When an ATM stands for Any Thing but Money

K. JAVEED NAYEEM writes: These days we have been having a spate of serial government and bank holidays.

Last month it was because of the Dasara coinciding with Bakrid which also happened to be holding hands with Maharshi Valmiki Jayanthi across just one working day in between. This month it was because of Rajyotsava coinciding with Diwali, with the Naraka Chaturdasi and Balipadyami sitting astride on either side of a Sunday.

The net result of such coincidences is that an already non-working government hardly gets to work and banks which have now left most of their work to computers and ATMs, simply leave customers’ needs to fate. And, as we all know, fate is usually very unkind.

It is a very well-known fact that in our country, even on normal working days, most of the ATMs do not work satisfactorily.

But on occasions of serial holidays like what we saw very recently they are completely useless. Except for the very rich, for most ordinary people, a savings bank account is a safe place to keep their hard-earned money and draw it in time of dire need. This is what the ATM service is supposed to ensure.

But I have seen anxious and upset people running from one ATM to another outside banking hours, trying to squeeze some cash out of them in vain.

Just to test how futile this exercise is I decided to draw just Rs 10,000 last month during Dasara time. My quest led me through seven ATMs before the one at the main branch of the State Bank of Mysore yielded fruit.

This month, during the extended Diwali holidays, to test the system once again, I repeated the same exercise in a journey that took me across 14 ATMs from N. R. Mohalla, Bannimantap, Ashoka Road, Medical College, Railway Station, Yadvagiri, Jayalakshmipuram to Gokulam.

After this most interesting odyssey I was able to squeeze cash from four different ATMs only in Rs 100-notes to get my Rs 10,000. For me this marathon was interesting just because I was not really in need of any money but was only on a voyage of discovery.

The messages that greeted me ranged from a blank and unresponsive screen to ‘off line’, ‘out of order’, ‘unable to dispense cash’, ‘this card is not valid’, ‘unable to read card’ and ‘try a lesser amount’.

When I decided to obediently follow the last bit of advice at four ATMs, I had to go on lowering my request like a beggar who solicits money for a meal from a not-so-generous giver, until they agreed to give me a maximum of Rs 500 each. And, it was not anybody else’s but my own hard-earned money that I was asking for and thankfully it was not for a meal.

I have had such exasperating experiences with a non-performing debit card or an empty or non-functioning ATM despite a full bank account, that I now never enter a hotel or buy anything from a shop unless I have sufficient cash in my wallet to pay the bill.

Armed thus, I then pay by card, keeping the cash aside to bail me out of a potentially embarrassing situation. At petrol stations I first swipe the card and then proceed to get my tank filled only after a successful transaction.

Although a letdown at an ATM is a fairly common experience in our country it is almost a rarity abroad. I have not had any problems whatsoever while drawing money from any ATM anywhere outside the country during any of my visits abroad although all my bank accounts were local with international debit card facility.

Even during the more than a month- long Haj pilgrimage, which is an occasion where nearly 40 lakh people congregate at one place, I never ever experienced any problem at any ATM. And, the Haj is without doubt, the largest congregation of people in the world which imposes the heaviest load on banking services, with people thronging ATMs wherever they are.

In many countries customers are compensated if they are put to even the slightest inconvenience due to any malfunctioning of banking services. But here in India the customer who is ironically called ‘king’ till he opens the bank account always comes last in any service providing situation and nobody seems to be bothered to set this shameful position right.

When an ATM fails to work and when you approach the bank located just alongside it for help, you are curtly told that since ATMs are serviced and replenished by an outside agency they can do nothing to help. This is so even if you happen to have an account in the very same branch.

At the most they advise you to call the toll-free number given at the ATM which usually remains unresponsive thus exacting a heavy toll on your nerves.

The result is that in an emergency, one cannot completely depend on an ATM to bail himself or herself out against an urgent need for ready cash.

Despite this sorry state of affairs our banks continue to discourage transactions at their cash counters and encourage people to obtain debit cards and draw cash through ATMs.

Is this not then just a ploy to remain indolent and lazy?

Day by day our banking services are only getting more and more expensive for customers without any visible improvement in the quality of the service that they provide. It is now reliably learnt that from the coming year the rents on safe deposit lockers are likely to be almost doubled with the stipulation that not more than two free operations will be allowed per month. All additional operations are likely to be charged.

When it is the customers’ money on which it thrives, should our banking system not care to ensure some minimum standards for the services it is supposed to provide?

Since ATMs are controlled by a central server, is it not possible to monitor cash withdrawal patterns and ensure adequate and prompt replenishment?

And in the event of a series of holidays coming in a row, why is it not possible to keep this refilling system going even if the banks themselves are closed?

But all this needs a will. A will to give ourselves a better and a more dignified life. Until then our ATMs, will simply remain a modern-day bane and continue to dispense Any Thing but Money.

