Banks, the (Dis) Service Providers
Talk of coincidences. On 25th July, I visited a State Bank of India (SBI) branch in south Bengaluru, and returned home seething with rage; the same evening Moneylife put out a report on how Reserve Bank of India (RBI) rules required banks to extend special facilities to seniors. (Read: Banks are supposed to provide doorstep banking to senior citizens and differently abled persons)
 
I am past 75, my hair is fully white, I have had surgery and radiation for a malignancy, and now walk with a stick. My father and I had accounts at the State Bank of Mysore close to  our house, for over 50 years; when SBM was closed and amalgamated with SBI last year. My account was shifted to a SBI branch about a kilometre away. 
 
This made it difficult for me to go all the way to operate my  account – too far to walk, but auto-rickshaws refuse to come for short distances. I decided to close my bank account, but the staff there said, “Irlee” (let it be) and would not process my request. 
 
I also had term or fixed deposits. FDs is my only source of income now, from interest accruals but one by one I closed them as they became due. Email instructions to credit the proceeds to my savings bank account were disregarded.
 
On 25th July, when I closed two FDs, I was told to go to the “other counter” across the hall, to get the entries made. Before that, the lady supervisor in-charge was busy on her mobile for some time, while I waited. 
 
In the meantime, a former employee squeezed his way past my chair, to place his receipt in front of her and get his work done. She, however, did not ask him to wait while she attended to me, though she knew I was at her desk before him. 
 
At the “other” counter, I was fourth in line; an obviously illiterate woman handed her passbook to the employee at the window. He glanced through it, and asked her, in Kannada “Accept aagideyaa? (Has it been accepted?) 
 
She did not understand the English word ’accept’ and stood silent. The man repeated his query thrice, each time with rising impatience, till some Samaritan behind her translated for her. 
 
This is another dimension of the government’s boast of having facilitated the opening of lakhs of accounts in rural areas. Is it enough to show accounts in the books, without ensuring that the depositors understand rules and procedures? But then who cares.
 
When my turn came, the man scrutinised my passbook, and said I had to “go to the SBM in second block”. As a SBI employee , he does not know that SBM no longer exists? I have made three visits and transactions at this new SBI branch since the merger. He then tells me, “Go to the other counter and get a bar code put on your passbook, then go to the ATM to get entries printed.”
I just took back my passbook from him and went home. 
 
The RBI rule announced on 7th November 2017 says banks should extend “doorstep” services for seniors and disabled customers. I am both senior and disabled (as anyone can see). The facility was to be in place by December 2017. No bank has publicised this facility much less implemented it. 
 
Forget doorstep facility, the least they could do is to make sure seniors are not harassed, shunted from counter to counter, being asked to go here for entries, and for bar code.  
 
The branch manger’s cabin was vacant. RBI says aggrieved customers can approach a grievance cell. There is no display of details of grievance cell. RBI’s instructions also say “Give due publicity to these new facilities”. I checked with 20 seniors at random; not one knew of these RBI guidelines.
 
The last time I complained to the Banking Ombudsman, I did not even get a response. Earlier I used to get a prompt reply, but I found that complaints to Ombudsman cause hostility in the branch, even if they attend to the redressal.
 
I complained about having to go “next door” to get passbook entries made (climbing a flight of steps – no lift) only to find a “Not Working” notice pasted on the machine. A manager at Canara Bank (another PSB) gave me an earful of his own grievances – the mechanics to repair machines have to come from Pune, and there is no budget to cover this expense. 
 
There is also a coin dispensing machine, which is almost never working. “We are also short staffed, and cannot recruit fresh employees,” he moaned. So whose fault is it? Why waste money on fancy “dispensing” machines that do not work? Isn’t it public money down the drain?
 
The bank is supposed to open at 10am, but counters are not manned till 20 minutes past the hour. Customers wait. Working age customers cannot afford to wait, so it is the aged, parents, seniors, who stand in line and wait, because they have no office to go to. On Fridays, the women staff have a puja before beginning the day’s work, and prasad with flowers gets distributed to all staff.
Meanwhile customers wait. 
 
