That is from the diary of a division manager of an Indian bank.
He heads back home by 7 pm, takes a nearby train to work and lives in the Mumbai suburbs.
Around 86% of Rs17.97 trillion worth of currency in circulation was to be replaced in the world’s second-most populated nation in which a bank branch caters to a mean of 10,000 individuals.
For the next 50 days till the exercise finished on 30 December, when he missed the last train home the branch manager had to occasionally sleep at the branch. He had to be sure that each customer was taken care of and that the bank might make use of the ability for generating low-cost current and savings accounts. On top of this, he needed to be on his toes so that none of his coworkers was used for money laundering.
He is one of the 130,000-odd bank branch managers in India— and this is a narrative of every division supervisor in Asia’s third-biggest market.
This 33-year old banker works for a personal bank in Mumbai and heads a relatively new and little branch. For solitude, I will be neither naming the banker, nor his bank. Event and every nature mentioned in this diary hold true.
Back from a four-day vacation in the very first week of January at Matheran, a hill resort in Maharashtra, with his three -year old daughter and wife, this guy looks back at those 50 days as something dreamlike.
Edited extracts from his diary:
The 7.04am Virar local at Nalasopara was late. My heart sank when I heard the delayed coming statement. Would I be able to reach office in time? How long would it take to get a cab from Dadar station? Thank God, the train was late by merely five minutes. From the time I reached the branch, there were about 50 people waiting outside, patiently. That was 10 November, two days following the demonetisation statement. The preceding day, the division was closed.
The first thing that nine of us in the division did was huddle in a corner— the manner a cricket team does before taking the field. I told them that we have to serve the customers to the finest of our ability and we'll never compromise our integrity. This is a life time opportunity to persuade the entire world what we could do. That became a daily ritual till 30 December. We didn't ask for any support of staff from the headquarters.
Many customers were making three transactions— one for withdrawal of cash deposit of money and exchange of old notes. As any shortfall of cash was to be made good by us unless the amount was too huge, reconciling the data was quite critical. In these instances, an internal inquiry might be instituted. One day on the train I heard a gentleman sitting next to me, a branch manager of a sizable public sector bank, telling someone higher up in his bank on the phone about a Rs1.8 crore shortfall in his division and begging for more staff. Happily, in our case one day we needed to make good just Rs300.
Such things can happen even though you’re attentive. One day, to my horror I discovered how inventive people might be! A person was active for depositing money filling but he was carrying no money. He probably presumed that under work pressure my coworker accept it and in the teller would assess the form but wouldn’t ask for the money! Likewise, another person wrote Rs4,500 in the kind but truly offered deposit Rs2,000. He also believed the man at the teller was too busy to trouble concerning this.
We needed to keep a hawk-eye on every trade to get such folks. After each and every hour, we were taking a five-minute rest to tally the transactions. At the very first phase, we were getting every one of the details of the client with regards to Aadhaar card, PAN card, address, the quantity of money to be deposited, etc. and taking notes of all. Only next, a trade could take place. In the five-minute break after each and every one-hour, we were assessing whether the amounted tallied together with the data sheet that individuals were creating and simply how much cash was deposited.
On the pavement one day I saw one gentleman spreading and 000 old Rs1, Rs500 notes to at least a dozen individuals. Those folks were hurrying to join the queue after taking the money from him. I called outside my co-worker Varun and chose to face that man.
He claimed to be a contractor who was giving wages to his workers and promptly left the place. We found that each of them was given to exchange for new notes. To Rs4,500 old notes On that day, the limit for currency exchange was raised Rs4,500 and the limit from Rs4,000 to for from ATM was also lifted, drawing cash from Rs2, 000 . to Rs2,500 Apparently, the man was doing this every day outside distinct bank branches across Mumbai. We told those folks to depart from the area.
We also place in a place a system whereby I really could keep a tab in real time on just how much money has been taken in the ATM at my branch. Before I settled down and had my first glass of water one day, I uncovered some withdrawals in rapid succession, with a gap of fewer than 30 seconds, Rs2,400 each. There must be something wrong! I went into the ATM kiosk and stepped out of my cottage.
There were about 20 people. I discovered a man inside with a sheet of paper along with at least 25 debit cards with passwords of the cards written on it. He asserted all these cards belonged to his co-workers, and he was taking money on their behalf. He could get at least four Rs100 notes that are. The sum for every transaction was Rs2,400 so that I had to throw him from the kiosk.
A car full of cash
A guy walked in with a suitcase carrying Rs85 lakh, another day. He was a customer of our bank but not our division. Where he promised to have his account, I made the decision to join him with the Vadodara, division supervisor. I don’t know the things they discussed within the telephone, but I discovered him leaving his suitcase to my branch after speaking to my counterpart.
Another man one day came in his Toyota Innova, filled with cash. He came to the bank carrying Rs5 crore worth of old notes in a single bag. There were 13 such totes within the car, he told us. His offer was fairly uncomplicated–50% of new notes.
I also recall an occasion when a travel agent dropped in with 80 passports and other documents to complete KYC or know your customer formalities and open new accounts. We said.
Since we don’t have a money chest of our own, our internal guidelines enabled us to keep Rs14 lakh instantly. We needed to transfer the additional cash that had been generated through deposits of old notes to another bank with a money chest every single day. It’s merely 200 meters away. But under our bank’s rule, we couldn't walk up to that particular bank’s branch carrying money. Each day we had to take a taxi as without an armed security guard we are not permitted to carry more than Rs9 lakh in one excursion and make several excursions. Two of my coworkers needed seriously to take the money each time.
On the initial day, 10 November, we closed the division at 11.45pm. I came back to the division, slept for a couple of hours sitting on my chair, and went home the following day catching a 4.36am train. This had not been a one-off. There were many days previously two months when I returned to office at midnight to catch some sleep and missed the final train.
We couldn't afford to get rid of our cool although many a time the customers got agitated. For some reasons they did not have much sympathy for us although demonetisation was supported by the majority of them. They believed the move is great for the nation to flush out black cash and banks had the money but were not giving them. Our job was also complicated by the continuous changes in the regulator’s directives. And after it happened.
The roughest part of the entire exercise was to keep the esprit de corps of my coworkers high. Two of my girl's co-workers used to stay late every day. There were occasions when they could not take it anymore. Among my male colleagues cried; another wanted to leave the job. I told them to look at this as an opportunity to master, to excel at our job. We needed to support the nation in its fight against cash that was black.
There were days when we couldn’t possess a proper meal. I lost 10kg in those two months; got several strands of grey hair. Also, I stop smoking, something I had been attempting to do since my daughter was born. In those 50 days, there was no time to step out of the bank branch to get smoke. My wife is joyful. My daughter did not leave me alone to get an instant.
Consulting editor at Mint, Tamal Bandyopadhyay, is an advisor to Bandhan Bank. He is, also, the composer for the Buck, Sahara: The Untold Story and Bandhan: The Making of a Bank.