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Has Technology Stripped Our Banks of Human Values?

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While maintaining ethical standards in every profession is fundamental to its efficient functioning and ultimate success, I am writing this commentary with a deep sense of anguish and pain. Although developing on modern lines and infrastructure in terms of machinery and technology is imperative, however I regret to maintain that we have not achieved optimum levels of success and customer satisfaction still in our country.

While use of new machinery and technology is not bad but the fading human face and highly personalized treatment of customers as its consequence, is the real worry. Somewhere along the line, we are missing the very vital human element, that too very brutally. Banking staff throughout the country needs to be sensitized enough to deal with illiterates, semi-literates and especially women and elderly, to sustain a judicious balance of the human face of banking as a business and socio-economic institution in a country that is still struggling with poverty, illiteracy, ignorance, helplessness, lack of technological know-how, lack of access to internet, etc. Though I understand that the somewhat harried banking staff may have multiple issues like heavy workload (that got further added due to demonetization) lack of sufficient staff to cope with in addition to discharging their daily duties in an efficient and speedy manner, and that these factors may contribute to the constantly irritated behavior they display on a somewhat routine basis but for how long can they expect customers to keep taking it, is a matter of conjecture and concern! Also getting modernized does not mean just meaning business and a formal communication with every customer irrespective of his/her age, background, context, etc. As a customer, many a times, I have felt embarrassment because of the banking staff who hardly have the time to listen to you or your queries reflecting their lack of professionalism and human sensitivity. I have also witnessed enough incidents where even the elderly and women are not spare such brusque handling, are mistreated and their queries avoided. It remains a fact that whenever I went to our country’s prestigious bank- the State Bank of India, I felt deeply sad by the kind of irritated behavior of the employees there (even before the demonetization move).

Recently I went to a bank for a passbook update. The official pasted the bar code on it and I went to update the same. The machine though couldn’t update all my entries in full due to some fault which made me return to the same official. Very reluctantly and after much pleading, he updated it on his system and while I was there, one elderly lady came for the similar updating of her passbook. The official reacted rudely and said, “When the bar code is already pasted, why are you here still bothering me?” The elderly lady’s gaze was a picture of affronted dignity and she left helplessly, not knowing what to think and with the confusion clearly mirrored on her face! I was shocked at this incident and asked the official very respectfully, “how can she update when she does not know anything about the uses of the new machine?” I further asked, “is there anybody that can help her or guide her or does your bank have any guidelines for such people who don’t know how to deposit cheques, cash or update their passbooks through machines and need to be assisted?” With a frown, he stared at me and replied that ‘she should request the security guard outside.” I was dumbfounded by such a bizarre reply.

In yet another recent incident I went to a branch of State Bank of India for a Demand Draft that I was in urgent need of for an application of employment in a university. The bank official out rightly rejected my request citing that we are a big bank and do not issue DD of just Rs.300/- that I was asked for by the employer institution. Not only this, the official added that he can make the DD for me only if I had a cheque ready for the same amount and for that I needed to be the account and cheque-book holder of the same bank. I was shocked and dismayed to the core to see such a system which has no place for a student or for a customer who is not their account holder. The big banking leaders of India have to think about it and make banking inclusive in a country where exclusion still prevails and people feel discriminated and humiliated by such unfriendly policies. That day I wanted to write a letter to PM and RBI governor and ask that just Jan Dhan is not sufficient in our country, banking system as a whole needs to be streamlined.

I think that society has dichotomous views about banking, based on their personal experiences, expectations and the medley of problems that they have encountered at various levels and in different situations, in their dealing with several bank personnel. The level of society you belong to, your literacy and levels of technological familiarity are a significant factor in determining how much of challenge or pleasure the entire banking process is bound to be. For those more savvy with bank procedures and their intricacies and adept at coping with routine procedures and quickly assimilating slightly more complex and complicated procedures and processes of banking, banking is a pleasure and a swift means to realizing your aims and goals in achieving the necessary target. However for those who hail from the rural areas, are illiterate and uneducated in terms of even basic banking formalities, even routine bank transactions can assume the monumental proportions of your worst nightmare and prove to be a stumbling block in moving forwards.

