A visit to a PSU Bank : A reality check on the real India!

Posted: December 3, 2009 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , ,

Yeah, the title of the post sounds like a school child’s composition topic 🙂

But really, there is no better way to describe the roughly 1 hour that I spent at the Syndicate Bank yesterday.

Nowadays many of us have started banking with private banks like HDFC Bank, ICICI Bank and others. Also we are accustomed to Net Banking and do not need to walk in to the bank as much. I also have the privilege of help, so for routine matters, I am able to send a person who takes care of depositing cheques etc. So visits to the bank are rare. And when these happen, these are at plushly decorated private banks, with smart tellers and loads of credit-card and loans-selling salesmen hovering around you.

So the visit to Syndicate Bank yesterday was a different experience altogether.

I do not bank with them, but had some money to collect, against a bearer cheque issued to me, for some old dues. Rather than send someone, I decided to stop by on the way to work, and do the honours myself!

So here’s the scene first.

Unlike my HDFC Bank, I do not see any systematic queues or structure here. There are many tellers sitting behind glass covers, but people are generally hovering around counters, as they please. Obviously the regulars are more familiar. There are complete walls filled with elaborate explanations about banking matters. From who can open a current account, to the requirements for FDs, and including their email address of the ancient form that I had first seen in 1997, i.e. xeebom.mail.com.. or something long and drawn out, like that. Yes, the large walls serve as notice boards. Except that the instructions are mostly in English (and which is not what their target group will read, as I discover in some time) and the fact that most of those are painted, and so I wonder how often do they change these, considering the fact that bank facts change all the time!

Anyway, getting the scene in, I asked for where I needed to go, and was directed to a particular window. There were few people already around that counter, and I tried to create a semblance of order, by standing behind a person, and making an official queue. Couple of people who came after that, I guided them behind me, to stand as a queue. Was a little strange for them but they complied anyway!

The queue was slow moving, but which  enabled me to look around and observe the scene.

It was clear that there were many people from the lower and middle income group that banked here. I am not sure if it is the bank charges or the airconditioned environs or the perception of private banks being richer people’s banks, but it appears that the lower and middle income group has stayed with the PSU banks and continued to be in their comfort zones there (wonder if it is true for kirana vs organized retail, and for similar reasons?). Old people with sticks in their hands, gingerly led by their younger ones, many Maharashtrian bais, ladies in burgas and the like, were seen all around.

As the queue moved ahead, I could also see the transactions happening ahead of me. Demand drafts to send home, small amounts deposited, small amounts withdrawn were the typical transactions.

The tellers seem to know familiar faces. Even while giving out small cash, they wanted to be sure that the person had updated her passbook. I guess people must live close to the brink, in terms of maintaining low balance!

While depositing cheques and cash of people, tellers would ask for passbooks. Just to validate the account numbers. Obviously mistakes of putting in incorrect account numbers must be common!

The tellers were not the most efficient, but that was due to slow computers, lack of support systems etc. They all appeared to be genuinely helpful to the customers, and either had a slight smile on their faces, or a neutral face. At least not a grouch that I have seen in other banks!

I needed to validate the balance and then withdraw cash. So when my turn came, and just as I asked for this detail, their systems went down! Knowing how computers work, and realizing that the bank will not shut down for the day, I expected the systems to come back up again, in sometime. So I hung around. But I was standing right at the counter, waiting for the systems to come back.

Meanwhile, the teller continued to service other customers, the kind who did not need the use of the system. For example, those who had cash to be deposited or small cash withdrawals (here the teller just asked the question to the customer, ‘have you checked passbook – balance is there, no?’) to be done.

As I waited there for the next 40 minutes, there were very interesting observations.

