I have the pride and honour of serving, for 28 years, the State Bank of India (SBI), till February 1994 and as a pensioner for the past 29 years. But the SBI I served is certainly different from the SBI now as it is now SBI plus seven associates assimilating diverse cultures of the loyalty-held state-centric banks.
I see a vast difference in the way the Bank deals with its customers from then to now—both internal and external.
For those who visit the personal banking branch, one stares at long queues. Technology, of which we are all proud, looks like a harrowing experience for the staff. The staff, despite all good intentions, feels helpless many a time because the system just does not respond.
The SBI I worked at was ‘the largest bank for the smallest man’. There were concept branches dedicated to agricultural and small-scale industries (SSI) sectors. I am grateful to my Bank that made me what I am today.
Its primacy in the two areas of agriculture and small industries and its domain expertise whittled away with many field-level managers and staff having no time to visit the villages and enterprises. They do not have much time to engage with the customers. Most problems are left for the system to resolve.
The SBI today is SBI plus seven associate banks merged with it, assimilating seven work cultures. Both are, thus, entirely different. I am reminded of a chairman who said, a few years ago, “We are a technology company. We also do banking.”
Very true. There are more retail loans, personal loans, vehicle loans, more housing and real estate, and corporate loans. Property and collateral verifications take more time than client interactions. There is little time for the small segment which most needs the banking services.
Its old slogan: ‘The biggest bank for the smallest man’ is consigned to history. Anything small, except where it is a regulatory responsibility, is not to their taste.
Now SBI does a little of banking as all the staff and managers look to the machines for instructions. If the machine fails to respond, the employee or manager has no answer for the banking problem that the customer faces. If one wants to post a grievance on the system, there is a drop-down menu. If you can’t click one of them, you have to post in ‘others’ in just 100 letters. The CACHE appears and you copy it. It disappears directing you to re-input. There is also a cultural transformation.
Earlier, there used to be customer committees meeting on the 15th of every month. They have become things of the past for the last few years. Even though the Bank obtains form 15A for not deducting tax on the interest on the term deposits held with it, still deductions are made. After 80 years, taxpayers are exempt from submitting the tax return if their only income is pension and within Rs5 lakh plus the other exemptions. But, because the Bank deducts tax on my interest income, to get my refund, I have to submit the tax return. What the government gives with the left hand, SBI takes it away with the right hand.
SBI Pensioners’ Monthly Bulletin, Hyderabad has a banner line calling the pensioners to secure their ID cards both for the family and themselves, if alone, through the MYHRM portal. The portal is the least responsive. It rarely works for loading all the inputs needed. When the ‘forgotten password’ is clicked, either on the mobile application or on the desktop, it does not respond. After repeated attempts, I got the password: “Madam/Dear Sir, your HRMS portal password has been reset. Your new password is WW22¡¤pt Please do not share your password.-SBI HRMS”.
I searched for the ‘¤’ symbol both in the virtual keyboard of the SBI website that I operate for my bank transactions and elsewhere. I could not see the ‘¤’ symbol. I wrote a mail to the address they flashed as the third step in resolving the password issue. The response is to lodge the complaint on the website of MYHRM which is very difficult to open!
In fact, all the data that is required is in the form of KYC with the pension-paying branch. The pensioner’s details should be available with the HR department. Further, even the spouse’s data likewise is available with the KYC where the pensioner and spouse have joint account and nominee details of the spouse, where the latter is the nominee, on the other deposit accounts held with the Bank.
With so much advanced technology and the Bank mentioning that they have artificial intelligence (AI) applications also for a decade, where is the need in the first place for this harassment of the pensioner on the MYHRM portal? Can’t the Bank pull the data from the branch account of the pensioner? Photo, Aadhaar, PAN, and residential proof are all available with the Bank branch.
During the first year of YONO, it was ‘you’ for the bank and ‘no’ for the customer. It took two years to make it work efficiently and, by this time, the unified payments interface (UPI) system overtook its strides. I am reasonably tech-savvy but fail to catch up with the SBI HRM portal and YONO. All the claims of SBI on the technology front do not resemble reality.
After a long-drawn struggle, the finance ministry and the public sector banks (PSBs), including SBI, agreed to 100% neutralisation of the dearness allowance (DA). They have a formula for different grades of services in the SBI. I am surprised to know that we should sign an indemnity letter asking the pensioner to indemnify the Bank for an mistake in calculations of such arrears as they remit into our pension account and a right for the Bank to debit from our pension account any irregular credit they make due to such miscalculation. Of what use is technology if they cannot arrive at a formula for calculating the arrears of new DA? How can SBI boast of state-of-the-art technology? Incidentally, it is appropriate to mention that all the other PSBs paid the latest DA in October itself, without any such indemnity. They ask the pensioners to sign and give a letter of indemnity to the pension-paying branch. This is a vindication of the fact that the Bank is not confident of its calculations.
Another glaring instance that has not been remedied yet by the Bank: Going by the call for a joint pensioner ID card with my spouse, I loaded all the details. The outcome is a disaster. My date of pension is wrong: Instead of 28 February 1994, it mentions 31 August 1997. Where the data is produced from, no one knows. Regarding my spouse’s data that has been faithfully loaded to MYHRM after great difficulty nearly six months back, her details are left blank, when the card was issued. The unusable card issued is reproduced below:
The staff, who should have closed their systems at the end of the day at maximum 5pm, sit till even 7pm entering KYC of new accounts or responding to printed requests of service! They curse the system they work with day in and day out, but in silence.
I am writing this article with the hope that the Bank would make better use of technology and help many of my ilk not face such risk. Instead of being complacent, the Bank should introspect and it is not correction that is required but a total replacement of its technology to stand in competition with its peers HDFC Bank and ICICI Bank.
The Pensioners’ Association left a helpful note that those who have difficulty accessing the MYHRM portal can seek its help in the Association office. But they also were clueless when it came to opening it and deciphering the password I got.
There are many unsung heroes. It’s time to have pity on them and find systemic remedies. I wish the Bank would regain its pride of place in the industry.
(The author is a retired senior banker, economist and risk management specialist)