That is the State Bank of India.
Here on the island, located in the same building as my school is the local headquarters for the State Bank of India. My relationship with them has been comical from the very first day I’ve done business with them. I chose them because there were convenient. Right downstairs from my office. What could be better than that?
I opened my account a few days before my first payday. My pay was directly deposited into my account, the fun started that day. I went to the service desk and asked about my debit card. I was told that it would take about a month for it to arrive!
I got lucky. It took only three weeks.
My first trip to the ATM caused the staff at the bank to think I’m an idiot. I put my card in, entered my pin and then went through the menu choices to make a cash withdrawal. I get to a screen that says simply “MUR” and gives a choice of Yes or No. I hit the yes button because I want Mauritian Rupees. That’s the local currency. After hitting the yes button, the machine spits my card out. I go through the same steps, landing at the MUR page, and hit yes again. I get my card spit back at me again. I try this several more times. Same result. (Note: the screen graphics don’t have anything other than “MUR” right in the center of the screen. There is no other text. There is no blank space that might lead you to believe this is the screen where you enter the amount.) I finally go into the office and tell the staff my card doesn’t work. The woman that is the manager of the branch comes back outside with me and we go through the same steps. I get to the MUR screen and hit yes, my card is spit back out. “See,” I said, “it doesn’t work.” She then takes the card, puts it back in the machine, asks me to enter my pin, and navigates to the MUR screen. She then tells me to enter the amount I want to withdraw. As I enter the amount, the screen changes to a look that tells you visually that is where you want to enter the amount you desire to withdraw. The machine spits out my cash, then my card, and the receipt. I get the most condescending look from the woman you could imagine. I didn’t notice a ring, but I have no doubt she’s married. At least she’s been married. That look was so withering, she’s probably divorced.
My next bit of fun was my first day in India. I asked the branch manger if my debit card would work in India, “Of course,” he says, “it’s an international debit card.” I landed early in the morning in Chennai (Madras for those of you who’ve never heard of Chennai). I was picked up by the hotel driver and we took off for the hotel. I spotted an SBI ATM on the way and asked the driver to pull over and let me use this stand alone machine. I put my card in, I was very careful with reading the screens. It didn’t give me any cash. It simply gave me a receipt with an error code and a phone number for customer service. I went to an SBI branch the next day to see if there was a problem with my card. Standing on queue waiting my turn to talk to the agent was fun. The bank lobby was unlike any bank lobby you’ll see in the U.S. It looked like the first photo in this set of pictures of bureaucrats. The bank employee took my card and disappeared into the back room. He was gone for a several minutes. When he came back he told me to try my card in the ATM at the front door. I did, it worked. Maybe the first machine was empty of cash. If so, why wouldn’t the machine be programmed to just tell me? Why give me a four digit error code and the phone number of customer service? Weird.
For the balance of my time in India the card worked as it should, no problems at all.
Up until the last day.
I went to the Air Mauritius office in Bangalore to make a change to my travel plans. Yes, I know about the internet. Air Mauritius doesn’t know about the internet. At the office the people there made the change to my ticket within minutes. It then came time to pay. I gave them my SBI card. It didn’t work. They tried several times. Nothing. So I had to whip out my U.S. based credit card to purchase my ticket. This is a good thing in that the bill goes to my home in the U.S. and the wife pays the bill, so it’s kind of like free money. The wife, however, doesn’t care for me using this method of paying my bills over here. So I managed my way around the failure of the SBI debit card.
Next up was paying my hotel bill. It was 3:00am. I needed to get to the airport by 4:30, which was going to be tight as my bank card would not work again. The desk clerk suggested I walk down the street to the SBI ATM to get money, but this would work as the daily limit on withdrawals is 20,000 rupees. Which is $400. My hotel bill was $1,400. So, once again, my wife was the actual payee on the hotel bill.
When I got back to Mauritius, I went to the branch to tell them how unreliable their card is. That you can’t depend on it to work. They asked me to fill out a complaint form. They asked me to fill it out again as I made some silly mistake on the form. They are so unhelpful down there. And when I made the mistake on the form, I got that same withering look from the woman that showed me how the ATM machine works. It’s been seven weeks since the completion of that form. No response.
The result of all this is I always carry a pocket full of cash. Something I haven’t done in the U.S. for years.
I had another episode prior to the holidays: I needed to pay several bills. The ATM in the building has a screen that announces I enjoy a 100,000 rupee daily withdrawal limit. I went to the machine to withdraw 50,000. It spit my card back at me with no money. I tried again. Same result. Third time being the charm? No such luck. I finally withdrew 30,000 without a problem. It then occurred to me that there was a physical limit to each withdrawal. The slot which the money comes through can only handle a stack of bills so thick. Now the machine doesn’t have any advice screen to tell you this, it just spits the card back at you if you go over the physical limit. What nonsense.
I would move my banking elsewhere, but I’m not yet convinced there is better available here on the island.