All newspapers carried ads and news item about SBI reaching yet another milestone(s) yesterday - in opening 1,000th branch and 10,000th ATM in the current financial year in Mumbai. Its branch strength touched 12,448 with a grand figure of over 21,000 ATMs. In private conversations, we always used to refer SBI as a sleeping giant; a dinossaur, etc because it was a slow runner to introduce modern products and services like Credit Cards or CBS or Retail Banking products. Now everything is reverse. Its a leader.
Two days back a Visiting Professor and Senior Consultant in a reputed international Organisation met me and was critical of SBI's quality of service. He claimed to have been a customer of the bank for about 30 years and was speaking confidently and authentically that the bank has not improved its customer service.
Having worked in SBI between 1971 and 1993 in different capacities in various locations from a rural branch in a backward area (Warangal & Medak Districts in AP) and closely watching the progress almost on daily basis, I differed with him. I stoutly defended the bank in its multiple initiatives be it in Customer Service or Computerisation or Branch Banking or Training to its Staff or Leader of the Banking Industry or as a leading global player including international expansions and take overs. Besides tall claims or advertisements, numbers speak. One is advised to visit its website http://www.statebankofindia.com/ to know more about the bank. If only we are keen on its milestones, two research books on its history written by Amit Bagchi are testimony.
SBI has always been transforming ever since it was formed by re-christening Imperial Bank of India in 1955 with a mandate to go rural. In 1971-72, it undertook re-organisation and introduced budgetary and planning system even when there was no major mechanisation or computerisation. Again in 1981 and 1990 the bank went for re-structuring its working primarily keeping in view the Customer in its focus. The logo was also designed in consultation with IIM-A in 1971 which cares for the customer - individual or institutional. SBI was also the first to have gone in for Long Range Planning for its business and organisational development.
"Parivartan" is a unique initiative by the present Chairman Shri OP Bhatt which made each and every employee of SBI to wake up and realise the threat or competition, the customer needs and need to retain if not increase its market share. No doubt its size may some times its own hinderance but then in today's (twenty-first century) technology world size - big or small - does not matter. Technology fecilitates global reach with faster and accurate service handling huge volumes.
Incidentally, the two major Customer Service Committees appointed by RBI in 1970s and 1990s were headed by Shri RK Talwar and Shri MN Goiporia who were sitting Chairmen of SBI. The bank knows its customers, its country, its boundaries (but operates beyond), its competitors and its future. SBI, if fact, is a trend setter and leader in the banking industry in India; while RBI looks to SBI's advicefor all its policies .
It is nearly 17 years that I voluntarily quit SBI as a Chief Manager in April 1993, but am always referred by my friends and colleagues as SBI-man. I have the emotional attachment to mySBI and I am a Pensioner, a Customer, a staunch Well-sher of the bank. Almost everyday I speak at least to one of my ex-colleagues. I feel proud that the bank is scaling higher and higher with many more milestones in the offing. Long live SBI.