During my first assignment at Aurangabad, my boss, R. P. Mehta, was a little bemused at the amicable way I treated my clients, given banks’ notoriety for poor customer service. Mehta was given the impression by my colleagues that I was liberal in my approach with borrowers and hypersensitive to customer complaints. Mehta could be ruthless with errant staff and recalcitrant borrowers, but there was also a soft side to him. Whenever any staff member got into trouble on account of a bonafide lapse, he would always take whatever risks were necessary to rescue him. His mantra was simple: be good with good customers; be casual with routine customers; be wary of new loan seekers.
He did not appreciate my gentle approach of lavishing cordiality and hospitality on every customer. He conveyed his displeasure to me through other colleagues. Mehta was a great master in man management and he would always drop subtle hints to ensure that his instructions do not demotivate the officer. When he found it necessary to counsel me, he called me to his residence, which was just above our banking hall. When I visited him, he was dressed in an impressive full-length coat and was probably enjoying a drink. An exquisite cigar would always be between his teeth. Mehta was a warm-hearted person but always wore a stern glare that evoked a feeling of awe. I was slightly nervous when Mehta ushered me into his drawing room; he was frowning slightly, which did not augur well for me. He gave me, if not indeed a barbed hello, a sort of reproaching welcome.
As was his usual style of conversation, Mehta cleared his throat, raised his legs to the table and asked me what drink I would prefer. I knew he was not referring to a soft drink, but rather the premium wines that adorned his small cellar. When I suggested lemon water, he burst into peals of laughter, but this laughter was not sardonic. He took pity at my innocence, “Do you know bankers are hard boozers?” I sulked for a moment but then got the better of my emotions and feigned not to have heard him. He gestured his servant to fetch me lemon water with ice.
He then proceeded to enquire about my personal experiences in the town and my interactions with the staff and customers. He complimented me for my sincerity and commitment at work and spoke about the positive feedbacks he had received, then recounted how he too had been flush with idealism and revolutionary zeal in his college days. He vowed to his teachers and friends that he would not marry till he cleansed the system of its veniality. But all his idealism vaporized after he experienced the tyranny of employers. Idealism had receded and finally faded as family matters started claiming him.
He recounted a fable of a millionaire who had to undergo a heart transplant. The doctors asked him to choose which heart he wanted to receive. The millionaire’s fortunes were so vast that he could afford to buy anybody’s heart: the heart of a film star, beauty queen, politician, sportsman, politician, scholar, astronaut, doctor and, if required, even that of a ruling king or queen. The millionaire wanted a heart that would be both sturdy and tough, one that could remain unruffled by emotions. He mulled over the suggestions of his surgeons and said, “I should be fine with a banker’s heart. Bankers don’t use their hearts; a banker’s heart will be impervious to external emotions. I don’t think that there could be a sturdier heart.”
It was a very clear message for me. Mehta perked me up, saying there is always a way in which compassion could be blended with prudent financial judgments. He conveyed through his nuanced suggestions that, as a banker, I should have the head of a hawk and the soul of a dove. The hawk worries about the safety of the bank’s money; the dove wants the maximum number of individuals to get access to banking and in turn assistance by way of loans at soft terms of interest.
Moin Qazi is the author of the bestselling book, Village Diary of a Heretic Banker .He has worked in the development finance sector for almost four decades .He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org