(K. Javeed Nayeem is a practising physician who writes a weekly column in Star of Mysore, where this piece originally appeared)

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13 Responses to “When an ATM stands for Any Thing but Money”

  1. Kiran Batni (@kiranbatni) Says:

    Some ATMs ask you to give your Aadhaar # to the bank. What nonsense.

  2. Vinay Says:

    I haven’t had such experiences, this article surprises me, to say the least. I use electronic transactions as much as I can, in Bangalore. And month after month, for years, I have been withdrawing money from ATMs without going to the branch. I have encountered such problems only 15-20 times in approximately 500 times I have withdrawn money so far. And even when I’ve encountered a problem, the next ATM always works, or the one after that.

  3. Balasubrahmanyan Krishnaswami Says:

    It is true.Bank of Baroda ATM in Navrangpura branch Ahmadabad is a typical example. It fails always.either satellite hook up is down or there is no money and also asks you to scale down your demand to rs 5000.The people are not bothered except to plead helplessness.
    Axis bank obliges priority customers with cash when youare in trouble.Perhaps other private banks too. Bala

  4. Goldstar Says:

    While I have not had these problems in Bangalore with private bank ATMs (ICICI Bank / HDFC Bank ) I have had my share of problems in smaller towns like Shimoga, Tiruchi, and Mysore also etc during travel.

  5. Edward Says:

    Does one need to withdraw 10,000 rupees to test anATM? Would 1000 Rupees or less not do to make sure that the ATMs have enough Rupee bills stacked inside?

    I do not know about ATMs and banks in India these days., and whether 10,000 Rupees is a common amount one withdraws from an ATM.. It sounds a large sum to me. Apologies for my ignorance.

  6. Doddi Buddi Says:

    While I sympathize with Dr Nayeem about ATMs money supply and service in Mysore & Bangalore, he seems to have enjoyed an exceptional ATM service while on a pilgrimage to Haj. On the contrary, according to this story in Arab News, Saudi Arabian ATMs run out of cash routinely and there are many unhappy customers: http://www.arabnews.com/news/460902

    I request the good doctor to do a similar ATM run in Saudi Arabia so that others can benefit from his novel methods of doing a stress test on ATM services.

  7. Shreekar Says:

    Citibank, where I had been banking for some 14 years, has always managed to anticipate the problems of its customers well in advance and modify its systems for a hassle-free ATM experience.

    In busy areas, their ATM chambers have multiple ATMs side by side so that queues are avoided. Similarly, separate ATMs for 500 rupee and 1000 rupee denominations.

  8. The Three Just Men Says:

    “I request the good doctor to do a similar ATM run in Saudi Arabia so that others can benefit from his novel methods of doing a stress test on ATM services”

    Gosh! It is actually more serious as the Central Server of the bank there is stress-tested! That is serious, asking for trouble and inviting the wrath of the dreaded police there who expect any mere mortal to know their limits! One could be easily branded there as an agent of a “foreign power”-we know what this power they refer to, and given the Saudis’ treatment of Indians recently there, it would be best to forego the cash and fast!

    Are ATMs in India not have a range of suggested sums of cash to withdraw using a debit card? Could any one withdraw any amount?

  9. UMan Says:

    What is the author really trying to say ?
    How many times do we all withdraw money from ATM s?, twice, thrice a month? We are all creatures of habit, we usually stick to one or two ATMs. Probably Dr DoLittle was trying to gather statistics of working ATMs. All of us would probably shrug our shoulders and move on.
    Dear doc Nayeem, be kind, rewind, 15 or 10 years ago you had to stand in queue in all banks to get a token and one more Q to get the money from the teller. Is it not 100 times better today ?

    Churmuri has never spread mis-information, or so they claim.
    Does anyone peer review articles?

  10. Nastika Says:

    @UMan
    Gotto agree with you.

    ~*~

  11. chidu22 Says:

    Doddi Buddi, thanks for your research on ATMs in Saudi. The article smacks of bias and prejudice.

  12. Manava Says:

    Even those token days in banks, I would fret and fume seeing a a few customers-the chosen one, who would present their cheques to the counter clerk and within the next 2 minutes could walk out with the cash without waiting for 30 minutes for the cashier’s to call, unlike us the low life mortals!

    An infidel like me probably should accept the miracle of the mighty and merciful God in Saudi Arabia who kicks the ATMs out of their slumber during those days when his faithful flocks arrive! It could be just our Goddess Chamundeshwari who gave up her mighty power of persuasion during Dasara seeing the obstinacy of those ATMs in Mysore. I wonder whether Gods talk to each other!

  13. V. R. ARADHYE Says:

    This is a common experience in interior Maharashtra also. Here in Mumbai, especially Fort like business areas, this problem rarely observed. But in interior Maharashtra, some times in city like Pune, Solapur, Pandharpur ( where number of ATM’s it self are very less in numbers, even though it is a pilgrim place ) also, we are facing this problem. For this will power to give better services to customers is required. It is not an impossible task.

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