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India restricts American Express from adding new customers for violating data storage rules

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India’s central bank has restricted American Express and Diners Club from adding new customers starting next month, it said Friday citing violation of local data-storage rules.

In a statement, the Reserve Bank of India said existing customers of either of the two card companies will not be impacted by the new order, which goes into effect May 1.

This is the first time India’s central bank has penalized any firm for non-compliance with local data storage rules, which was unveiled in 2018. The rules require payments firms to store all Indian transaction data within servers in the country.

Visa, Mastercard, and several other firms, as well as the U.S. government, have previously requested New Delhi to reconsider its rules, which is designed to allow the regulator “unfettered supervisory access.”

Visa, Mastercard, and American Express had also lobbied to either significantly change the rules or completely discard it. But after none of those efforts worked, most firms began to comply.

In a statement Friday evening (local time), an Amex spokesperson said the company was “disappointed that the RBI has this course of action,” but said was working with the authority to resolve the concerns “as quickly as possible.”

With about 1.5 million customers, American Express has amassed the highest number of customers among foreign banks in India.

“We have been in regular dialogue with the Reserve Bank of India about data localization requirements and have demonstrated our progress towards complying with the regulation. […] This does not impact the services that we offer to our existing customers in India, and our customers can continue to use and accept our cards as normal.”

Diners Club, which is owned by Discover Financial Services and offers credit cards in India through a partnership with the nation’s largest private sector bank (HDFC), said in a statement that India remains an important market for the firm and it is working with the central bank to reach a resolution so that it can “continue to grow in the country.”

Last year, India’s central bank ordered HDFC Bank to not add new credit customers or launch digital businesses after the bank’s services were hit by a power outage.

Friday’s order comes as Citigroup, another key foreign bank in India, has announced plans to exit most of its Asian consumer business as it looks to boost its profitability. The consumer operations of the bank in 13 countries is up for sale.

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