Thursday, January 12, 2012

You are LOCKED in!

Locks and keys are a must in today's life.  House keys, Office keys, Car keys or even suitcase keys.  Jammed locks.  Lost keys. Misplaced keys. Wrong keys.  Smart or digital keys.  Someone Else's keys. Or too many keys and keys for which we do not know which is the lock!  We have come a long way from the stories of kingdoms and regimes when there was no need to lock homes.  We not only lock homes and offices now but also double check whether they are locked properly.  We are also on the look out for better and improved version of locks all the time.  Locks themselves may not protect us and our belongings, but the sense of having locked protects our minds.  There are "Burglar Alarms" over and above locking systems.  We were worried about proper locking of homes and offices, in earlier days.   Now we are worried about proper locking as well as proper switching on" or "switching off" of burglar alarms.  Automatic locks create additional problem of being "Locked Out", where the door closes voluntarily or involuntarily locks and shuts us out of our own homes and offices with the keys safely inside the premises!  All of us have such experiences and sometimes they are scary as well.  Like when the gas stove is on or a baby is  inside the house and we are locked out.  Sometimes we are locked in and this may also present its own problems!

Everybody wants "Profits".  No Organization wants to be a loss-making entity.  Loss is a dirty word and nobody wants it.  Yet, loss is a real word that exists in a practical world.  This is true especially of Banking.  Nobody wants a "Black" day but everybody wants Balance sheet that is in black.  More specifically, a Profit and Loss account that is in Black.  Organizations declare proudly that they are back in black, when they earn profits for a period, may be even as short a period as a quarter, after making losses for some time spans.  Even though Profit is the watchword in commercial banking, Profit making was put behind resource (read deposits) mobilization and Priority Sector lending for sometime, in the later years of the last century.  There was a remarkable change in the scenario once the concept of "Non Performing Assets" was introduced and emphasis was laid on "Capital Adequacy Norms" as a result of 1988 Basel Accord.  Profitability became the watchword and everything else moved around it.  Even resource mobilization depended on the capacity and scope for profitable lending.  There was lot of emphasis on turnaround strategies for loss making bank branches.  There were many successful  turnaround stories that were shared among the fellow bankers in meetings and seminars.

One such remarkable story was from a bank branch in Delhi.  Many bank branches concentrated on recovery of bad loans for higher profitability.  But this one branch was turned around on a very different parameter:  Recovery of arrears in locker rent!  A bank branch allows the facility of "Safe Deposit Lockers" to its clients as an allied service.  This is not a core banking service, but a general need of the customers and meeting this requirement also provides some revenues to the bank.  This bank branch in Delhi had a rental arrears of nearly 40 lac rupees, to be recovered from its locker holders.  The branch formed a team of employees to visit the customers door to door, for recovery of such rent in arrears.  When most of the rent in arrears was recovered, the branch automatically came to profit!  It was an excellent case study and recovery of locker rents and renting out all lockers for earning maximum rents is a key agenda for any Branch Manager now.

Bank branches have usually a few hundred lockers.  But big branches often have lockers in thousands and have two or three Managers sitting in the basement locker room to attend exclusively to streams of customers coming in to operate their lockers.  Rows and rows of lockers and checking all nooks and corners before locking the vault for the day is a big exercise.  There was an instance in one Delhi Bank where a mother and a child were locked in a strong room overnight.  On the next morning when the vault was opened they were found unconscious, but luckily responded to treatment and survived the ordeal.  Think of being locked in a dark room for over 16 hours with  no fresh air and no water and toilet facilities.  A 14-month old toddler wandered away from her mother and grandmother last February in Wells Fargo Bank branch in an Atlanta suburb and was trapped for over four hours in a time-locked vault.  When the mother and grandmother were searching for the child, Bank authorities found the child through security cameras and a locksmith was summoned to break open the vault.  Fresh air was pumped in when the breaking process was on and the child was successfully rescued.  The locksmith received a note of thanks from the baby girl, written by the grateful mother.  There are many similar instances of people being locked in due to various reasons.

