Now that I have an ICICI Bank Meal Card from work and the first set of meal allowance amounts have been credited, the next step is to figure out how to check the balance on this card (and also to know if the monthly meal allowance has been credited). Thankfully, someone else at work had done the needed legwork and I get to post their efforts out here. So, here’s how you can log in and check the balance on your ICICI Bank Meal Card –

  • Use the 16-digit (without spaces) card number seen on the front portion of your ICICI Bank Meal Card as the User ID. Example: 4121345621415634.

  • Use the first 4-letters of your name (in capitals) together (without spaces) with the last 4-digits of the above 16-digit card number as the default password. Example: VINA5634. The portal will prompt you to change your password after your first login.

  • Go to Statement => Current Statement to see if the meal allowance has been credited.

  • Go to Statement => Balance Amount to check the available balance on the card.

I don’t know if anyone else among you is using this meal card in which case this information is totally useless to you — but you might know someone who is and you could forward this information on to them.


The recent Sodexo Meal Coupon fiasco seems to be causing a whole bunch of stress and heartburn to employees everywhere. Read through this FAQ issued by D’s office to see the kind of thought’s running through employees’ minds –

  • Why are you changing the existing agreement? Why can’t we continue with the same?

The Law has been there since long, but the Income Tax Department has become more stringent in order to minimize issues of non-compliance. Hence, to ensure compliance our finance department has had to change the existing policy. The Income Tax Law states –

The value of free food and non-alcoholic beverages provided by the employer to an employee shall be the amount of expenditure incurred by such employer. The amount so determined shall be reduced by the amount, if any, paid or recovered from the employee for such benefit or amenity. Provided that nothing contained in this clause shall apply to free food and non-alcoholic beverages provided by such employer during working hours at office or business premises or through paid vouchers which are not transferable and usable only at eating joints, to the extent the value thereof either case does not exceed fifty rupees per meal or to tea or snacks provided during working hours or to free food and non-alcoholic beverages during working hours provided in a remote area or an off-shore installation.

  • Why just Rs 750 per month and why not more?

As the Law states we need to take into account all of the free snacks, coffee, tea, biscuits etc. that are made available during office hours. Hence, we have set an amount that would be seen as the right amount by the Income Tax Department for extending the tax benefit.

  • Why can’t we trust employees that they would use the physical meal vouchers only in the office?

One of the requirements under the Income Tax Act is that the benefit is to be extended for eating in food joints and during working hours. The change being made would ensure that the tax agencies are satisfied that Company as an employer has put in place clear process requirements to meet the tax requirements. Please note that as an employer, Company has the onus and responsibility to ensure strict compliance with all Income Tax Rules and Regulations as far as an employee’s Company-related income and benefits are concerned.

  • When other companies are continuing with the meal vouchers, why cannot we continue with the meal vouchers?

As mentioned before, we are committed to the compliance of applicable Laws from time-to-time. We did check with other companies of our size and nature and found that they have changed the program or are in the process of changing it. The benchmark results indicated the following –

Companies Surveyed: 20

Number of Companies using Sodexo: 10

– Few of these Companies are considering stopping of Sodexo Meal Vouchers
– Half of these Companies allow the usage of Sodexo Meal Vouchers only in their cafeteria

Number of Companies NOT using Sodexo or any other Coupons: 10

  • How do we know that employees are not misusing other programs such as the Company Leased Car Program or any other benefit?

As a Company we can take all precautions to minimize the risk, if still anyone is misusing the same it is a violation of the code of conduct and appropriate action will be initiated.

  • Tax saving is an employee’s right. Why take that away?

We are not taking away any rights. We are doing what is right from a compliance point of view and in line with the spirit of the Income Tax Rules.

  • Why cannot Company compensate the excess tax that they have to pay due to this change?

All applicable taxes on employee compensation and benefits have to be borne by the respective employee. Company will extend all tax benefits as per Income Tax Rules to employees and is committed to following the Income Tax Rules in letter and spirit.

  • Why cannot I use the Meal Coupons in the eating joints outside of Company office and Campus?

