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Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Kursela Days 17 – Some Embarrassing Moments



Life in Kursela wasn’t without some very embarrassing moments, which I now try to classify mentally as growing-up incidents. For example, on one of the non-public working days, a customer came to the branch with a request to deposit some money in his account. Since no public transactions were permitted but he insisted on depositing the money, he was directed to me as I was officiating as the Branch Manager that day. The regular BM, as I have mentioned in one of my earlier blogs, was in the habit of rarely coming on Wednesdays (the non-public working day of our branch) and the arrangement was that he used cook up some excuse to go to Purnea to attend to some “official” work on Tuesday evening after handing over charge of the branch to me.  

Even though this customer had my fullest sympathies, I was tied up in bureaucratic red-tape and tried to convince him to come again the next day, when we would accept his deposit as we could not accept it on that day. The man looked extremely crestfallen and started walking away. Then my Field Officer, Sudhir Kumar Singh, intervened. He asked the man to sit outside, and came over to me, and gently suggested that I take the deposit. It was then I realized that at least 8 sets of eyes were firmly set on me, and that I was being tested for something. I was a little perplexed as to how could I validly accept the deposit under the circumstances or what was I expected to do. Sudhir Kumar Singh then went on to explain that the Rs.500/- or whatever sum the man was carrying was big money for the him. Since it was getting late, and people had seen him coming to the bank, there was every possibility that he would get way-laid and the money snatched from him. Well this was a major moral dilemma but what was I supposed to do? I had no other solution with me. Sudhir Singh then elaborated that as BM I had the authority to accept the money (to a certain limit), issue a receipt and keep the money in my personal custody for it to be accounted for on the next working day. Well this was news to me, having never bothered to read the Bank’s Book of Instructions or the numerous circular letters which used to come regularly. I looked at the Bade Babu to take his tacit confirmation as to correctness of this procedure and his glance confirmed that I could go ahead. Thereafter, armed with this new knowledge, I immediately arranged for the man to be called back, accepted the cash and issued a receipt. Suddenly, the tension went out of the room and all the unsmiling grim faces relaxed. I sent a silent prayer to God for having saved my soul that day.

During those days (about a quarter century ago) life used to be much simpler. There were only 2 kinds of Savings Bank Accounts, “with Cheque Book” and “without Cheque Book”. The minimum balance requirement for the former was Rs.100/- while for the latter it was Rs.20/-.  Most people opted for the without chequebook kind of SB A/c, since issuance or wide acceptance of cheques was not common. Moreover, keeping Rs.80/- idle in the account was just not kosher. 

As I have mentioned earlier (in one of my previous blogs), I had taken a personal decision of ensuring that no walk-in customers desiring to open account would ever be turned back. What I failed to mention is that I was able to realize this ambition not by managerial fiat but through active participation and consent of all my staff members. By listening to them, and involving them in all decision making of the branch (thanks to the Quality Circle meetings), I got their complete active cooperation. Soon, the news spread through word-of-mouth in the entire area and we started opening a huge number of accounts, and achieving deposit targets was never more an issue. 

Another innovation which happened was that some of the smaller shop-keepers there had made it a practice of depositing some amount every day. It was generally a small amount, say Rs.10/- or Rs 20/-, but I remember what a small pan shop owner told me – “Money begets Money” – in English, as the reason for his doing the daily deposit.  Conventional wisdom dictated that accepting such small deposits increased the Bank’s costs disproportionately and was generally discouraged. But I felt that accepting such deposits was increasing our marginal costs very slightly and my fixed costs not at all. At the same time it was generating a lot of publicity and good-will for the Bank and so continued with this practice. 

On one particularly busy working day a widow came with her son to open an account. By local standards they looked fairly well off. While the mother was illiterate, she seemed to be in complete control over herself and exuded a certain amount of quiet self-confidence. The son was about 20, literate and also looked quite self confident. Scrutinizing and vetting all new customers was my responsibility as Branch Accountant and I, therefore, explained to them the requirements, helped them fill in the forms, and by way of final explanation told them that Rs.20/- is required to open an SB account and asked them to deposit the money. In about an hour’s time, all formalities had been completed and their pass-book came for my initials. I then called the mother-son duo to hand them their passbook. They accepted it gladly, and handed me a Rs.20 note. I got a little confused as to what this money was for. The mother then told me in a very matter of fact voice. “Sir, this is for you. You had told us that for opening an SB account Rs.20/- is to be paid. Now since you have helped us in opening the account and all the work has been done and we will not have to come again for this work, this is for you.” Then I realized that my comment on requiring to pay Rs.20/- for opening the account had been construed to mean that Rs.20/- is required to be paid as “speed money”! This I think has been one of the most embarrassing situations that I have encountered in my 28 year banking career.

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