note demonetisation

As new month beckons, bankers brace for long queues and more chaos

When customers try to withdraw their salaries, bank employees fear there will be more disorder.

On Friday, Vikas Jain was in a panic as he reached his desk at the nationalised bank in South Delhi at which he works. Outside was a queue of at least 100 people, copies of identity documents in hand, waiting to exchange the Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes demonetised by the Reserve Bank of India on November 9. The previous evening, the RBI had decided that over-the-counter exchange of notes would no longer be permitted – but few customers knew that.

Fearing that customers – some of whom had been in line for more than two hours – would be upset when they discovered that they’d waited in vain, the bank got the police to announce the news. Almost immediately, customers started shouting angry slogans. “For a few minutes, we thought there will be violence,” Jain said.

The three weeks since demonetisation was announced has been especially hard on bank employees. They have faced customers impatient at the idea that they can withdraw only limited amounts of their own money, dealt with acute shortages of new notes and also kept up with an incessant barrage of regulatory tweaks and changes. Bankers have put in much longer hours, skipped meals and weekend breaks.

Over the next few days, they fear it will get worse. With the new month starting on Thursday, bank employees are bracing for a significant spike in the number of people seeking to withdrawing a portion of their salaries to meet essential expenses.

They are hoping against hope that the RBI will be able to increase the supply of cash to meet the new month’s demands. They also want the government to increase security across banks to help them perform their duties without any fear of commotion.

New month

Bankers said when demonetisation was implemented on November 9, most customers had already withdrawn the cash necessary to meet the month’s expenses. They had even paid out most pensions, so were able to focus on exchanging demonetised cash.

But as December begins, not only are the branches expecting a huge rush for withdrawal, they would also have to attend to pensioners queuing up to access their monthly funds.

Thomas Franco, a top official of the All India Bank Officers Confederation, said even the smallest of branches attend to hundreds of pensioners in the first week of every month. Usually, these branches will create separate counters for the pensioners.

For some of these senior citizens, pensions are the only source of income and any delay would cause extreme hardship.

Given the current cash crunch, Franco believes that pension disbursal will be hurt. “When it is the pension pay-out day, employees usually request other customers to come back on another day to complete their work,” he added. But since everyone now required cash, this option doesn’t exist. “If we tell people we don’t have cash, they are going to get angry,” he said.

This is compounded by the shortage of Rs 100 notes. More and more customers are visiting banks multiple times with requests to exchange Rs 2,000 notes for Rs 100s, arguing that they were not able to use the higher denomination notes for small transactions. This problem has been severe in semi-urban and rural areas.

Unions have alleged that since the demonetisation, 11 bankers have died from conditions related to the heavy workload.

Unprecedented workload

Bank managers who spoke to Scroll.in said the situation was so intense that even those employees who need leave for genuine reasons were being asked to postpone their commitments.

The manager of a public sector bank in Chittaranjan Park in New Delhi, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said customers were getting more agitated by the day. “Cash supply from RBI has decreased in the last five days,” he claimed.

This meant, some of these branches had to curb withdrawals to ensure all those in the queue got some amount of cash. “But by evening on Friday, we had instructions not to limit withdrawals. With such slow supply, we will run out of cash in one or two hours,” he claimed.

Frequent changes in withdrawal limits have added to the misery of these employees. It takes customers a while to get to know of the changes. On many occasions, irked customers begin abusing the staff, accusing them of arbitrarily changing rules. “The primary accusation was that we are doing all such things to help rich customers,” the official said.

The most chaotic day was November 25, when the RBI decided overnight that it would stop over-the-counter exchange of notes. “That morning, we came to office in fear,” he said. Many in the crowd had no idea about the exchange ban as they queued up very early before the papers could come out.

A manager of an Indian Bank branch in Chennai said applications for loans have been piling up over the last few weeks and banks were not able to complete the various verification processes that are mandatory to award loans. “Most employees are being utilised to help ease the liquidity crunch,” he added. Assessment of risk is a vital job that cannot afford anything less than 100% focus.

Jaydeep Bhatt, another banker, said last Saturday, he had to stay longer at office as two education loan applications had to be processed. “At first, we said it won’t be possible,” he said. “But the parent started weeping.”

Withdrawal restrictions for marriages have also turned out to be tough to implement. Bhatt said they had a case where the wedding had been scheduled for the first week of January. But the RBI notification stated that withdrawal of Rs 2.5 lakh would be allowed only for weddings before December 31. “How could you convince a girl’s father about this? It was very hard to see their faces. After all, it was their money,” he said.

Vishwas Utagi, vice-president of the All India Bank Employees Federation, said processing retail loans such for home and automobile has completely stopped. “It has been so from November 9,” he said, even though the period between Diwali and New Year is an important season for retail loans.

The Indian Bank manager said branches are bound to take a hit in performance in the loans category for which they would be answerable to their bosses. “But this is the least of our worries,” he said. “Without proper supply of cash, we will not be able to face the crowd at the beginning of the month.”

