Saturday, January 18, 2014

My Days South - Episode No.2

The Cantonment branch of our bank in the prestigious M G Road had a great legacy. M G Road was known as South Parade in the pre-independence era and had been renamed as Mahatma Gandhi Road on 26th February 1948. Ours was one of the oldest branches of our bank and had been headed by some of the stalwart Managers in the past. At the time of my reporting, the branch was headed by a Divisional Manger (DM) assisted by a Senior Manager (SM) to look after the day-to-day operations. There were four second line Managers – Manager (Deposits), Manager (Establishment), Manager (Non-Corporate Credit) and Manager (Corporate Credit). The last post was vacant for over six months till I took charge.
Our bank had taken a decision to have an exclusive corporate cell at our branch and at our Town Hall (J C Road) branch to handle the credit portfolio of corporate accounts. The idea was to give special attention and service to the corporate accounts, which required close monitoring and fetched maximum revenues to the bank. It may be mentioned here that the two branches together handled the major chunk of corporate accounts of our bank in Bangalore at that time.
The Corporate Cell of our branch was located in Church Street - almost exactly behind our main branch. (Church Street is a short-distance road that runs parallel to M G Road and connects Brigade Road to St. Marks Road) It was an air-conditioned office unlike the main branch – a luxury and privilege in those days. While the routine banking business was carried out in the main branch, the Corporate Cell handled all the pre-sanction and post-sanction aspects of all company accounts including documentation. The Cell had been provided with two officers (Accountants), four clerks and a steno-cum-typist. The cabin of the Divisional Manager of the branch was also located in the Cell and in the process he was sealed from the day-to-day affairs of the branch even though he was supposed to be in charge of the entire branch.
Mr. Kulkarni was the DM and Mr. Kudva was the SM of the branch at the time of my reporting. Kulkarni was a very senior DM and was due for promotion as AGM. Kudva was also a senior SM and had taken charge a few months before my joining. He had earlier headed an advance section at our Circle Office and had developed mastery over credit-handling - especially in working capital assessment. Incidentally, our Bangalore Circle Office was also located adjacent to our main branch in M G Road at Spencer’s Towers.
The clerical team at the Corporate Cell was quite ‘secular’. Madhusudan, Shivashankar, Basil Lobo and Javed Ahmed were the four clerks. All of them were excellent in their areas of functioning. Unlike in Kolkata, where the clerks did not evince any interest in handling documentation and correspondence, here in Bangalore I found them handling everything. This made a huge difference to the officers as they could concentrate on other aspects of credit sanctioning and monitoring. Actually this kind of exposure helped the clerks prepare well for their future promotion as Accountants/Officers. Among the clerks, Basil Lobo was in exclusive charge of handling accounts marked for recovery including suit-filed accounts.  Lobo hailed from a place called Basrikatte near Horanadu (the famous pilgrim centre) in Chickmagalur district. He had developed a kind of mastery in handling difficult recovery accounts and I had never seen such a personality in my entire career. He became a right-hand man to me in due course. Let me come to it later.
The Corporate Cell had two senior officers well-versed in handling credit matters – Mr. Guptha and Mr. Murali. The credit files at the cell had been distributed equally between the two officers. The cell had an exclusive steno-cum-typist called Saraswathi. She was an excellent worker and kept the correspondence and filing meticulously up-to-date. However, her utility as a steno was sparingly utilized as the officers and clerks used to draft their correspondence in writing only. Only the DM used to dictate letters to her occasionally. Her availability as a steno made a major difference to my performance eventually.
Mr. Kulkarni, the DM, told me that he wanted to make some changes in the distribution of files between the two officers. He told me in confidence that the absence of a Manager for pretty long time at the Cell had made the two officers assume certain roles, which were not to his liking. He frankly told me that he was not well-versed in the nuances of credit matters and the two officers were taking advantage of the same. He expected me to take them under my control and brief him in all matters in simple terms. He did not want me to impress him with words like Tandon Committee/Chore Committee/ working capital margin/net working capital/debt service ratio, etc!
The DM also asked me to go through certain credit files, which needed handling on day-to-day basis. He also mentioned that the bank CMD himself was interested in those files as the promoters were close to him. I was cautioned that any mishandling of such files may land me and him in a serious situation.
I started going through the files and was amazed at the type of sanctions given to certain parties. Such sanctions were unheard of in the Mumbai and Kolkata Circles where I had been working earlier. I discussed the matter with the SM, who had all along worked in the Bangalore branches and Circle Office. He agreed with me that the things were quite different here. He also told me that even though the DGM had high opinion about me, the things were not so rosy here unlike Kolkata. Here the DGM himself was under pressure from the Head Office including the CMD’s office. It was for me to prove my abilities under such trying situations.
I could understand that the working atmosphere in the Bangalore set up was quite a different cup of tea as compared with the other Circles. Indeed the advantage of working in your home state and the capital city came as a mixed bag! The coming days only could prove whether the advantages overtook the disadvantages. In any case I thought I should be prepared for the worst.
I could settle down comfortably in the city with good quarters and admission of sons to a good school within a fortnight of arrival from Kolkata. One day the SM told me that my “honeymoon” period was over and I should now enter the real battleground! He was right indeed! The real-life action started from the very next day!
------- (To be continued)
A V Krishnamurthy

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