Calcutta, April 26: The next time you wrestle with a stubborn bundle of stapled notes at the bank counter, blame it on the teller’s stiff fingers and allergy to queues.
Four months after the Reserve Bank of India banned stapling of cash bundles, customers are still being pinned into a tight corner from which they emerge with pricked fingers and ripped notes.
But bankers won’t be dissuaded. They point out that stapled notes need not be counted, which makes life easier for them and the customer.
They reason that with staples on, customers are guaranteed a bank assurance to meet any inadvertent shortfall in the bundle.
“There would be long queues if we stopped stapling,” they argue, evoking the picture of a line of customers endlessly thumbing notes at the cash counter.
The RBI’s carrots and sticks — under Section 35A of the Banking Regulation Act — don’t appear to be working. It threatened to fine banks and withdraw their “currency chest licence”, which allows a bank to hold cash for other branches.
The Central bank even made a few examples out of the State Bank of India’s Chandni Chowk, Delhi, branch and its Calcutta Main unit.
The Chandni Chowk branch was fined for stapling and passing on to the RBI soiled notes without separating them from the fresh ones. Calcutta Main was warned that it would lose its currency chest licence.
The RBI has also advised banks to instal counting machines at teller counters to stop thumbing of cash. It set an example by mechanising separation of good notes from the bad.
But most nationalised banks, with only one counting machine in each branch, appear to be in no hurry to take note.
ICICI Bank, the country’s largest private sector bank, looks like the only one willing to help its customers.
It says cash dispensing machines will be installed at all its teller counters. “All that the cashier has to do is verify the customer’s signature and enter the amount he wishes to withdraw,” O.P. Srivastava, head, retail operations, said.
“It (the machine) delivers the exact amount, which neither the cashier nor the customer has to count.”
Most nationalised banks cannot afford such expensive gadgets. At best, they have to make do with note-counting machines.
But while RBI says banks much have a note-counting device at each teller counter, most have only one in each branch.
Srivastava has a suggestion for banks which cannot afford dispensing machines: deliver notes in sealed packets –- a practice common in some developed countries.
The cashier takes the notes out and recounts them in front of the customer before handing them over.
Another alternative is to “band the bundles”, in which currency is held together by a plastic band. Most nationalised banks don’t have the machines to do this.
According to Srivastava, banding machines are in short supply. “But some Korean companies have started selling banding machines in India. And I am sure, before long, they would be available widely.”
Bankers, however, are not convinced of the efficacy of banding. “What if a colleague of ours pulls out a couple of notes from a loosely bound bundle' (But) It is difficult, or virtually impossible, to remove a couple of notes from a stapled bundle,” they say.
Pat comes a suggestion from an RBI spokesperson: “Hawk-eyed surveillance of the strong room” is the best preventive measure.
Veterans in the profession are banking on time for bankers to see sense and, consequently, to heal customer’s wounds from staple wrestling.
The RBI, the veterans say, will eventually prevail over stubborn employees. “Like every new initiative, there’s a lot of resistance to this as well. But as the banks start providing the necessary gadgets, employees will budge.”
If they don’t, the RBI can take a tip from its Pakistan counterpart, State Bank of Pakistan, which has ordered its banks not to staple a bundle more than once.