06/19/2009 11:05 PM
Abu Dhabi: During the late 1960s and 1970s, people in Abu Dhabi kept money in their cellars and would take bundles of banknotes neatly tied up to the banks once every few months, recalls an expatriate who retired from his job at a bank recently after four decades in service.
"They didn't count currency notes or coins themselves but trusted the cashier to credit the money to their accounts," says V.P. George, from Kerala, India, who joined Standard Chartered Bank in Abu Dhabi on August 27, 1968, as a clerk.
George worked his way up, becoming a cashier, a chief cashier and then a sales officer in various departments of the bank's two branches in Abu Dhabi. He retired on April 27, his 60th birthday.
None of his colleagues have had such a lengthy career, he says. A compatriot who left after working 33 years came closest, he says. "All others discontinued due to various reasons," says George, who completed his bachelors in commerce after getting the job.
"Several people suggested [to] me that I approach Guinness World Records, saying that it was extremely rare for someone to have worked with the same firm at the same location for four decades," he said.
He did approach Guinness World Records but there are various formalities he must complete before he can officially stake his claim to a record.
To be sure, George has witnessed various transformations in the banking system. "When the calculator was introduced in the bank in the early 1970s, it was a fancy item for everybody. Many of the customers looked at it with awe, especially the less educated ones who used to come with bundles of cash," he recalls.
Then came computerisation in 1985. Passbooks were done away with and some people were reluctant to accept a 'statement of accounts' instead. "Many of them still demanded the passbooks," he said.
"It was a tough job to educate [them] about changes, but computers helped in dealing with some uneducated customers who would become very impatient about getting their cheques cleared.
"To such people, we started saying: 'What can we do?... We are ready to clear your cheques right now but this machine takes too much time to clear it.' It worked because once the blame was shifted to the machines, they didn't have any complaints."
George also recalls how bank staff had to keep salary packets ready for companies that had entrusted the job to the bank.
"That was a tedious job until all workers got bank accounts and ATM facilities." But there were even educated people who were scared to use the ATM and online banking when they were introduced," he says.
He also spoke of a profound change in attitudes. Earlier, he said, people looked to banks as a means of saving money. But later, in the 1990s and 2000s, he witnessed how people were impoverished by the improper use of credit cards.
"I personally saw heartbreaking experiences of several middle- and low-income residents who couldn't get out of the debt trap after splurging on their credit cards." And while such incidents seem to be tapering off thanks to the awareness created by the media, George would still advocate the strict implementation of certain eligibility criteria for credit card applicants. "And banks should educate the cardholders about the pros and cons, especially the interest rates and penalty charges."
Abu Dhabi is still his preferred place to live. He has joined a private firm as a finance manager. "I cannot sit idle and I cannot imagine living such [a] comfortable life anywhere else."
George lives with his wife and his three children are working professionals settled in the UAE. "I never fretted about why I couldn't become a rich businessman like some compatriots who reached the UAE at around the same time as me. Instead, I feel, God gave me more than I deserved."