Mujhe mil jo jaaye thoda paisa...
The addition of a quarter of a million young and ready-to-spend-on-myself workers is being celebrated by youth lifestyle brands. The malls of Gurgaon and the likes of InOrbit in Mumbai are located bang in the call centre district - and they are flourishing with this 'new money'.
"We have tripled our sales in Bangalore city in the last three years," Shumone Chatterjee, marketing director, Levi Strauss India told me last year when I wrote on "The New Face of Youth Consumerism" for Businessworld magazine. And he believes this is largely due to the effect of disposable income coming into the hands of the 18-22 age group employed in BPO jobs
Call centre employees are what I term as a new breed of 'indies', financially independent young people. Most don't have to shoulder the burdens or 'behne ki shaadi' (responsibility of sister's marriage) or 'boode maa-baap' (aging parents). Sure, they like to spend on gifts for their moms, dads and kid sisters but not as a duty. It's completely voluntary.
Indies spend heavily on themselves, on branded clothing, eating out, cellphones and movies. It's not like thy didn't spend on these things when they didn't have an independent income but now they do so much more freely. Purely on impulse. They see it as a necessary self indulgence. Lifestyle is their life.
And that's fine. Take a car loan or home loan or even a holiday loan. Live for today - but, make sure that you are not in debt tomorrow. That is one aspect of consumerism we certainly don't want to emulate from the Americans.
Till debt do us part?
There are worrying stories of call centre employees who are clueless about managing their money. By the 15th of the month, they've spent their salaries and continue shopping on credit cards. Then, instead of paying off the monthly balance in full they pay the minimum amount. Not realising the horrendous 2.5-3% interest a month they're being charged. A few months down the line they are deeply in debt.
This is not the case with everyone, but there are enough such folks to make the issue a cause for concern. This is literally the first generation of young people freely using credit cards - without realising the consequences.
Those of us who hopped on to the credit card bandwagon in the late 90s were a much more cautious bunch. We'd been brought up with the 'live within your means' philosophy. And we were older and wiser by the time we went plastic.
So we're what the card companies call 'deadbeats' - we use the card for convenience not credit. What they want is 'revolvers' or those who use the cards to spend more than they can afford and hence don't pay off their bills in full. America has 115 million such revolvers who carry forward credit card debt every month. And THAT is the culture the card companies would like to see taking root in India.
Spending beyond one's means is also a form of addiction, like gambling or drinking. It usually has to do with self esteem issues. Call centres may want to consider some form of peer group monitoring (friends are the first to sniff a hint of such troubles) and interactive sessions on managing finances. Maybe even offer counselling.
It's in their best interest - because an employee with debts is going to look for a quick hop to the higher paying job next door.
I'll touch on more issues to do with call centres from time to time, but with this I end the promised call centre series.