Banks have a varied approach as regards dealing with the demands and banking needs of society. It is, I think, largely influenced by the personality factor and your individual sense of humaneness and readiness to help another human being, with patience and perseverance, without losing your innate ability to relate with that person on a humane level and a potential customer. They are definitely over-burdened and short-staffed many times and frustrated by the unimaginative policies and decisions of the higher level banking authorities, who do not release the requisite number of suitably qualified personnel to assist customers and thus attend to their problems in a kind and courteous manner. Sometimes, though, the banking officials tend to be somewhat high-handed in their basic approach towards clients and this is what needs to be guarded against in the long run, as it tends to create arguments, irritation and bad feeling.

The old ideas of banking do matter to some extent but it is impossible in this highly techno-savvy age, when both man and machine are so much more equitably equipped to deal efficiently and speedily with situations where earlier they would have plodded through procedures in a painstaking manner, plodding along slowly and explaining the matter to the customer at every step, thereby sacrificing efficiency palpably, to maintain the same level of the human touch as before. There has to be an understanding of this very vital factor and the changing equation of banker versus client, by both sides so that both sides can make a concerted effort to acquire more knowledge of the other’s domain and coalesce at a harmonious level. Only then will meaningful banking come of age and the erstwhile faith of the community be restored in the banking personnel, not only as the facilitators of their financial needs and dispensations, but also as the true caretakers of their essential needs and interests.

On self operating/knowing the bank Apps and mechanized procedures, we must realize that even literate people in this country do not necessarily know all banking procedures, not to talk of elderly people and many others and therefore the bank authorities have to take into consideration a much broader need-based approach and the much needed human face of banking that is fast vanishing. There must be strong assistance guidelines especially for those who don’t know how to use these new machines like cash deposit machine, self pass-book updating, etc. Also to adopt a line of behavior that is both professional and humane with the customers, banks need ample sensitization, gender sensitization and greater sensitization towards the elderly and all those who don’t know the use of new machines and, therefore, are more prone to needing help. There must be distinct and clearly defined guidelines in this respect and branch help committees must be set up in every big and small bank in the country. After all banks are there because of the customers whether illiterate or literate. If such an indifference and lack of ethical banking persists unabated and unchallenged it may tantamount to yet another form of structural violence that is still the hallmark of many of our public institutions.

On asking how society today perceives banking, my feminist friend Aparna Dixit said, “As a part of society I would say that we are totally connected with banks in our day to day life that is much in a technology led phase. We can do most of the things on phone, laptop or e-banking kiosk today. Apart from this there are bank executives who are supposed to assist a client for their queries and problems and they shouldn’t forget it that they are behind the counter for their customers .One more thing is that to respect every human being is a humanity and after all they are a service provider so they shouldn’t neglect any customer. Though they have their work deadlines but that should be internally managed from their end”.

While asking how banks perceive the society, well known Banking Executive and a friend Ankita replies from a banking perspective. She says, “From a bank perspective and as a service provider the motive is business. Therefore, banks give more attention to the elite class customers that they feel are more relevant to them. There are lots of enhanced facilities and services for customers and nowadays, most people are doing banking so logically it is true that their work pressure is increasing but customers shouldn’t be affected by this. However I would say an ethical banking is a two way process and therefore both the bank staff and the customers should display utmost professionalism and humanity. How many times we entered in a bank and wished the staff with a good morning or hi or hello? We as customers are also in hurry and sometimes neglect the human from the other side.”She further adds, “As per my observation, there is a difference to attend or serve a customer in Government and Private Banks. I’ve been visiting both the public and Private banks and I find the difference that private banks are more public friendly so I think the government bank staff should be educated and trained in the same manner as private banks orient their staff and this can change the current scenario of government banks while dealing with the people especially those who are not acquainted with modern technology.”

In my opinion, in banking, every new idea has originated from the older one and all these are just to serve people more and more and not to trouble them. Banking is upgrading or advancing day by day just to serve the customers efficiently which could not be possible with older ideas or patterns. But while we change the pattern, we have to be friendly towards those who are not so tech-savvy. We can see and feel the revolution in banking sector only taking the innocent masses along be that the recent demonetizing decision, Jan Dhan or maintaining high ethical standards.

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Economy

Gender-based violence in Bangladesh: Economic Implications

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Violence against women is one of the most heinous crimes perpetrated in today’s   world. However, despite the gravity of the violence perpetrated against women, it is still the pervading reality in the world. Bangladesh is also afflicted with this malaise of violence against women which is manifested in the deluge of news across the media about the violence against women in various  form .While Bangladesh has made commendable strides in the economic front, the  perennial subjugation of the women who account  for virtually half of its population remains a hurdle. Against this backdrop, this article investigates the economic toll incurred to the economy owing to the entrenched culture of systemic violence in our country.

