My personal experiences with the currency ban saga

So we are nearly one week into the most controversial decision taken by any government post Emergency and Mandal and maybe, in terms of the sheer coverage of the impact, it has eclipsed both of these too. After my last two posts it will be clear that I am a supporter of this move, as indeed I am with anything that has a negative impact on black money and the people who hoard such ill gotten wealth.

How has it impacted me and our family? To begin with I was not at all worried about it from a personal standpoint as our usage of cash has really been minimised in the past few years. I was probably one of the earlier users of credit cards in India, having got my first one in the year 1990, just 2 years after I started working. When HDFC introduced Netbanking in India, I was again one of the early adaptors and was one of the users actively giving feedback to them as also ICICI from a customer viewpoint. My wife Lipi, was a little slow to start off but she caught up with a vengeance and all our stock investments as well as most payments have always been online. As far as my children go, they are part of the online generation and find it tough to imagine that something can even be done offline !!

But I digress – the point is that we make any payment online if it can be done. This includes Educational fees for children, investments, property and other taxes, Electricity bill, Grocery shopping, Eating out, Movie tickets, Travel expenses and any large purchases. The only place we need cash is to pay for some services such as domestic help and others. I do keep about 3000 Rs in my wallet but have rarely needed to actually use it. One of the first things I did was to check my wallet to find I had a 1000 and a couple of 500 Re notes. As I had no intention of exchanging these, the best way was to spend them when I had to fill petrol for my car the next day, something I normally do through credit card.

We also had some 10,000 Rs in our house which we decided to deposit. However, as we really did not need any cash there was no hurry to get it done quickly. While going for my morning walks I was a little disappointed to find that most of the ATM were not working and the one SBI ATM which was open, not having any cash in it. For the past 5 days we did need to buy some stuff at the neighbourhood supermarket – again paid through credit card.

Today was the day, when we decided to venture out and deal with depositing the money at home and also withdraw some money needed for our trip to Bhopal, Jabalpur and Kanha next week. Between me and my wife we have bank accounts in HDFC, ICICI, Kotak, SBI, Citibank and Allahabad bank. Fortunately we live in an area where all of these banks have branches. So armed with all the check books, Proofs of identity and address along with copies thereof, we set out from our home at around 11:30 AM.

The first stop was HDFC bank, a new branch where there is hardly much traffic on a normal day. These are, of course, not normal times at all and I was not surprised to see 2 lines each with about 20 odd people in them. The organisation was good, HDFC people helping customers with information and also suggesting that only denominations of 2000 were available. We decided to take 14000 from here even though the bank was quite keen that we take our entire quota for the week which was 24000 now. The queue moved smoothly and we could do both the withdrawal and deposit at the same time. We got to know that the new 500 Re note and some 100 Re notes will be available later in the week.

Next up we decided to try Allahabad bank, thinking that this north Indian bank will probably not have more than a handful account holders trying to withdraw money on a week day. As it turned out I could not have been more wrong. Though the bank had more counters than HDFC did, only one was operating for all deposits, exchanges and withdrawals. Looking at the 50 odd people jostling around in a rather unruly queue was reason enough for us to give it a miss.

Next stop was ICICI bank which was just across the road. They were quite crowded too but when I said that I was a Privileged customer, the manager was willing to arrange the cash directly. However, he too had only 2000 Re notes so there was not much point in getting it.  Our last stop was Kotak bank, next door to ICICI – same story and conclusion again. We called it a day at this and adjourned for lunch at a close by restaurant, checking with them first that they did take credit cards !!

From my limited experience, here are my salient observations:-

  • The queues are reasonably long but manageable. The HDFC one took us half an hour and the Allahabad Bank would have taken a little longer. Rest would have been shorter.
  • Many people coming for exchange and deposits were not dealing with their own accounts. I think this may be a big part of the reason as to why the queues are long.
  • Most people were in good humour and seemed to be quite well aware of the mechanism like weekly withdrawal cap etc.
  • The ATM were not working in any of these places and I feel that is the biggest problem. The managers I spoke to told me they were waiting for the ATM to be calibrated with the new notes and this may take up to the end of the month in some places. In the larger cities they would get done by next week.

What next for us ? Well, we need to get some 500 and 100 Re notes before our travel begins on 23rd November. The hunt for cash will resume after a 2 day break.

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