Often, the bank staff do not even raise their heads from the ledgers as they are busy making entries in, when a customer comes to the counter. Contrast this with the standard response when one visits a bank or public office abroad – “May I help you?” is the routine response that staff are trained to make. 
 
“World class” is our goal, but not in the areas that matter for people who are supposed to be the real beneficiaries in a democracy. Especially in public sector services.
 
(Dr Sakuntala Narasimhan is a Bengaluru-based senior journalist, writer, musician and consumer activist. She is a renowned senior vocalist in both traditions of Indian classical music - Hindustani and Carnatic, an A-graded artiste of All India Radio in both traditions. She is also a musicologist and author, and has written a book on the Rampur gharana.
Comments
PURUSHOTTAMA WAGLE
3 years ago
The idea is good but not possible to implement because of extreme shortage of staff at branches. The RBI has once again proved itself to be stupid by issuing such impractical guidelines.
Dr.Dhananjaya Bhupathi
3 years ago
1. The demand for bank services is increasing @ Jetspeed for 24/7.
2. Ultimately, 12.5 lac honest to the core & hard working bank employees are @ the receiving end.
3. Bank services are nothing but THANKLESS JOBS.
Prashant
3 years ago
Yes I totally agree,I really don’t know what happens once there is a merger
I used to have excellent banking relations when it was state bank of Hyderabad, new panvel branch
The moment it became SBI everything changes ,in fact started closing all my accounts including current account,.Sorry state of affairs
Gopalakrishnan T V
3 years ago
Customer is the least understood by bank employees these days. The worst part is that unlike In The past no one can make any complaint to any one. The presence of administration is not felt anywhere is the ground reality. God alone knows as to any regulator is there for banks?Avoid banks is the right way to be free from pension and pressures. Old and senior citizens are lucky as their days are numbered to suffer from these sorts of harassments and I'll treatment. God save the institutions. No governance is there any where and good times are there for moneyed and middlemen.
Pradeep Kumar M Sreedharan
3 years ago
Tell me in which part of the loop was the customer, ie,the retail customer, when everybody designed the system and also the processes. The Customer is a Monkeys, and all that he gets by services is peanuts.

Basic element is become owners of the SBI and ask questions in AGMs.

But nobody, including myself has time. Kya karega abhi
suneel kumar gupta
3 years ago
Many committees recommend pay hikes, facilities to reduce corruption and increase efficiency in govt. offices but in vain. They also need a stick hanging .
EDWARDS GNANASEKAR
3 years ago
Customer Service in banks both Public Sector and Private Sector is dismal. Only difference is the staff of Private Sector Banks are well dressed. They know nothing of core banking. They are recruited based on their English language speaking skills and marketing skills. They are only interested in selling insurance, mutual fund and other non banking products to the customers. When we don't maintain minimum balance, they charge us. When their ATMs don't have cash, banks are accountable. Most of ATMs are non functional. They are opened for statistical purpose. The remaining will be out of cash most of the time. When we owe money to banks our accounts are immediately debited. When banks owe money they take their own time to credit our account. Earlier RBI used make periodical surveys in commercial banks regarding customer service. I doubt whether such surveys are being conducted now. RBI should step in and pull up the banks which harass customers. Its senior officers should visit bank branches at random and see for themselves the level of customer service obtaining there. Common customers will be fleeced by these banks as narrated by Dr. Sakuntala, but our hard earned money will be given to Mallya, Chokshi, Nirav, et al on silver platter and seen off from the country by these banks.
Anand Vaidya
3 years ago
Visiting a bank branch is a horror story for young and literate, it must be 10x horror for the illiterate and/or seniors, without a doubt.

Some of you seniors should learn to use a computer (a 10.5" tablet, maybe?), use PayTM or such services and avoid going to branches as far as possible. There seems to be no way out. The fatcats are RBI are least bothered . Were they not supposed to implement the consumer charter under 5 star governor Rajan? What happened to that?
Ravindra Dave
3 years ago
This is the fancy of Present Government. Saying something, doing something. mukh me ram, bagal me chhuri.Ram rajya ke pujari. Public jaye bhad me, khud jaye.......
Ranjith Mp
3 years ago
When Automation comes in 80% in Finance sector number of Branches of Banks will be reduced further better everyone become net banking Experts
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