As per Income Tax Rules, the Meal Coupons are meant to be used during office hours and inside the Company premises. Hence, they cannot be used outside.

  • Can the Food Court inside the Company Campus accept the new Swipe Cards?

From the Company’s point, we need to ensure all vendors inside our Company accept these cards. Additionally, we have requested Sodexo to install the machines in the Food Court but it is a decision that Sodexo has to take.

  • Are there other benefits that the Company can give which will offset the loss due to Sodexo plan change?

Company has allowed all tax benefits on Compensation/FBP as allowed by the Income Tax Rules. Any change to the tax rules to allow higher benefits from time-to-time will be extended to our employees.

  • What happens if your Meal Card still has some outstanding balance at the end of March, 2013?

You should utilize/spend the credit before the end of the Financial Year. This is where the Rs 9,000 per annum limit helps. It is not likely to leave balance if used regularly for meals during office hours.

  • What happens if an employee decides to move out of Company and some balance is left in the Meal Card?

The employee should use the balance by the exit date.

  • As the opt in/opt out scheme is up to September, 2012, what happens to unutilized balance in the Meal Card if employee decides to opt out in September, 2012 for the next 6-monthsperiod?

Even if an employee opts out in September, 2012, the balance in the Meal Card can be utilized till March, 2013.

What a complicated mess. As I’ve mentioned before, I simply asked D to opt out.


A couple of weeks back, I’d asked what your office was doing with the Sodexo Meal Vouchers for Financial Year 2012 – 2013. Then, my office hadn’t yet declared a Sodexo Meal Voucher policy for the new financial year but D’s office had and I’d published that. My office just declared our policy (emphasis and download link mine) –

Dear All,

As you are aware “a few of the modern organized retail players had decided to discontinue their relationship with Sodexo and hence were not part of the Sodexo Network effective 1st January, 2012”. Based on the recent option given to employees to opt out of Sodexo, around 50% of the employees have already opted out. Hence, based on internal decisions we have decided to remove the Sodexo option by replacing it with ICICI Meal Card with similar features.

Enclosed is the ICICI Meal Card features for your information. (Click here to download the product brochure and list of Bangalore-outlets that accept the Meal Card.)

This change would be effective from 1st April 2012 for the Financial Year 2012 — 2013 under the FBP (Flexible Benefit Plan) bracket. We would keep you informed on the process for applying for the ICICI Meal Card and also send an email to declare the same under the FBP bracket.


Payroll Services

Thankfully! What a relief!

I will opt for this Meal Card under my Flexible Benefit Plan.

So, what’s your office recommending? More important, what are you choosing?


Regular readers already know that I’m not a fan of the messy Sodexo Meal Vouchers. Even as recently as a few days back, paying at a department store using these paper vouchers turned out to be a 15-minute nightmare with counting, recounting, tallying, re-tallying, sorry can’t give you the change but do you want these chocolates in lieu episodes. At this point in time, I simply don’t care about any income tax benefits. I’d rather pay the extra income tax and have my time and my peace of mind.

Going forward, I’ll therefore be opting out from receiving these vouchers. My office hasn’t yet declared a Sodexo Meal Voucher policy for the new financial year but for the last two months we have had the option to opt-out and I did since I had a bunch of them leftover from previous months. I simply received the equivalent amount in the form of taxable income.

But here’s what D’s office is proposing for the Sodexo Meal Vouchers for Financial Year 2012 – 2013

[Excerpts from an email sent by their HR.]

Please refer to an earlier mail sent by [Company] with respect to Sodexo Meal Vouchers. Some of you had raised questions based on the fact that the Meal Vouchers were not accepted by some of the establishments. Based on this input, a Cross Functional Team has reviewed various aspects which included compliance to the Income Tax Rules, the benchmark information (of what other companies are doing) and the administration.

  • Based on the above review and information, we have decided that effective April 01, 2012 (new Income Tax year), the value of Meal Credit would be Rs 9,000 per annum. The remaining Rs 9,000 per annum will be paid to Employees in 12 equal monthly installments as allowance and will be taxed at the applicable tax rate.

