Sheikh Nissar

Banker: An unrecognized frontline warrior

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Suppose you are about to eat food and all of sudden someone tells you the shopkeeper or delivery boy have been tested positive for covid-19. What will you do? Without a second thought you will refrain from eating the food, though your messenger may be in jest or lying. Nowadays, we are cowered at our homes observing people dying due to an invincible enemy. We are living in times when sneezing is scarier than atom bomb and sanitizer has become elixir of life; when negative is better than positive; and when a son jubilantly handovers negative report card to his father and mothers keenly listen to stories of hardships and confinement of their children to achieve negative report card.

Coronavirus is the biggest health crisis any of us has experienced. The pandemic consumed more than half a million lives globally. In this misty situation, the health workers are revered for their contribution to contain infection and we bow deferentially when we talk about these front line warriors. Unlike the doctors and the paramedics and the police, there are other frontline warriors too who serve people without protective gears, wearing a simple mask worth rupees five. Unfortunately, their contribution isn’t revered. Through story tellers’ art they’ll be acknowledged for their contribution and generation to come will extend their respect towards their determination and courage. The untold stories about the courage will be unfolded.

For instance, when a cashier in a bank puts on his gloves and covers his mouth with a mask and starts his daily work and at once a huge rush of people gather close to him. We know that the latent virus would be hovering over objects lying in nearness or would be on the cash. Therefore, fallowing SOPs is obligatory to avoid any possible transmission. In this crowd of people a man reaches the counter with running nose and the cashier asks him, “O dear, I’m wearing a mask and gloves to avoid any possible transmission and you’re neither wearing a mask nor gloves, wouldn’t you put your as well as our lives at risk.” He replies patiently, “the virus is a hoax. It is propaganda.” Then he sneezed briskly, again and again. “If such virus does exist, you cannot escape it. You can avoid your food not air to breathe in,” he adds, leaving the cashier fumbling.

Though it is a fable but bankers are at greater risk. They can minimize this risk if customers will cooperate and employees will tolerate. When the first nationwide lockdown was imposed in the wake of covid-19, nearly everyone was asked to stay home—with the exception of the select few upon whom it fell to ensure the sick are cared for, law and order is maintained and the wheels of the nation’s economy be running to deliver essential goods and services. When the lockdown (lockdown 2.0) was imposed, once again, the banks were put into essential services category as it was in lockdown one.

Bankers have to deliver services. Scores of employees in J&K Bank have been tested positive for Covid-19 and same is with other banks. A bank employee has to face two pronged possible transmission of infection: customer to employee and employee to employee.  Despite handling huge rush, a bank employee can get infection being in close contact with his coworker, sharing common work place and devices and by handling cash or touching papers.

As deposit gatherers, credit guarantors, and payment facilitators, banks are among the financial institutions most personally connected to the public. Although banks have devised strategies to cope up with the situation, yet bank employees are at greater risk. In the technology driven world, customers can use digital method of transactions but we are living in a nation where people stand in queue for hours for rupees five hundred Prime Minister Fund and return empty handed when banks wrap up daily operations. Next day, same person comes and faces same fate.

Larger strata of customers do not have access to smart phones to carry out digital transactions and others couldn’t carry out contactless transactions due to low speed internet services. When banks have found dynamic and flexible operating model around the globe, we are yet living in 2G era that is a big hurdle for business community and they are bound to visit bank branches physically to ensure business continuity.

The bankers are trying to deliver stress free services to its customers and relieve customers from potentially stress inducing visits to branches through modern technology to complete transactions, from opening an account to applying for loans but there is lake of support. Finitech and neo-banking has been very useful during Covid-19 crisis. But it needs high speed internet and a smart phone device to carry out such transactions. Due to low speed internet and larger strata of customers without smart phone, the concept of branchless banking and cashless economy seems far behind. If a customer is willing to avoid physical visit to a branch, he/she involuntarily makes a visits.

– The writer can be reached at [email protected]

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