Women constitute nearly half of the population of Bangladesh. As such, their innate potentials have considerable bearing on the socio-economic progress of the country. Admittedly, advancement of a country in socio-cultural indicators presupposes the simultaneous improvement of  women from the subjugated position culturally attributed to them. It is impossible  to envisage a prosperous thriving economy without the contribution and participation of the women equally. Therefore, the lack of women’s participation commensurate with their capabilities   hinders the development of the country.

One of the obstacles women confront in their journey of transforming into human capital is perhaps the retrograde views that society harbor about the traditional gender role of the women which fetter their contribution to the economy and society by bestowing them only  the  circumscribed role of  looking after the domestic affairs and rearing and educating child. The pastoral as well as urban culture   perpetuate these traditional gender roles and deny women a free rein over their fate. Whenever  women   disavow the preordained and predictable roles  provided by the society, they  have  to face mounting pressure from society so as to conform to the prevailing norms .Failing to  conform to the  regressive gender role will spell grave consequences for the women .When the society fails to cower the woman with the threats that are at its disposal ,it resort to the egregious path of violence. While   violence against women is one of the most reprehensible crime one can ever commit, it however is normalized through a power dynamics that  reinforces the overbearing male role and relegate women to the subjugation. Therefore, the culture of violence against women isn’t anomalous rather is embedded in the prevailing  patriarchal power dynamics which deem chastising women for their  rebellious attitude is solicited and  invoke often contrived and distorted religious edicts in order to legitimize their deplorable crime. Moreover, the culture of violence against women which has been  aptly termed as a epidemic by the United Nations  is rooted in the prevailing socio-economic  structure of the country that  systematically condone the browbeating of women into submission to patriarchal  norms and wield violent measures when the woman stubbornly gainsay their patriarchal hegemony.

While the social, cultural and health toll of the violence perpetrated against women is undoubtedly strenuous, the economic losses incurred by the violence and the opportunities nipped in the bud owing to violence against women also need to be taken into account in order to the adequately discern the deleterious ramifications of the violence against women .However, despite profound economic toll that are inflicted due to the violence against women, it is still unaddressed in the economic literature worldwide and discussion and cognizance about this momentous issue and its economic implications still scant.

As has been mentioned earlier, women constitute the lynchpin of the economy of Bangladesh which has been adequately manifested in the participation of women in Bangladesh’s much-heralded RMG sector and other productive sectors. However, this success of the economy   overshadows the plight and perils  this working class women confront in their bid to become economically productive. The violence against women is systemically entrenched in the country and women’s engagement in the economic activities are frowned upon by the society and culture .Therefore ,the this patriarchal fetter women behind the door of their  houses  and worst women are inflicted  physical and mental violence in event of questioning the dictates of the elders and the male custodians. Therefore , the fundamental impact of violence against women on the economy of the country related to the untapped opportunities due to the constrains imposed by the patriarchal society on women under the pretext of social, religious and cultural norm. This threat alone or normalization of the gender role of the women as a care-giver hinder women in taking part in the economy on a par with their male counterparts  .

Beside the lost  opportunities that can be tapped, the violence against women has numerous other implications on the economy. Firstly, the violence against women inevitably  results in the physical damage and mental trauma of the victim which has enduring toll on her. Therefore ,violence against women translate to toll on the health of the victim and therefore the cost incurred on the victim due to medical fees  as a result of the violence is also included in the economic cost of violence against women. Secondly, the violence against women also leads to diminished productivity of the victim due to the health hazards. Therefore, violence against women has implicit economic cost on the economy as a result of the lost productivity.

Thirdly,the cycle of the violence against women negatively sensitize women in not challenging the sacrosanct patriarchal norms and therefore women fit themselves with the prevailing adverse society and they themselves reproduce and reinforce these norms .Therefore, a vicious cycle set in which prevents women to actualize their potential and stymie them in their path of realizing their goal .This result a sense of apathy in women with regards to education and other means of social mobility and they deliberately avoid the economically productive activities that are deemed taboo by the prevailing social norms and cultural ethos.

