The other day I visited an ATM of a big Public Sector Bank in our colony. I was urgently in need of cash to purchase a draft from another bank. I found the ATM door locked. I found no notice displayed outside that the ATM is not in a working condition. But I was not surprised. I had faced a similar situation with the same ATM on an earlier occasion. The difference was the door was kept open at that time. But the power had been simply switched off. Since I was staying in the same colony I was aware there was no power failure. The bank had not bothered to display the non-working condition of the ATM. The customers were simply left in the lurch. I watched outside for some time. I could observe several customers trying to open the door and leaving after some time cursing the bank. It appeared to me that they were well accustomed to such failures of ATM and the negligence of the bank management!
My mind went back by twelve years to the time when I was a Senior Manager of the same bank. This bank had a tradition of introducing new products without properly testing their customer-friendliness and adequacy of technical support. It was left to the branch-in-charge to face the brunt of the customers’ unhappiness. My branch at the prestigious M G Road location was in fact the first branch of our bank to offer ATM facility. Our Chairman Mr. Shetty himself was present during the inauguration of the ATM. As per him we were privileged to have this first ATM of our bank. I could soon find out what kind of privilege it was!
Our branch was also privileged to be the second branch of our bank to take up total computerization. Right at that time the computerization was in progress. We were facing all sorts of teething problems. The customers were getting frustrated by the daily breakdowns of the system. We used to face problems in the opening of the system in the morning hours (BOD) and also in the closing of the system at the end of the day (EOD). The opening of the ATM only added to our misery.
Coming back to the ATM, the same had been provided by the Diebold Company and started giving all sorts of initial hiccups. Whenever there was a problem with our branch computerization we had to close the ATM as it could not be allowed to work off-line. On one particular occasion the ATM was working off-line. One of the customers could draw huge amount from his account in spite of him having no balance in his account. It was a big problem for us to recover the amount from him.
On the occasions when we had closed down the ATM, the customers would simply walk in to my chambers and demand payment immediately. So long as the cash counters were open I could oblige them by asking them to sign a loose cheque. One particular Saturday we had to sit till late in the night, as the system could not be closed on account of technical problems. All the staff had left. Only the Officer in charge of closing and the technical officer were struggling to close down the system. I was sitting alone in the cabin waiting for the system to close down.
We had the account of a big public sector company, an office of which was located in our building itself. One of the employees of this company walked in to my cabin. He told me that the ATM was not working. I immediately asked the technical officer to check the same. He confirmed its non-working and tried to contact the Diebold Company person. But unfortunately he was not available at that late hour. I conveyed my sincere apologies to the customer and asked him to bear with us till next morning. But he told me that he was to leave for Tirupati in the night and was in need of cash at any cost. As both the key holders had left at that time I could not help him in any way.
The customer simply told me that it was my problem! As we had displayed a slogan anytime money we were obliged to give him cash at that time come what may! He made it clear to me that he would not leave my cabin unless he was given a cash of rupees six thousand! I really had a problem on hand. By that time the two officers had successfully closed the system after putting through the end of the day transactions. They wanted to leave as it was already 10 PM in the night.
I requested the technical officer to try for setting right the ATM somehow. He went back and tried his best. But he was not successful. But the customer was not prepared to hear our story. He was simply asking me what exactly our bank meant by anytime money! I simply had no reply. He simply refused to budge! I was at my wit’s end.
Seeing my plight, both the officers went back to the ATM room and struggled with the machine desperately. And lo! They came back to me telling that the ATM was on! I asked the customer to immediately use his card to draw cash. He could do it to my great delight! I was expecting the customer to come back to my cabin to thank me. He did come back; but instead of thanking me he gave me a sound advice! He suggested that in future I can ask one cashier to sit in the ATM room with a cash box. His suggestion was that the moment the ATM failed, the cashier can start paying as a back up system!
One day I received a call from CMD’s Secretariat. I was told that one particular lady would be calling on me. Her family was well known to the Chairman. The lady was in need of an ATM card for her daughter. As she was a sensitive customer I was advised to handle her carefully.
The lady called on me within a short time. She hailed from a place near
. Her daughter had been admitted in a Cochin college. She wanted an ATM card for the daughter. I completed all the formalities of opening the account and also obtained her application for the ATM facility. She left happily. Bangalore
The cards were being issued from another office in M G Road. At my request they sent me the card within two days. But there was another problem. Unlike the present day cards which come with a password, the Diebold machine required another encoding machine to be used. This encoding machine was available at our branch initially for our exclusive use. But subsequently our Seshadripuram branch was also provided an ATM machine. We were asked to share the coding machine with them on fortnightly basis by rotation.
At the time when I received the new card for this lady customer, the machine was with the said branch. When the daughter of the lady called on me I told her that I had the card with me. I also told her that she had to wait to get the same encoded till the machine came back. It required another ten days. I allowed her to draw cash from the account by getting a cheque signed by her.
