Demonetisation has struck many people very hard, especially the small-time traders and daily wage earners for whom cash is the main medium of transactions. A bank’s innovative and quick thinking helped make life easier for several such cash-strapped citizens.
Forty-five year old Jayashree Satte runs a spices business. Every day, she sits at a different weekly market selling her wares. A hardworking small-scale entrepreneur, she has been a Mann Deshi Mahila Sahakari Bank customer for over a decade and has borrowed and returned over a dozen loans. “Before Mann Deshi’s support to expand my business, whatever capital I had could fit into a small katori (bowl),” she says, “but now, every year at the Mann Deshi exhibition in Satara, I make over a lakh rupees in five days! I even own a tempo now.”
Even though Jayashree has increased her family income, savings, and assets over the years, the November 2016 demonetization hit her hard. For five days, she was unable to make any sales because neither she nor any of her customers had any change. Since she was busy in the market, her husband and son stood in line at the bank, desperate for some money, even though they knew they were going to lose about Rs. 300 by not showing up to work that day. After waiting in line for 12 hours, they were finally able to get one Rs. 2,000 note that evening. As expected, no one had any change, and they were unable to use the note. Fortunately for the Sattes, that weekend, they were able to buy their vegetables on credit. But they remained extremely anxious about the week ahead.
It was a huge relief for Jayashree when Mann Deshi Mahila Sahakari Bank started exchanging Rs. 500 notes for small pouches of change at several weekly markets. Now both customers and vendors were able to buy goods.
Since Jayashree sits at a number of weekly markets, she was able to exchange her money six times. Business is now proceeding smoothly.
When Rekha Kulkarni, CEO of Mann Deshi Mahila Sahakari Bank, found out about demonetization, she knew the next few weeks were going to be very challenging. With over 200,000 account holders, the bank was sure to be overrun with people desperate for legal tender and full of anxiety. She also knew that soon enough the bank’s reserves would run out.
Mann Deshi Mahila Sahakari Bank jumped into action. Special desks were set up for the illiterate and elderly. Mann Deshi Community Radio started relaying important information and dispelling rumours. But there was another concern. The majority of Mann Deshi Mahila Sahakari Bank’s customers are small and marginal farmers, daily wage labourers, and street and vegetable vendors, all of whom need small amounts of cash to run their businesses. A Rs. 2,000 note would not be useful for them.
Rekha came up with an innovative solution. Many state and nationalized banks have large reserves of small change – low denomination notes and coins – lying in their reserves and lockers. Why not utilize these?
The local SBI responded positively, and Mann Deshi hired a van to collect all their change. This money was sorted and organized to create individual pouches worth Rs. 500. Mann Deshi then converted its mobile business school – run out of a bus – into a mobile bank!
Every day, the bus visited a weekly market and exchanged old Rs. 500 notes for pouches with the equivalent amount of change. The bank created an efficient system to serve the maximum number of people. Outside the bus, two counters, one for women and the elderly and the other for the general public, helped people fill in RBI mandated forms, all of which were in English.
In the bus, separate counters verified documents, counted and checked counterfeit currency, and handed out pouches.
Over the course of the next two weeks, nearly 5,000 people from six weekly markets benefited from this initiative. Moreover, when the RBI stopped the exchange of old notes and insisted only on deposits, Mann Deshi customers could keep withdrawing their money in smaller denominations and run their businesses. It has also meant that many new people, drawn to Mann Deshi Mahila Sahakari Bank’s innovative approach, opened new accounts and became customers!
Rekha Kulkarni sums up the bank’s initiative best, “For small farmers, vegetable vendors, and businesswomen with street stalls, access to this change was hugely important. They would not have been able to make any sales without it. That would certainly have had terrible consequences for them and their families. Some quick thinking on our part as well as support from SBI ensured that thousands of people – without too much inconvenience – were able to continue to earn their daily living.” Truly a masterstroke!
Written by Devika Mahadevan, Mann Deshi
Find out more about the Mann Deshi Mahila Sahakari Bank here.