I'll be honest—I don't remember the last time I went to an ATM to withdraw money. Thanks to digital payments of every kind—from online payments to wallets and UPI—and the fact that I work out of home (so my petty spends are limited), I have survived without cash for months.
But that changed on Thursday night when the RBI announced that Yes Bank was placed under a moratorium till April 3, and withdrawals were capped at Rs 50,000 for the period, per account.
All this time, I didn't have cash in my hand, but I had access to my funds, which is all that mattered.
See, I have a Yes Bank salary account with a debit card and a Yes Bank credit card. In a minute, I had access to exactly zero rupees.
My first reaction was to count all the bills I still had to pay. Would I be okay if I never got access to the funds in my account? How long would it take me to recuperate? How am I going to spend the rest of the month? How quickly can I open a new bank account for my next salary?
Now all the official communication from the RBI, and later, Yes Bank, talks about the Rs 50,000 cap but not that net banking went down immediately—I tried within five minutes of the news—possibly because of the panic rush of customers like me, to transfer money to another bank. Neither does it say anything about the debit card being rendered useless—I couldn't use it to make any online payments, of any amount. Or that the credit card—whose bill I paid less than two days ago—will become just a piece of plastic.
On Friday, while my liquidity took up most real estate in my mind amidst an unusually busy day, I waited to hear from friends and colleagues who also, like me, had Yes Bank as their primary bank, about their attempts to withdraw money from ATMs. They couldn't. Yes Bank debit cards at the parent ATMs and others, gave one message: Communication failure. Apt.
Soon, news started coming in about PhonePe being down and Swiggy payments being rejected because they were on Yes Bank's infrastructure. While PhonePe called Yes Bank its partner bank in a statement, Swiggy's UPI is supported by Yes Bank.
Juggling between work and worrying about my next bill, I would actually get time to go to the bank branch only on Saturday morning. Sprinkle fears about Coronavirus, with about 50-60 odd customers lined up or huddled outside a partially open door to the branch, and you'd have the perfect recipie for chaos.
"Hamari Holi kharab kar di" (They ruined our Holi), the guy standing behind me murmured. 'He's standing too close to me,' I thought, and immediately took a step out of the line (Coronavirus, remember?) It was too beautiful a day to spend doing this. It had been raining in Noida since the previous evening, and the air was unusually clean. I was looking forward to a very relaxing weekend.
A mother with a wailing infant had been there since 9 am. A boutique owner said her business's current account was now frozen. People old and young, rich and poor, had been there for hours. In this, we were all together.
It was 30 minutes before someone said that only 70 tokens had been given out since 9:30 am, when the bank opened, while only 19 people had successfully managed to withdraw money using cheques till 1 pm. With only 3 hours to go before it closed for the day, there was no chance for me (standing right at the end of the line) to even get a coupon, forget getting a chance to see some monies.
Meanwhile, SBI is likely to pick up 49 percent stake, and a restructuring plan for the bank is underway, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman told reporters on Friday, "All depositors’ money will be safe. Yes Bank will not be allowed to fail. No institution will be allowed to fall off the cliff.”
Prashant Kumar, administrator at Yes Bank, in a statement has said, "The Bank is also taking necessary steps to ensure seamless transactions for the customers.”
Both statements fail to reinstill confidence while all channels of payments and withdrawals remain cut off.