Moreover, violence against women is an egregious form of crime perpetrated by a   patriarchal agent while the society has entrenched roles, norms and ethos that condone and encourage such outrageous violence .Moreover, a vicious cycle is at play in the gender based violence. The economic repercussions of the violence committed against women is considerable. Violence against women hinder the development  of the women commensurate with their inherent potential which nip the dreams of women in the bud. Besides, gender based violence also deter women in challenging the prevailing patriarchal norms and undertaking productive economic activities that are frowned by the patriarchal society and are deemed taboo. Moreover, a widespread sensitization in societal level as well as a drastic  overhaul of the patriarchal structure is necessary in order to avert the adverse socio-economic consequences of gender-based violence and extirpate the heinous root of this deplorable crime.

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Economy

Omicron Variant: Implications on Global Economy

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The prolonged battering of the Covid-19 has been considerably hitting the world economy. While vaccination and a receding in the cases of the cases in virus transmission has provided   brief respite to   the countries that are grappling with the recurring surge of the virus, the resurfacing of another virulent   mutation termed as  Omicron sounds ominous for the future of the world economy .Against this backdrop, this article projects the plausible economic ramifications of the new strand of the virus on the global economy.

The economic downward trajectory occasioned by the Covid-19 has been unprecedented in recent global history. While the economic depression of 2007-08 proved disastrous for the world economy, the toll   emanating from Covid-19 pandemic and consequent   economic stagnation has surpassed all the previous   economic plunge .In fact, some analysts have gone to the extent of   comparing the Covid-19 induced economic depression with the great depression of the 1920s.However, whether the far reaching repercussions of the Covid-19 on the global economy will be as momentous is still remains to be seen. Nevertheless, the   profound   economic jolt triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic is poised to reverberate across the world through shaping socio-economic and political events

The scar inflicted by a protracted economic recession owing to Covid-19 is apparent in the arduous path of economic rejuvenation in the western countries and eastern countries alike. Virtually every country is grappling with the toll that Covid-19 has incurred in the economy. The western countries are finding it   difficult to retrieve the losses that Covid-19 has precipitated. Although the swift vaccination of the western countries at the expense of the developing countries has provided a fleeting lull in their battle against Covid-19,it seem however the virus has resurfaced with increasing virulence in order to offset whatever gain these embattled countries managed to garner in their fight against Covid-19.

The skyrocketing and unprecedented inflation of the western countries coupled with a plummeted consumer confidence has meant a prolonged period of stagnation of their economies. However, in the wake of vaccination induced temporary respite in the viral cases, the economies rebounded strongly from the pits of economic recession. However, these hard-earned   gains will be reversed in the event of the advent of any new strand of the virus. Already, the delta variant which originated in India had triggered a spate of Covid-19 flare-ups in the United   States and United Kingdom. Against this backdrop, the Omicron variant is set to aggravate the   economic woes of the western countries and in turn the world.

While the western countries are reeling from economic stagnation, the developing and underdeveloped countries are confronting many abysmal realities due to their prevailing economic backwardness. Their economic plight has been lingering in want of adequate vaccination due to the apathetic stance of the western countries and global governance institutions .Therefore, while the western countries has rebounded from the Covid-19 induces economic predicaments, the difficulties confronted by the developing countries has continued unabated. While the influence of advanced countries and their less advanced counterparts in world-economy is inextricably tied, the callous attitude of the developed countries to the vaccination of countries in Asia and South Asia turn out to   be sheer lack of economic prudence.

While western countries are considered as the economic hub of the world, it is however the developing countries on which the vital supply chains of the world economy hinges on. Therefore, the tardy pace of vaccination in these countries is prejudicial to the global economic stability. The economic ramification of the slow pace of vaccination is twofold for the world economy. Firstly, the slow vaccination hinders the revival of the economic activities in the developing countries thereby obstructing the supply chain of the commodities .This supply chain crisis has ripple effect in the western economies. The recent predicament of inflation and attending macroeconomic woes in countries like the United States and United Kingdom is manifestation of the supply chain crisis plaguing the world economy. Due to the paucity of commodities and raw materials, the prices of necessary goods has escalated in the western countries which has plummeted consumer confidence and triggered a vicious cycle of stagflation in the economy that is reminiscent of the 1970s when a similar crisis in oil supply has  precipitated economic downturn in the western economies.

