India Diaries: Public Sector Banking

My recent India trip had a mix agenda – pleasure and work were intermingled as I had to sort out a few things on priority. I assigned a working day’s time slot to ensure that I closed my saving account with a leading Public Sector Bank. And I reckoned well for it did take the better part of the working day to get my work done.

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I have been abroad for about four years now. In that time I have adopted to what is de rigueur with modern private banks – use of technology to do my Banking. I have opened Banking relationships with two such Banks wherein neither have I seen my home branch nor have I have met any Bank official.

Both these Banks do not even have a presence in my current location. The accounts were opened using a creative mix of online application forms, email coördination, courier pick-ups and deliveries. I operate these accounts online for all my transactions and Net Banking is my nirvana. Mobile Banking is the new kid on the block in the digital world but even otherwise the online banking interface provides solutions for all that I have required to do in the recent years.

I wanted to close my account with the said public sector bank because the moment I tried to update my new contact details I was told to visit my home branch. Incidentally the bank even has a presence in my city and so I felt they would help me with getting the necessary paperwork done. However it was not meant to be, they politely told me that the international operations were independent of their domestic network and they could not help me much. At best they could attest my documents and then I would need to take it up on my own with guess who? My home branch.

I was hopeful to solve it when I came back to India and contacted the same bank in my home town. In the world of core banking systems it was a shock to be told again that intercity activities were limited and for this I just had to visit the home branch in the city where it had been opened. Not the most customer friendly approach one would say but possibly it was just a conservative mode of banking.

So on this trip I made it a point to reach the home branch early in the morning and desisted all attempts to convince me to transfer the account to my home town. They grudgingly took up my closure request and said that it will take a few hours to complete the formalities. I was fine with that since I had come expressly for closing this piece of work that had eluded me for so long. I plonked myself in the customer service area to be a ‘visible eye sore’ who could not be wished away.

The branch was modern and I had a couple of hours to observe their activities. Apart from helping a few people fill out their cumbersome challans I was happy to observe a few positive changes – there was adequate seating arrangement, there wasn’t a big queue at the Teller counter, even the entry door was accessible (unlike the old days where the grill shutters would be drawn to a narrow gap and the place would be presided by the Security Guard with a longish gun).

I could see the staff had adapted to computerization and there were not the traditional mounds of paper, the pass books to were computerized but the tradition of issuing fancy  Fixed Deposit certificates in the ‘see-through’ plastic folio envelopes continued.

The activities of the staff themselves were more interesting though – there was not much in terms of multitasking instead each  staff had been assigned specific tasks and would do little else. A lady moved around serving Tea / Coffee in ancient porcelain cups. Couple of helpers moved around carrying the papers to different desks. Some things never quite changed in the ‘sarkari’ office.

My work was done and only the Banker’s cheque was to be printed and signed. But it was an elaborate process – the printer was in the custody of a person who was out for lunch. Once he printed the helper shuffled it for approvals. It took the best part of the hour but I kept my good humour as nothing could detract my from the job at hand. I saw other customers also ingratiate the staff as that seemed the best approach to be done with your job – quite a change from the cringing help we would receive in the modern avatars where the customer is always right.

While handing over my Banker’s cheque the clerk couldn’t resist asking me the reason for having closed the account and even I relished to reply that I no longer wanted to be with a Bank that told me to go to the ‘Home Branch’ for every little thing that needed to be done.

Collection:AFP Courtesy:Getty Images
Courtesy:Getty Images

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