Do we have a problem solving attitude?

October 12, 2008


I recently visited a bank, my former workplace, to meet up with an old colleague, now the Deputy General Manager (DGM) there. As we touched base, an old lady sought permission to enter the DGM’s office. She looked hassled and exhausted. Accompanied by her daughter-in-law, she narrated her agony. In a tragic road accident a few months back, she had lost her husband and a son. After much effort on her part, the insurance company had settled the compensation. Unfortunately, instead of making the cheque in her name – as the nominee – had written out the cheque in the name of her late husband. And here began her problem with the bank. The manager of the branch concerned refused to accept the cheque.. The manager had advised the widow to return to the insurance company and request them to make the cheque in her name ignoring the fact that she held a joint account with her spouse.  Sitting in the DGM’s room, the elderly woman stoically shared her story, and a bunch of papers to prove that she was the legal heir of her husband and held a joint account for a long time. She even had attached the clippings of the newspaper that reported the accidental death of her husband and son. Narrating the agony that she had been through both with the insurance company and the banks’ branch, she broke down. She said, “ I have come to the bank’s head office as I hope the intervention of a senior officer will help.”


Despite his patient hearing, the DGM repeated the manager’s instructions: go back to the insurance company and get the cheque in your name. The widow and her daughter-in-law once again tried to persuade the DGM. He  phoned his branch manager and asked her to look into the matter, consult other banks – to see how they would handle such a situation – and try to help. The branch manager, who was recently promoted, was hesitant to take any decision. The matter stood more or less where it was.


I was in a dilemma. I was no longer an officer with the bank so was I to keep mum or tell my DGM friend what to do in front of his subordinates and an aggrieved customer?. I politely enquired whether the branch manager could find a way as the account number was also mentioned on the cheque and the fact that joint accounts were facilities to be availed of by either or the survivor. The DGM then phoned someone to crosscheck and was told that it was OK to accept the cheque sine the account number was written. At the most, the bank could take an affidavit from the lady.


The DGM asked the lady to go back to the branch manager and come back to him after a few days, if it was not settled. With some solution in mind, the lady felt slightly better though still not sure if the branch manager would be helping, given her earlier attitude. I wish the DGM had spoken to his branch manager again and given some specific directions, as there was a possible solution now. In the absence of this, I am sure, it would take a few weeks or months more -Some more correspondence between the client, branch manager and the bank’s head office, which means more harassment for the lady to get the amount due to her. 


….I hope the bank will be able to accept the cheque and solve the problem of the lady. I still remember her face as I write this posting.  I never regretted my decision of leaving the bank’s job except on this day. I may also not have solved her problem then and there. But a more solution-seeking and reassuring intervention must certainly have been made.


…We all face such situations in our lives and workplaces. We need to ask ourselves. Do we have an attitude of solving problems? We can do something within our spheres of influence. Let’s develop the attitude of first exploring possible solutions before saying NO.