'It is human nature to get angry and annoyed when you are inconvenienced.'
But we were able to enroll a few of our customers as 'bank mitras', who with my staff made sure that the queues were orderly and coupons were given to all the customers who wanted to withdraw or deposit money.'
Two bank managers in Mumbai tell Rediff.com's Prasanna D Zore how they handled the queues at their branches, the demand for money from their customers, all the while following the government guidelines in the 50 days since Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the scrapping of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes on November 8.
The first two weeks after November 8 were indeed chaotic as people thronged their bank branches and ATMs to withdraw as well as deposit money from and into their bank accounts as the Government of India kept changing the rules of the game every few days.
As the rules kept changing, the queues outside the bank branches kept lengthening.
Handling the queues
"But as time passed, within a week, we were able to bring complete order at our bank. The crowds started thinning out when they realised that their money was safe and despite the withdrawal limits and shortage of cash they were able to get the cash they needed," says Atul Pardikar, the chief manager at the Bank of Maharashtra's Malad branch in suburban Mumbai.
While the people were restless for a few days after the November 8 announcement, Pardikar says their anxieties began dissipating as they were allowed to withdraw the limit set by the government.
"I don't remember sending a single customer away from my bank after the first few days," Pardikar adds. He was all praise for the way the managers at the bank's headquarters provided for the smooth transition.
"Given the withdrawal limits set by the government we had to make changes to our system software. This was done within a few days of the announcement," he says.
The use of technology
A bank manager of a listed, big bracket, PSU bank, who wished to remain unnamed for this report or name the bank he was working for, says, "Software updates played a crucial role in putting a foolproof system in place. Technology did help us to handle the people's money in a better way."
According to this bank manager, who has more than 30,000 customers, the bank saw deposits of Rs 19 crore (Rs 190 million) in old notes on November 10, the first day after the demonetisation announcement on November 8.
"We made our staff skip their breaks. We all worked for more than 12 hours on most working days since then to cope with the pressure on the system," he adds.
"It is human nature to get angry and annoyed when you are inconvenienced," Pardikar says. "But thankfully, we were able to enroll a few of our customers as 'bank mitras' (friends of the bank), who with my staff made sure that the queues were orderly and coupons were given to all the customers who wanted to withdraw or deposit money."
"You just had to talk to them politely. And talk to them regularly. Communication was a very important tool we used to make our customers feel comfortable," he says.
The surprise audits
Even as people began queueing up outside his branch, Pardikar had to deal with inspection and audits conducted by government officials who paid surprise visits to ensure there was no underhand means used either by bank employees or customers visiting the bank.
"We made sure that every customer who withdrew or deposited money filled in all the requisite forms and we had a proper customer verification drill in place. It was because of our constant vigil and scrutiny that not a single case of irregularity was reported from our branch," says the manager of the other PSU bank.
Pardikar proclaims proudly that due verification of customers and maintaining a strict vigil round the banking hours helped his bank come out with glory.
"We ensured that pregnant women and senior citizens were given due priority," adds Pardikar. "We made arrangements for chairs, tea and breakfast for those who needed refreshments."