  • Going forward, your FBP [Flexible Benefits Plan] will include the value of Meal Credit and you can choose to opt-in by including Rs 9,000 as part of your FBP-declaration. In case you choose to opt out, a total of Rs 18,000 will become part of your taxable income. Please note that your decision can be revoked only for the next Income Tax year (which starts on April 01, 2013). The default option would be opt-out for payroll processing.

  • Those of you who choose Sodexo Meal Credit as part of FBP selection, will have their Meal Cards loaded with Rs 750 per month. These Meal Cards can only be used at [Company] Cafeteria. [Company] will send a survey very soon to check your interest to sign up for Meal Credit. Please respond immediately with “YES or NO” so that the Cards can be loaded with the Credit effective April ’12 for those who say “YES”.

  • Further, if you happen to have an outstanding amount on your cards as of March 31, 2012 you can convert it into physical vouchers before April 30, 2012 at the Sodexo Helpdesk. Please note that there will be no similar exchange for physical vouchers at the end of March 2013.

D asked what she should do and I recommended that she too opt-out since she doesn’t anyway eat at the Company Cafeteria.

At Rs 750 per month and considering an average of 22-working days per month, that works out to about Rs 34 per day. These days what can you get for that amount?

What’s your office proposing? And what have you decided to do?


My Experience With the Sodexo Meal [Smart] Card

by Vinaya HS on June 28, 2011

in Finance

In an unusual turn of events, a few days after I’d written my thoughts on improving the Sodexo Coupon System, D’s office (the new one), withdrew this excellent prepaid food card issued by her old office and in lieu issued this Sodexo Meal Card. I was impressed. Smart Card! Wow! I thought I was mighty smart in signing that “your-card-for-my-coupons swap agreement” with her.

As it turned out, however, no retail outlet accepts this Smart Card. I tried in a good number of places — a few don’t even have a Smart Card reader. I guess it really is meant for “cashless meal transactions in cafeterias” and hence completely useless to us (D packs a lunch box and my office doesn’t have a cafeteria).

Thankfully, D’s office is gracious enough to exchange the balance on the Smart Card each month for those physical vouchers that I hate. So now, each month, we’ll have more meal coupons than we know what to do with. I get meal coupons. She gets meal coupons. Maybe a few months down the line, if you visit our home, you’ll see us drowning in a sea of meal coupons.

Maybe I should null my agreement with D and in lieu sign a “your-cash-for-our-coupons agreement” with D’s dad.

He he he…


How to Improve the Sodexo Coupon System?

by Vinaya HS on May 10, 2011

in Finance

At work, I have the option to opt for Sodexo Meal Coupons. The income-tax benefits on these food coupons are good enough a reason to opt for this facility. But the physical-voucher form of these coupons really needs to change — especially when you have card-based equivalents for competition.

It’s a pain to use these physical coupons at merchant outlets. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve patiently waited in queues at retail grocery stores while people ahead in the queue fumble around with these coupons. Once you’re done fumbling around with these coupons, it’s the cashier’s turn to do the fumbling. Count, re-count, discover that the store can’t (or won’t) give you back cash for coupons in excess of the billed amount and other hassles that simply aren’t worth your time and energy.

If I were at Sodexo, I’d immediately switch to issuing card-equivalents. Imagine the cost-savings from printing charges that avoided (and the number of trees saved). Imagine the cost-savings from collection, storage, and other overhead charges avoided. And as one merchant exasperatedly told me: “Settlements would happen in a day and not in twenty days!”

Everyone in the Sodexo ecosystem would be much better off.

D’s office on the other hand issues the convenient card-based equivalent. The card is reloaded in the first week of each month.

Very cleverly, I’ve entered into a your-card-for-my-coupons swap agreement with her. I’ve swapped her card for the physical Sodexo vouchers which I get from my office in the first week of each month and which she then gives to her mom/dad. Her mom/dad luckily has the time, patience, and energy to use them for grocery shopping. Everyone’s happy in this ecosystem.

That said, I’m not sure if the Sodexo Group would read this post and implement my suggestion. But, What do you think?