Somewhere along the way everyone fell in love with the prefix e — as in e-banking and e-commerce and e-jiggerypokery
Dear Mr. Banker,
Hello. This is one of your clients. I am appalled at what you have decided to do to banks. Oh, I’m not talking about your non-performing assets and your crony capitalism. If I had had a problem with that, I would have put my money in a sock and tucked it under my mattress. I get it. You probably thought the diamond merchant was a good idea. (Did a solitaire for wifey clinch the deal?) You probably thought the world needs one more mismanaged airline. (Were there some free tickets thrown in?) You probably had political pressure put on you to advance loans to the friends of those in power. (Things do not change because people do not change.)
What I am talking about is how you deal with those who are my age. I am in my fifties and I rather like to think that my money is my own and that you are only the custodian of it. I know also that we are living in the last golden age of interest; that some banks in developed nations charge their customers to keep their money. I know all this but I think it is rather much when you don’t deliver a cheque book after 10 days.
Gone are the days
Now in the old days, I would pop across the street with a piece of paper and sign on the dotted line and the bank clerk would nod and tell me to come back in two days. I would duly go back in two days and be told that he was on leave, could I come back in two days. When I went back in two days, he would be there and my cheque book would be handed over to me and all would be well again. He would ask after my health and I would ask whether his son had done well in the examinations. We had a relationship, he and I. It wasn’t the world’s best relationship but you’re trying to replace it with something poisonous and vile and inhuman because somewhere along the way everyone fell in love with the prefix e- as in e-banking and e-commerce and e-jiggerypokery.
So with your bank, I have to register a request. Some system records my request and then I get an sms saying that the cheque book is ready and it is to be delivered and then another sms saying that the cheque book is on its way — what is this dance of the seven veils? — and then… nothing.
So I call up the service centre where Aziz replies. Aziz is courteous and he informs me that this call will be recorded for the purpose of maintaining quality. That doesn’t fool me, you know. It is to stop me from abusing. Anyway, I don’t believe there is much point abusing Aziz who is a working stiff, trying to make a living. He is not in charge of your policies. He has no idea how much you don’t want to see me at the bank, how much you despise my warm body at the bank because it takes up real estate and costs the bank some more wages for tellers and the line. He has no idea that you want me to do my banking in a disembodied fashion so that all the big shots can earn some more free tickets. He only knows that I do not have a phone banking pin.
I say that I do not have a phone banking pin because I do not use phone banking.
He is slightly perturbed but he asks me to call back from my registered mobile number and answer some questions so he can give me back the phone banking pin that I do not use and will not use.
I do so.
Madhuri is on the line this time and she has several questions for me, all of which I answer correctly. She asks me what my problem is. I say that my cheque book has not turned up. She says she will check the system. This may take time, will I hold? I have long since understood that all service sector encounters in this nation are about waiting so I will wait while she plays me a series of advertisements for banking products in which lively people suggest I should entrust my money and my lifetime security to a bunch of people who cannot send me a cheque book in 10 days. I breathe deeply.
She is back on the phone and says that the cheque book has been returned to head office because my address is incomplete.
I point out that the address has worked for several spam letters delivered by the same bank, for two older cheque books and for several other pieces of paper that look portentous but are actually meaningless.
She says that this may be true but what to do.
I say that the delivery company is lying to them. They need to sort this out with the delivery company.
Madhuri says this may be true but what to do.
I say that I am being penalised for the failure of the delivery company.
Madhuri says this may be true but what to do.
I ask her what I should do. She perks up at this remarkably because it is now my turn to do.
Perhaps I could log on to the website and…
I do not use net banking, I tell her.
Why not? She seems perplexed as if I had said that I do not believe in human rights.
I take a page out of her book and go back to what to do.
She asks me why I don’t talk to my relationship manager.
I say that my relationship manager is but a wandering voice who is only interested in talking to me when my account crosses a certain mark and she thinks she can get me to plough some of it into her bonus.
She says I should take address proof and go to my nearest branch.
I begin to get angry. I say that I have nothing against her because she is doing a fine job but I do want to know why I should be penalised for the failure of their system.
She says that she has another solution. She will have my cheque book delivered to the nearest bank branch and I can pick it up from there.
I do not see that this is a solution since it means I must do the work but I am beaten. I agree.
Madhuri is relieved. She says I will get my cheque book in four working days.
I say that it is Friday, that means I will get it in six human days.
She says that this is true but what to do.
I put down the phone. I get an email saying that I will receive my cheque book in eight working days.
I look at it and I think: this may even be true but what to do.
You see, Mr. Banker, there used to be a phrase: safe as banks. No one believes that any more. No one thinks that you’re trustworthy. No one thinks your institutions are trustworthy even if you have cleverly started putting ordinary people into your ads. Most people who have had anything to do with a bank know that it is run for the comfort and the convenience of the bank staff and for the wealth management of the big bosses.
Nothing we can do about that right now. But think about this for a moment. For decades, government-run telephony ruled our lives because we had no option. One day, the mobile phones came along and their monopoly ended. Think about the postal systems, they too had a monopoly and they’re dying now. Somewhere you’re going to tick off some young person; she will go home and create an institutional option, a system which puts the customer up, front and centre — it might be an app but I wouldn’t bet on it — and you’re all going to end up on the rubbish heap of economic history.
Or you could wake up and start thinking about the customer. What a revolutionary idea that would be.
The writer tries to think and write and translate in the cacophony of Mumbai.