Many people were depositing cash like Rs. 300/-, Rs. 700/- and amounts of those kinds. There were withdrawals also of Rs. 250/- or numbers like those. There were drafts being made for sending to home towns, for amounts like Rs. 500/- or so. There were small amounts being deposited with questions that they have some cheque already given, and will this deposit ensure that the cheque does not go back (perhaps some EMI?). The people there, the numbers being mentioned can be a reality check for many in our society, who are used to seeing and dealing in far larger numbers!

In between you would find the small businessman, who speaks English (for a change) and who is also familiar with the tellers, coming and chatting up. That he has got used to net banking, and is able to see so-and-so details. And the teller and the customer both have smiles. And there are the real regulars who know their way around. They find it easy to walk to the inside part – where the tellers are sitting – and move from one table to another, to take care of their work directly at the respective tables. From the inside, they will hand over their slip books to deposit cheques, or take larger chunks of their cash for the shop, for example.

There is an entire method to the madness. One can be aghast looking at all this, but there is perfect peace with the way these things work, and nobody questions any of this!!

There was one particularly amazing incident where a Bai walked to the counter. Looking at her, the teller said in Marathi, that “why did she come in so drunk, early in the morning?”. The bai mumbled something. There was a lot of pain and trouble in her voice. She mumbled about problems at home. She was standing right next to me, and she was smelling of the liquor that she must have had, she was old (60+), she was staggering and her speech was all garbled. But she knew what she was there for.

She needed to withdraw cash!

She gave a passbook. By this time, the systems had come up. And although I was waiting for long, the teller could sense that this lady was in trouble and it was best to get her done and sent off. She looked up her balance. And conveyed that it was a little over 700/-. The look on the face of the lady was one of extreme disappointment. She had no idea, but she was obviously hoping that there was more money there. The teller asked the lady to get a slip and bring. The bai was in no position to move around. She mumbled something, but had a look of pleading on her face. The teller understood. She got up, went somewhere and brought back a slip. Filled it out for 700/-, put a stamp pad and asked the bai to put her thumb on it. Somehow the bai managed. And 700/- was given. The bai asked how much more is there. The teller advised that let the balance remain there. It was only another 70/- more. The bai had a look of helpless plea / request. As she mumbled away. She so badly wanted even that 70/- to be taken. She could do with whatever cash she could get that time. The teller advised against it. The bai accepted the suggestion. But then said that she was headed to the hospital. And not sure if she would return back at all, or conk off from there. The teller asked her not to talk like that, and she will be back soon. The bai then proceeded to push her hand inside and profusely bless the teller several times, like she was her own daughter. She proceeded to give blessings likewise, to the teller on the next table.Before she walked away.

I was amazed by the scene. This is the real India, I guess. This is what those sentimenatal bank advertisements are about. Which talk about the relationships that bankers have with the customers. This is the real India, of small money, or survival, or being hand-to-mouth, so often!

A reality check for anyone who is not tuned into this world.

Go, spend a few hours in your local PSU bank or a cooperative bank, or even at your post office, where money orders are being made and sent. Even living in a city, you can get a view and an appreciation of life on the other side of the fence. We will also complain a lot less about our state, once we see this.. !

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Comments
  1. Samit Bali says:

    Just visited PSU Bank to deposit a refund order of IT for year 2007-08, recieved now, the old lady with specs will ask for ur confirmation of sign, in between she will go & talk to her colleagues & least bothered about the que building up the counter.

  2. Ram says:

    I am surprised that you are going to PSU banks for the very first time. My first bank a/c was in SBI 2 decades ago when was in secondary school, and even today when i visit that bank, I notice the situation hasn’t changed, although bank has got on to computer system from older paper work… but people relationship, over the counter conversations, queue system (?) have all remained the same. we live in an economy of 2 extremes (rich get richer, poor get poorer) – i don’t blame that but I am concerned about the education system, Literacy rate, and on top of this, society’s unwillingness to learn and get better in life.