I was once a victim of being locked-in in the bank.  Fortunately not in the vault, but in the banking hall.  And not due to negligence of someone else and due to my own over zealousness.  This was some thirty years ago and I was naturally more adventurous.  I was working in a very active branch and the branch was developing fast due to the hard work of a dynamic  Branch Manager and a team willing to participate in his efforts.  Being the second in command, I had the responsibilities for internal administration of the branch and follow-up of issues.  When I went to the branch on transfer, some old issues were in cold storage and needed urgent attention.  The branch was on a busy road and had a strong steel sideways shutter which could be locked from inside as well as outside.  I had one set of keys and the Branch manager had the other set.  I was living alone in that place and my quarters was on the lane just behind the branch.  After all the staff members left the branch in the evening, I used to lock the door from inside and work without interruption, usually till 9 PM, and go to my quarters after having dinner in a nearby hotel.  The late working was exclusively devoted to addressing old issues.  One evening I locked myself in and went on working till 9 PM.  When I decided to leave and tried to open the lock from inside, it was jammed and did not open despite repeated efforts.  Telephones at home were rare in those days and more so in such places.  Branch Manager fortunately had a telephone at his residence. I telephoned his house to request him to come and open the lock from outside.  A member of his family answered and informed that he had gone out with his wife.  He was married a few days ago and the newly wed couple were invited  by a friend for a dinner.  I left word for him to call back on his return and continued with my work.  I called again an hour later but he had not yet returned.  Around 11 PM he called me and asked me in a worried tone why I was in the bank that late in the night. I told him the problem and he said he would come immediately.  He came and opened the door from outside in a few minutes.  When I came out of the premises and we locked the branch from outside, I found that his wife also had come with him and waiting anxiously to know what had happened.  Branch Manager introduced me to his wife and  told her that we are often required to work late.  He added that she should not be surprised when he comes home late and he is not the only man working late for the bank!  After this episode, I made a unwritten rule wherever I worked that at least two persons should be there while working late and the office should be closed when the penultimate man leaves.

Another instance that I came across in one of the branches, but not personally involved, takes the cake.  A branch was closed and locked on a Saturday, as six-day banking a week was the norm.  Monday morning the branch was opened and the Manager found that someone, covered with dust all over his body, was coming down the stairs.  Manager thought he was a burglar and took a stick to attack him.  The other person shouted his name and he was found to be a regular staff member.  He was a record-keeper and was working in the second floor records room when the branch was closed.  He realized this late and spent the next forty hours in cleaning the records room and rearranging the stationery!  He was very devoted to his work and some of his actions baffled others, but this was something unbelievable.  When asked why he did not telephone the Manager's residence or some other staff member, he shrugged and said he did not want to waste bank's money on a phone call!  He also said he had sufficient work to do and did not worry about other things!  The branch had a full fledged bathroom, drinking water was available and sofa to sleep and he found his being locked in as an opportunity to rearrange the records.  When asked about food, he said that a for a man who is used for fasting full day on Ekadasi or Shivaratri, a night without food was no issue at all.  Some devotion to duty, this truly was!


  1. Interesting episodes to read. I also had
    an experience in our apartment due to the
    door latch got stuck and could not move the
    door knob to open the door. We really had fun
    and anxiety figuring out how to get out.

  2. In Nigeria this is common feature as we used many steel door for security of admin office and telephone not working. People have habit of sleeping in toilet and if toilet is latched from outside while closing factory on Friday evening, you can imagine the condition of person locked in till Monday which is 58 hours.....C S Dinesh

  3. The last story is funnier when you narrate it in person! Haha!

  4. Rare incidents. Well narrated. An example of converting adverse situations to opportunities.

  5. This would have made an excellent 'middle' in DH, Sir!
    As to the last para about the devoted employee, we (SBI) also had several if not one such in those good old days in the 70s. We still recall one such person by name Kareem khan, who during 37 years of his service in the bank as a sub-staff in Cash Department, HAD NOT AVAILED A SINGLE DAY LEAVE EVEN FOR HIS MARRIAGE AS HIS 'NIKAH' HAD BEEN CONSUMMATED DURING AN EVENING, AS IS THEIR CUSTOM ! The bank specially honored him for this unique record on his retirement with a congratulatory letter from the Chairman of the bank!

  6. Very well narrated sir!!!!

  7. We did this locker exercise in our Jubilee Hills branch to increase its revenue. However, I am not there to see how it turned to after the final shape and running. I was part of planning and framing it and get it in shape.

  8. Incrediblke points. Outstanding arguments. Keep up the amazing work.