His branch has also seen a spike in requests for debit cards, cheque books and net banking facilities in the last 20 days. Completing such requests in a nationalised bank required a lot of paper work, which branches are struggling with.

The official said lunch breaks have been reduced to 15 minutes in most branches. This break too was taken in turns to avoid the queues outside getting longer.

Security worries

Bank officers said they were hoping that the government would provide additional security to bank branches in the coming days to tackle the expected increase in rush.

“The crowd will not listen to private security. We want some formal security to the branches,” the Chennai bank official said.

Unions have already flagged with the government the several incidents of branches being attacked by angry crowds.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content  BY 

Harvard Business School’s HBX brings the future of business education to India with online programs

HBX is not only offering courses online, but also connecting students to the power of its network.

The classic design of the physical Harvard Business School (HBS) classroom was once a big innovation – precisely designed teaching amphitheaters laid out for every student to participate from his or her seat with a “pit” in the center of the room from which professors orchestrate discussions analyzing business cases like a symphony lead. When it came to designing the online experience of HBX—the school’s digital learning initiative—HBS faculty worked tirelessly to blend these tenets of the HBS classroom pedagogy with the power of new technology. With real-world problem solving, active learning, and social learning as its foundation, HBX offers immersive and challenging self-paced learning experiences through its interactive online learning platform.

Reimagining digital education, breaking the virtual learning mold

Typically, online courses follow a one-way broadcast mode – lectures are video recorded and reading material is shared – and students learn alone and are individually tested. Moving away from the passive learning model, HBX has developed an online platform that leverages the HBS ‘case-based pedagogy’ and audio-visual and interaction tools to make learning engaging.

HBX courses are rarely taught through theory. Instead, students learn through real-world problem-solving. Students start by grappling with a business problem – with real world data and the complexity in which a business leader would have to make a decision – and learn the theory inductively. Thus even as mathematical theories are applied to business situations, students come away with a greater sense of clarity and perspective, whether it is reading a financial report, understanding why a brand’s approach to a random sample population study may or may not work, or how pricing works.

HBX Platform | Courses offered in the HBX CORe program
HBX Platform | Courses offered in the HBX CORe program

“Learning about concepts through real-life cases was my favorite part of the program. The cases really helped transform abstract concepts into observable situations one could learn from. Furthermore, it really helped me understand how to identify situations in which I could use the tools that HBX equipped me with,” says Anindita Ravikumar, a past HBX participant. India’s premier B-school IIM-Ahmedabad has borrowed the very same pedagogy from Harvard. Learning in this manner is far more engaging, relatable, and memorable.

Most lessons start with a short 2-3 minute video of a manager talking about the business problem at hand. Students are then asked to respond on how they would handle the issue. Questions can be in the form of either a poll or reflections. Everyone’s answers are then visible to the ‘classroom’. In the words of Professor Bharat Anand, Faculty Chair, HBX, “This turns out to be a really important distinction. The answers are being updated in real-time. You can see the distribution of answers, but you can also see what any other individual has answered, which means that you’re not anonymous.” Students have real profiles and get to know their ‘classmates’ and learn from each other.

HBX Interface | Students can view profiles of other students in their cohort
HBX Interface | Students can view profiles of other students in their cohort

Professor Anand also says, “We have what we call the three-minute rule. Roughly every three minutes, you are doing something different on the platform. Everyone is on the edge of their seats. Anyone could be called on to participate at any time. It’s a very lean forward mode of learning”. Students get ‘cold-called’ – a concept borrowed from the classroom – where every now and then individuals will be unexpectedly prompted to answer a question on the platform and their response will be shared with other members of the cohort. It keeps students engaged and encourages preparedness. While HBX courses are self-paced, participants are encouraged to get through a certain amount of content each week, which helps keep the cohort together and enables the social elements of the learning experience.

More than digital learning

The HBS campus experience is valued by alumni not just for the academic experience but also for the diverse network of peers they meet. HBX programs similarly encourage student interactions and opportunities for in-person networking. All HBXers who successfully complete their programs and are awarded a credential or certificate from HBX and Harvard Business School are invited to the annual on-campus HBX ConneXt event to meet peers from around the world, hear from faculty and business executives, and also experience the HBS campus near Cambridge.

HBXers at ConneXt, with Prof. Bharat Anand
HBXers at ConneXt, with Prof. Bharat Anand

Programs offered today

HBX offers a range of programs that appeal to different audiences.

To help college students and recent graduates prepare for the business world, HBX CORe (Credential of Readiness) integrates business essentials such as analytics, economics, and financial accounting. HBX CORe is also great for those interested in an MBA looking to strengthen their application and brush up their skills to be prepared for day one. For working professionals, HBX CORe and additional courses like Disruptive Strategy, Leading with Finance, and Negotiation Mastery, can help deepen understanding of essential business concepts in order to add value to their organizations and advance their careers.

Course durations range from 6 to 17 weeks depending on the program. All interested candidates must submit a free, 10-15 minute application that is reviewed by the HBX admissions team by the deadlines noted on the HBX website.

For more information, please review the HBX website.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of HBX and not by the Scroll editorial team.