    Somewhere along the line while reading your post, I got an indication that the post was complaining about private banks vs PSU banks, but at the end I realized, you wanted to picture the good side of the coin (relationship, money transactions, people living on such amounts, etc) – giving a different perspective to personally witness and understand the situation …

    came here from your twitter update…

    • Sanjay Mehta says:

      Ram,
      No, don’t get me wrong. This was certainly not my first visit to a PSU bank. I think the grey hair on my head do not permit me to have this luxury. I started banking when there was no choice. I was just visiting one after a long time.. !

      Rest I agree with you. There are two Indias, truly.

  3. Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by sm63: Visited a Syndicate Bank yesterday.. was an experience worth sharing: http://bit.ly/6i1x9W Have u had such experiences?…

  4. Hari Swaminathan says:

    Sanjay,
    It is truly amazing – in 30 minutes you get to see a side of India that you walk by every day but never notice. I had a similar experience about 2 years ago in guess which PSU (State bank of India – Chembur branch ) near Ambedkar garden. Chaos totally reigns in these PSU branches.

  5. You are so right, Sanjay about the empathy and personal touch.

  6. Sanjay,

    Good post. My father is a banker in one of the PSU banks (Allahabad Bank) and I have been holding accounts in another (SBI) for past 10 years.

    It has always been frustrating to be at a SBI branch. Their queues just don’t move. And (forgive me for the bias) they usually have women tellers, who are half as fast as their male counterparts.

    But then, they are so much more human! My father talks of decades of banking relationships!

    These days, I do most of my banking online. However, even when I do go to ICICI or Axis, I am amazed at the mechanical nature of their operations. The work may get done more efficiently, but I will never make friends with people there, I think.

  7. Rajesh says:

    Reminds me of a visit to my old PSU bank. We were in the managers cabin trying to find info of a customer banking with an MNC bank. The manager called up his friend, a VP in that bank and asked him if he knew a Mr. ABC who worked in his bank and had opened the account for my customer. What, he didn’t. Arre, the manager says, Mere branch mein kisi ko bhi pooch lo (customer included) if XYZ works in the branch aur woh tumko bata dega woh kahan baithta hai!

    As a PSU bank ad says, Rishton ki jama pooni!

  8. Samudra says:

    I agree with all that you said, except for a line in the comments –
    “There are two Indias, truly.”

    I believe, there are hundreds at least. If not thousands and lakhs.

    Once, on a train journey from Mumbai to Pune in a general compartment, I had a nice conversation with a eunuch over tea. She told me of their alternate financial system. It literally served as their bank, their insurance company, and even made investments on their behalf. Alternate India #?

  9. Hitesh says:

    Really I enjoyed reading it! It was like ‘Desi Bank Ka Ankho Dekha Haal’ .. I faced such a lot. You can imagine the situation as there are only two banks in my hometown (Ranikhet) SBI and PNB 😦 .

  10. rk says:

    nice detailing….for a few minutes, i felt like i was in the bank 🙂 thanks.

  11. neena says:

    Hi sanjay,
    I have been reading your blogs.U write so well that it feels as i am experiencing the scene….as if everything is happening right in front of me.

  12. Bhavesh says:

    Hi great post guess u r philosophical in life ….. Many wild been angry at the 40 min systems breakdown …. Thinking of sendin this to my psu bank manager with whomwe have been bankin for 20 years

    • Sanjay Mehta says:

      Bhavesh,
      Thanks for the kind words.
      Yes, I guess I am a little philosophical. A believer of Dale Carnegie’s principle, “Cooperate with the Inevitable”. It would have not helped me to get mad, I could imaging that the situation was out of control for the tellers sitting in front of me, and I could also see that without the systems coming up, I could not make any progress. In that event, I had a choice to blow my top, create a ruckus and boil my head. Which would have not helped me much. Instead I chose to wait out and took the opportunity to observe life. I think that benefited me a lot, it was a great education. A rare privilege in a busy life!
      It would be great if you can share it with your banker. Would be interesting to see his reaction..

  13. Kartik says:

    Liked your post. Well written.

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