A flaming, burning hot, typical May afternoon , 15 years ago, in Pune. An 82 year old grandma, mobilizing to travel to the US to attend her first grandson's graduation from college, and , with her son who has come to escort her to the US, she visits a branch of one of the nationalized banks (with headquarters in Pune), for her foreign exchange requirements.
After standing around unattended for sometime, she is given a form, and told to submit xeroxes of stuff she has already presented to them , like the ticket, visa etc. They enquire about a copying machine on the premises, are rudely told it is for official work, and asked to go out and get the copies done.
Up and down stairs, no lifts , no ramps, crossing the unruly-traffic-infested Pune roads, and a search for a xerox place in the burning blazing afternoon.
Eventually the work is done, the travellers cheques are given as if it is a great favor although the lady has paid for them. But not before her son, has met someone senior in the bank , and suggested that they needed to be more user friendly, consider the needs of senior citizens , and offer simple things like xerox facilities on payment; after all, writing out vouchers for payments needed for giving bank statements etc is a routine task, and no one is asked to go to different windows and make cash payments then.
In the meanwhile , at the turn of the century or a bit later, computers have taken over, something called core-banking is now on, and in the process, the leaps in technology, hardware and software, have also caused a few hurried bypasses in understanding of systems , sometimes at management levels. Humanware, lagging behind software and hardware.
What has remained unchanged is the fact, that banks come into being because ordinary people deposit their savings there, and banks pay them interest for "using" that money. That's what she has learnt as a child.
That the banks later on treat the money as their own, and disrespect the small depositors, is an attitude that has permeated everywhere in society, including the top echelons of the powers-that-be.
Today the old lady is no more.
Her daughter now tangles periodically with the same bank. Has ended up visiting head offices and their computer rooms to solve her problems, when the management has been clueless. And nothing much has changed.
Why does all this come to mind ?
Because , the same daughter recently had occasion to deal with another nationalized bank branch, in a bigger city, while requesting a bank statement , for an account that was just closed.
A manager of the bank hesitantly approached. Thanks to earlier experiences. She waits to see a if a head will nod in the negative.
The statement required is for a longer period in a year by year format.
There are no frowns, no expressions of "how can you ask for a statement like that " , just a request for a letter outlining the requirements, the reason, and the details of the account where charges may be debited. A sense of pride at being able to satisfy a request from a customer.
An earlier experience at this bank, related to xeroxing as well. A copy of a bank voucher was to be enclosed . She said she would drive over to a xerox place and return in minutes. The manager looked a bit surprised, and said it was not necessary to go to all this trouble for for a single copy of a single piece of paper. He faxes something to himself, and a copy appears.
She is impressed. Not by the technology. But the thought behind its usage.
She is asked to come the next day, a Saturday. Turns out that there is some urgent meeting happening, and the manager, expresses his regrets and promises to have it ready on Monday, even taking down her contact number in case there is a change.
She visits the bank on Monday after calling them, and is asked to wait as the statement is generated, by the manager himself.
She sees the printer jamming. The manager gets up, opens up the printer sections, like he knows what he is doing, and frees the paper, and reinserts the cartridge. The printing resumes. He staples the year by year stuff himself. Collates it. Checks it. Regenerates what he thinks is missing information. Then proceeds to put his official stamp and signature on each page. So many ink stamps to be put and she offers to do it, so he needs to simply sign. To save him the repetitive effort. He thanks her, but says it is no big deal.
In her earlier avatar as her mother's daughter at the earlier bank, she has heard reproachful comments and seen disapproving stares, treating her like a time waster.
She leaves the place, totally impressed by the hands-on manager, her requirements satisfied, with the statement copy in hand. She profusely thanks the manager, apologizing for troubling him with her last minute request. He brushes it all aside, saying there are rules and requirements everywhere, one needs to understand and respect them, and he is happy he was able to help.
It occurs to her, that an organization learns from its people at the top. Hopefully.
She has, till date, been a great one for writing complaint letters, particularly to banks, like the earlier one. Head offices and all.
She will now write another one. This time, of appreciation and thanks. Mentioning the people involved. To Head Offices and all.
Have times changed ? She doesn't know, but hopes so.
She thinks the old lady would have greatly approved .......