Secondly, the slow rate of vaccination also run the risk of allowing the virus to mutating to newer and much virulent variants and due to the unfettered communication as a result of globalization the emergence of any new variant doesn’t remain in the confines of any border rather proliferate like wildfire and precipitate global crisis. Therefore, the lack of vaccination or slack pace therefore has global repercussions. Therefore, it is judicious of the developed countries to concentrate efforts in contributing to the vaccination of the less developed countries which will yield good results for their economy.

The ubiquitous mechanism in battling Covid-19 remains one of containment that entails halting economic and other activities and insulating the countries from other countries through imposing border controls, curbs on air communication and other stringent measures echoing protectionist attitude. However, these measures are antithetical to the spirit of the globalization and global trade. While lockdowns and other protectionist measures yield temporary improvement in the Covid  cases, it is not viable in the longer term. Besides, lockdowns have deleterious ramifications on the economy and further aggravate economic rebounding of the developed countries and developing countries alike. Therefore, efforts should be aimed at preventing the Covid cases rather than grappling with the Covid with a knee-jerk policy of improvisation. .

Moreover,Covid-19 has already occasioned far-reaching economic fallout in the world economy. Indications abound regarding the fact that the world economy is verging on profound and prolonged recession. Against the backdrop of ominous predictions and slackening growth and painful inflation of the world economy, the prospects of the world economy due the advent of a new variant remain mired in obscurity. It can be concluded that the economic repercussions of yet another novel variant will be momentous and will offset hard-earned growth of the countries .Unlike previous precedent of haphazard policy and knee-jerk policy solutions, this time around the countries need to undertake challenge much prudently and should concentrate all of their efforts aiming at universal vaccination of all countries so as to prevent the resurfacing of similar virulent viral strands.

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Economy

A Good Transport System Supercharges the Economic Engine

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The infrastructure bill in the U.S. has been signed into law.  At the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), they are celebrating the fruition of a couple of decades, at least, of hard work publicizing the decaying infrastructure and lobbying for a fix-it bill.  Countless delegations have visited the White House and met with staff to present their case.  And something for their efforts is better than nothing. 

They also started a grading system, giving an overall grade — currently C minus, a notch above the previous one.  The bill seeks improvement in roads, bridges and transit although it falls short of the ASCE estimates for what is needed.  For example, the bill contains $39 billion for transit (ASCE grade of D minus) but there is a backlog of $176 billion that is needed.  Given Republican opposition to spending and the compromises made to pass the bill, the administration got what they could — they can always fight for more later. 

This opposition against infrastructure spending is somewhat incomprehensible because it generates jobs and grows the economy.  Too much spending, too fast has inflationary potential but that is caused by too much money chasing too few goods, usually not when there is a tangible product — improved transit, roads and bridges in this case.  And then there are also other ways of checking inflation. 

This bill is a start but still a long way from having high speed cross-country electric trains as in other major industrialized countries.  These are the least polluting and especially less than airplanes which emit six times more CO2 per passenger mile. 

Why is the U.S. so lagging in high-speed rail when compared with Europe and Japan?  Distances are one reason given although these are a function of time.  No one would have thought of commuting 30 miles each way to work in the 19th century but it is not uncommon now for some to be quite willing to sit 45 minutes each way on a train for the pleasure of living in the greenery of suburbia. 

The bill also includes $110 billion for roads and bridges.  Unfortunately the backlog of repair has left 42.7 percent of roads in sub-standard condition costing motorists an estimated $130 billion per year in extra vehicle repair and maintenance.  Some $435 billion is now needed to repair existing roads plus $125 billion for bridges, $120 billion for system expansion and $105 billion for system enhancements like increasing safety — a necessary improvement given a changing environment such as an increase in bicycle traffic.  Allowing for round-off discrepancies, the total amounts to $786 billion (in the funding and future need section of reference).  Increases in severe weather events have also had their effect, causing damage to roadways and further burdening the repair budget.  

New technologies (in the innovation section of reference) like advanced pavement monitoring on key roads, using moisture and temperature sensors embedded in the roadway, now make it possible to assess pavements quickly without impacting road users.  This leads to earlier repair and in addition new materials increase the life cycle.  Much of this requires increased investment up front to take advantage of the new innovations. 

Above all one can never afford to forget that a good transport system acts like a supercharger for the economic engine.

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