Demonetisation was a surprise to the top bankers too

"Just before 8 pm, RBI officials switched on the TVs in the room. They said that the PM would be on air soon, and they would continue the discussion after his speech."

In the wake of the chaotic and sudden demonetisation of high denomination currency, the latest reports claim that the the level of secrecy of the move was so high that even top bankers were kept unaware of the decision until Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced it on televised address to the nation.

In a report of Times of India, it said that in the first week of November, Reserve Bank of India officials informed the chairpersons and Managing Directors of all the top banks in India about a meeting at the central bank’s headquarters in south Mumbai scheduled for 7 pm on November 8. However, out of ordinary point was that the RBI didn’t specify any particular agenda for the meeting, two bankers told TOI.

It is to be noted that usually, the central bank gives some notice to bankers when they are called for a meeting since it wants them to come prepared.

The report said that on the day of the meeting, which was convened on the 15th floor of the RBI’s Mint Street headquarters, all the top bankers of India, “each with more than three decades of experience in the sector, were in attendance.”

“During the meeting RBI officials mainly discussed the situation pertaining to non-performing assets in the banking sector, a hot topic for the sector till that day. They discussed some other issues related as well. Just before 8 pm, RBI officials switched on the TVs in the room. They said that the PM would be on air soon, and they would continue the discussion after his speech,” report said.

The report said that until the time the PM had announced that India was scrapping Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes in less than four hours, none of the top bankers had any clue that the next few days would be their careers’ most challenging.

Arundhati Bhattacharya, State Bank of India chairperson told TOI,  “Basically it was as much of a surprise to us as to anybody else.”After the PM ended his speech, the bankers wanted to leave immediately and start work.

 “The mood (with everyone present) was just to get out of the place and get things in place. We had to get out quickly to tell our people to switch off the ATMs by midnight; about the evacuation the next day, which was a huge exercise, then to take care of the recalibration; in the branches, what would be the instructions because there was to be exchanges, Rs 10,000 withdrawals etc,” the SBI chief said.

But, before that could happen, the RBI deputy governors listed out what was expected of them and the bankers scrambled to meet their teams. The SBI chairman, along with others, left the meeting between 9.30 pm and 9.45 pm. By the time she reached her home at Malabar Hills around 10 pm, she had called some of her top officials to her bungalow. Soon enough, the meeting started and went on until the early hours.

However, the next three days proved to be a tough challenge for the banking veterans, but they say that things have since started to fall in place.