Brijesh Upadhayay and his team in Gurugram have been up since 6 am, frantically messaging their superiors to find out the fate of their salary accounts. Upadhayay's employer, a large consultancy firm, has salary accounts with the ill-fated YES Bank for all employees across the country.
“We have been assured that company will prepare alternative measures soon. For now, my money is stuck. What is more troublesome is that the net banking service is down and several branches might be shut during the long weekend of Holi,” he said.
Some tech employees said their companies told them to give an alternative account where their salary would be transferred. In the meantime, competition banks have already started making hay. “Outreach tents of ICICI Bank, Kotak Bank and many other private lenders were already stationed at large corporate buildings, targeting employees especially of companies with salary accounts in YES Bank,” said a techie based in Noida.
At the Non Resident Indian (NRI) branch in Chanakyapuri, bank executives were seen comforting their ‘high net worth’ customers by promising Rs 50,000 by Monday, without fail. “Kisi ko bhi bhej do sir, main aapka paise aapke ghar bhijwa dunga (Send anyone to the branch and I will send money to your house),” said a customer outreach executive at Diplomatic Enclave branch.
The bank had been a favourite of such individuals — NRIs, corporate executives and Indian nationals earning in foreign currency — pulled in by the low interest rates on offer. “A 6 per cent annual interest rate and Amazon gift card on opening NRE/NRO savings account,” claimed a board hanging outside.
But on Friday, none of that mattered for Smita, whose salary has been stuck. An employee at the embassy of a European nation, Smita and other embassy executives were seen lined up outside the branch during working hours. They were joined by several expats, there to close their account and withdraw all funds.
Across branches, the busiest people were the relationship managers, trying to soothe nerves. Many were seen advising clients the situation was only temporary and that their money was safe. “In the case of ownership changing hands, the new owners will put the customers first,” one employee said.
Several security guards restricted people from talking to the media under order from the branch manager. “I heard rumours that something is wrong. Now my fixed deposit is stuck. How will I take out so many lakhs in tranches of Rs 50,000?” asked a 60-year-old resident of Diplomatic Enclave, one of the poshest localities of Delhi.
Support staff of embassies and households who had accounts with the bank were equally desperate. “Both mine and my wife’s account is here since we both work nearby. When our son joined college, I opened his account here as well. Now, all of us are worried,” said a worker, refusing to share his profession and name.
Across east Delhi, shop and restaurant owners were enquiring if the bank would survive at all. Many complained about not being able to access internet banking. “You are adding to the chaos. Limit the transfer online. Why would you want hundreds of people lining up at the branch,” said a 35-year old at the Mayur Vihar branch.
An executive said: “We are told that by the evening, the finance minister will address the issue. The bank is not going down. We are confident there will be a solution that is being worked out as we talk.”
Across branches, cash disbursement has been controlled. But customers have been more irked by online payments getting stuck and ATMs running dry since Thursday midnight. The bank maintains a significantly large and reliable ATM network and users have remained on the edge trying to get the machines to work. “There is absolutely no official update posted on any ATM machine. Most people don’t even know what exactly happened, and are being told it’s a server crash that has stalled ATM activities,” said Sunaina Sharma, a marketing professional.
Some customers have been hit hard as a result. Ravi Kumar, 38, who has a salary account at the Daryaganj branch, is desperate. With his wife currently admitted to the G B Pant hospital, he hasn’t been keeping up with the latest news. On Friday morning, he rushed to the branch, hoping to secure cash on an urgent basis, but was told no cash could be withdrawn.
“They initially led me to believe that all transactions have been shut down. It’s only after I confronted them about my legal right to withdraw the permissible limit of Rs 50,000, that they backed down,” Kumar said, visibly angry. However, they now want to see the receipt from the hospital before allowing any transaction, he added as he rushed back to the hospital, negotiating Daryaganj’s dangerous traffic.
Asked about the situation, the Branch Service Leader (Manager) said journalists were not allowed on the premises and no comments would be shared by the bank in the immediate future.
However, the stern disposition of upper management has been no match for the anxiety of employees, unsure of their future. Staff at the bank’s Karol Bagh branch said rumours of a disaster had been circulating on office WhatsApp groups for some time now. But “we have no clue what the future holds, since higher-ups have refused to share any details”, said an employee.
At the posh entertainment hub of Connaught Place, the branch shares the building with nightclubs and watering holes. “Our customers are sophisticated. You won’t see any trouble happening here,” Parkash, the sole guard at the branch, said with a touch of pride.
The RBI action may have sharpened the inherent divide between public and private sector banks at a time when the public’s trust in the banking system has taken several hard knocks. The Centre’s hope of prodding more private banks into non-corporate banking may have also suffered.
Some names have been changed on request