Tuesday, August 19, 2008

When ATM did not dispense

Sometimes back State bank of India (SBI) use to run a television commercial which boast of SBI having the largest network of ATMs in India. The corollary to this is that SBI also has the largest number of non-working ATMs in India. My experience says that whenever you are in desperate need of cash, you will find the nearest SBI ATM out of order. This happens at least 7 out of 10 times. We can propose an addition to the Murphy’s law on this.

It was the first week of May when I was frantically trying to withdraw money from my various bank accounts to make advance payment for the flat I was purchasing. One evening I went to the SBI ATM, very close to my office to withdraw money. As few more people were waiting, I decided to withdraw 20K in one go. The machine made few clicks and ticks after I made necessary entries. The sound of counting followed. Then it tried to dispense. To my horror the notes got stuck in the outlet for dispensing money. The guys who were waiting behind me also saw it. In desperation, I tried to pull out whatever amount I can. I had 30 sec to do so before the machine takes it back. The notes I could pull out counted only 8500. The rest of the notes were actually inside the machine and could not be pulled out. 30 sec was over by then and the machine took it back. I could here the sound of counting again when the money was taken back. My first impression was that the notes were old / used notes and therefore got stuck while dispensing.

I was in shock for a moment. I had probably lost 11500. Checking around the cubicle, I found two phone nos. which is to be contacted in case of any problem. After trying a few times, one of the phones answered. I explained him the incident. He told me that SBI ATM machines are not capable of dispensing 20000 at one go. They have put up signs or instructions about this in some ATMs. The same could not be done at all ATMs, one of which is the one I had used. He advised to check whether the money has been debited from my bank account. I had checked and found that 20K has been debited. He then told me to contact the CAC Branch with transaction slips of the ATM.

I went to the CAC Branch located at ITO the next day. CAC stands for Cash Administration Cell. It was a small office with only one person available when I visited. He accepted my application and informed me that the concerned person has gone on outdoor inspection duty. Money will be refunded after reconciliation. He also gave me the branch phone nos. and told me that it may take upto 10 / 15 days for reconciliation.

What followed was a long wait. Several phone calls made to the CAC Branch had the answer that reconciliation could not be done because the concerned is still busy. One day a new fellow picked up the phone and told me that he is not aware of my application. This probably was the guy I was looking for. Then I realized that I should have sent the application by post or courier to produce a proof of submission instead of handing over in person. My impression was that my application which I personally handed over got misplaced (or may be thrown into dust bin, whatever may be). I wrote a reminder seeking an early redrerssal failing which I proposed to approach banking ombudsman. I know about banking ombudsman, but do not know how to approach that authority. I found out only after threatening to take action. Anyway, 5 days after that letter, I had received a phone call which made few enquiries. The gentleman told me that money would be credited back to my account by next day.

The money indeed arrived next day. It took more than two months. But I got back my 11500.

There are few lessons to be learnt from this incident:

1) Never try to withdraw more than 10000 at one go from any ATM.

2) Avoid transaction if the ATM is unable to issue transaction slip. You do not know when you may need the transaction slip.

3) Even if you submit a copy of application / incident reporting by hand or in person, always
send a copy by post / courier so that you can produce a proof of submission.

You can find more information on Banking Ombudsman in India from the RBI site.

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