Indians are generally REALLY bad at math. This assumption was not from intensive research but looking at one simple product – the credit card.
Everyone wants to live the American dream which is really just consumerism fueled by credit cards and Indians are no different. 10 years ago credit cards were nowhere to be found in India but once the young work force started to work in call centers they started getting credit cards. The theory is these kids were pushing credit cards to Mike in Montana during the night at their call center job (remember the 12.5 hour time difference) and during the day they wanted to live the “American dream” so they would charge up a storm on their own credit cards.
Everything up to this point seems legitimate until you open the first bill and see the interest rate the banks charge. I got my first Indian credit card about 3 years back and almost had a heart attack while looking at my monthly statement where it said they would charge me 3.3% per month. I have NEVER in my life paid a nickel in interest but I was shocked at the arrogance of the banks to charge such high interest rates. It’s also part marketing, they never talk about the annual rate because that would scare people off. Instead, when people see 3.3% per month they probably think its okay and harmless. However, when you do the quick math of 3.3 times 12 you come up with 39.6% per year to have the luxury of carrying a balance.
Charging 39.6% is almost criminal. Oh wait, it is criminal but only if you take money from a microfinance institution like SKS Microfinance. Legally, if you take a loan from SKS they cannot charge you more then 26% a year, granted we are talking about different needs. Microfinance is about helping people get out of poverty, whereas credit cards seem to be helping people go into poverty.
Being in India, I can finally feel smart when it comes to numbers.