The girl came back again one day prior to the date of arrival of the machine. Again I had to allow her payment against cheque only. The next day the machine arrived. I telephonically advised her to call on me. She arrived on the next day. Now there was another hitch. The encoding was to be done jointly by a divisional manager from head office and an officer from our branch. Unfortunately the Divisional Manager (DM) was on leave on that day. Hence she had to go back. Next day the DM came back but there was some trouble with the machine and it failed to generate the code!
Next morning I got a call from that lady (mother of the girl). She was simply furious! She told me that she was reaching my branch within an hour. She simply told me that she wanted her daughter to draw cash from the ATM under any circumstances. She also warned me that the things could be very bad for me if the machine failed!
The representative of Diebold Company was already on job. But there was no progress. I thought I really had it coming! The lady was in my chambers within one hour as warned by her. Her daughter was with her. They just wanted to collect the card and walk in to the ATM room. I tried to convince her that the people were on job and she has to just wait. I also told her that the daughter could draw cash by cheque for her immediate needs. She simply told me that her daughter would draw cash only through ATM. She also asked me to get the Chairman on line so that she could speak to him! I was at my wit’s end. I had already been briefed by the Secretariat that the Chairman was their family friend and visited their house on occasions.
I literally begged her to have some patience and wait for some time. Ultimately she cooled down and left my cabin with the condition that her daughter should draw cash from ATM by that evening! I immediately called our DM to come to our office so that the encoding could be done the moment the machine was set right.
Fortunately for me the machine was set right by the time the DM visited. We could call the daughter of the lady and successfully allow her to draw cash from ATM as per the deadline fixed by her beloved mother!
Three years later I landed in our Seshadripuram branch. The things had improved a lot as far as technology was concerned. I thought I may not face any ATM problems as in my earlier branch. But I was wrong.
One Saturday afternoon we had closed all the systems after office hours and were about to leave. Just then one customer came out of the ATM room and met one of our officers. He handed over one hundred rupee note to him telling that the machine had dispensed one extra currency note to him! He showed him that he had drawn one thousand rupees as per the voucher; but had received one piece of hundred rupee note excess.
The officer immediately reported the matter to me. We were in a fix. Unfortunately none of us had any cards with us on hand to verify ourselves. Most of the staff had already left. More importantly the joint key holders had also left. We immediately reported the matter to the ATM switch room. The person in charge could not confirm that such extra dispensation of money could not happen. On the other hand he told us that if we allowed the machine to be used there was every possibility that the machine could go on dispensing the extra money. He warned us that we could be held responsible as we were already aware of the extra money being dispensed!
Our efforts to contact people at the head office failed. The person at the ATM switch room refused to help us as he was also alone at that time. His manager had already left. We thought that if the ATM continued to dispense excess cash, the bank could lose heavily for which we would be held responsible. We took a decision to lock the ATM room duly displaying a notice that the machine was not working.
At about 9 PM on that day I got a call from my divisional manager. I was asked for the reasons for keeping the ATM room locked. I explained to him the events that led to the closure. He told me that some customer had directly complained to the Chairman. I was expected to organize the things for the immediate opening of ATM even at that late night at any cost. I was also told that the ATM switch room manager was already at the branch. He had been asked to set right technical defects if any.
It was with great difficulty that I could contact the key holders. I somehow managed to mobilize them and ultimately the ATM was made live late at night. It was found that the cash was being dispensed correctly. The mystery of that one extra piece of hundred rupee note was never solved!
It was in the month of April. I was held up in the office and was sitting late hours. I got a telephone call from my brother that my mother had breathed her last. He was speaking from a place near
called Pandavapura. I left the office immediately. I drove my car fast to reach my residence early. I was in an emotional frame of mind having lost my beloved mother. Mysore
My wife was anxiously waiting for me with the baggage ready so that I could start immediately for Pandavapura. Before I could remove my shoes my son told me that somebody had telephoned me twice. I was asking him the details when the phone rang again. I took the phone. Somebody on the line started firing me immediately. I could make out that he was an ATM customer. The following was the conversation:
Me: Please have patience and tell me your grievance.
Customer: Are you the senior manager of Seshadripuram branch?
Me: Yes sir. What can I do for you?
Cus: I am in urgent need of cash from your ATM.
Me: Okay. Is there a problem?
Cus: Your machine has not only failed to dispense cash, it has swallowed my card!
Me: Sir, You must have put wrong password. You can call on the branch tomorrow and collect the card.
Cus: What the hell! You come over here right away!
Me: I am sorry. My mother has expired and I have to leave the place.
Cus: It is your funeral! I want my card and cash right now.
Me: Sir, you stand corrected. It is my mother’s funeral! I am helpless.
Cus: Let her go to hell!
At this stage I had to disconnect the line as I had no other alternative. I was in a hurry to leave. But this incident left such a bad taste in my mouth that I am unable to forget it even to this day.
A V Krishnamurthy
9th June 2008