Yes, you could say that I had become T’s firm favourite, his black-eyed boy (sorry, my eyes are not blue).
I spent hours daily in his office. He would seek, and usually follow, my advice. He referred to me as ‘my boy’ or ‘my lad’ in public, and everyone wondered how I had not only kept my ‘meter’ going (the guiding principle of expats in my bank was ‘meter chaloo’) but had actually gained T’s confidence.
In fact, I had been approached by a head-hunter, who offered me a better job in a rival bank on the grounds that “You have not only survived under the Terminator, but have actually become his confidante. There must be something special in you.”
I sometimes wondered whether T would protect me if ever I ran into trouble.
Hmmmm, good question!
I found the answer one day.
My personal lending limit was $1 million (T’s limit was $3 million). As such, I had the authority to sanction loans up to that amount without reference to T.
I had exercised this power to sanction banking lines totalling $700,000 to a new customer, a textile trader in the Suq (market). This new business had been put up by our Suq branch.
A few months later, trouble erupted. Several big transactions went sour, this trader became bankrupt, and he absconded (took a flight out and never came back).
Market rumour said that he had already been in difficulties. Quite deliberately, he had set up some sham transactions to cheat his banks and creditors, collected as much money as he could, and disappeared.
Whatever the truth may have been, there was no doubt that our bank was faced with a loss of half a million US dollars.
As could be expected, T went ballistic. He could not terminate the manager of the Suq branch (he was a national from the United Arab Emirates—UAE, you see) and had to content himself, for the present, with firing the credit officer of the branch.
But that was not enough for T.
He summoned me and said, “I want a full enquiry into this whole fiasco. It is obviously a bad credit decision, and someone has to pay.”
He glared at me and went on to say, “I will be sad if it turns out that you were at fault. But, after all, you had sanctioned the credit. If it is indeed your fault, you will have to go. I have to be seen to be fair. I have my reputation to consider, you know.”
I nodded and left. I had my answer.
The enquiry was held by the audit head, another British, with whom I had a love-hate relationship.
We mutually admired each other’s knowledge and expertise, but often disagreed on matters of credit evaluation.
Several heads were on the line. One head had already rolled, of course, that of the credit officer at the branch.
The credit analyst in my department, who had prepared the evaluation report, which I had approved, was another likely victim.
The market intelligence officer in my department, whose job was to collect market information about new customers before a loan was given, had apparently not spotted that the trader had already been in trouble—he was next.
And of course, the boss of these two chaps, and the person, who had ultimately signed off on the loan, was ultimately responsible.
That was yours truly.
I must admit that I was very nervous while the enquiry was going on, though I had to keep up an appearance of normalcy, despite T’s intense scrutiny and covert glances from my colleagues, some of whom had been jealous of my success with T and were hopeful that I would finally get my comeuppance.
Fortunately, I had covered my posterior!!!
The enquiry revealed that my approval had been qualified by a requirement that while disbursing the credit to the customer every laid-down procedure had to be followed and that no deviations or concessions were to be approved without my express permission.
It turned out that the branch had doled out money without insisting on a standard, and important requirement, which was clearly laid down in the procedure manual.
This had been done at the insistence of the manager of Suq branch without reference to me, despite the credit officer having pointed out, in writing, the need to seek my approval for the deviation from norms.
This had enabled the trader to carry out the fraud, which had resulted in our losing money.
The enquiry placed the entire blame solely on the branch manager, observing that had the stipulation laid down by head office or HO (i.e., me) been followed, the money would not have been disbursed and the bank would not have incurred the loss.
I was ‘honourably acquitted’!
T summoned me to say, “I am glad you have been cleared, my boy. I would not have liked to terminate you, as I would have had to if it had turned out badly for you. You understand, don’t you?”
I thought I saw a glimmer of disappointment in T’s eyes. After all, no shark likes having to give up a victim!
(Deserting engineering after a year in a factory, Amitabha Banerjee did an MBA in the US and returned to India. Choosing work-to-live over live-to-work, he joined banking and worked for various banks in India and the Middle East. Post retirement, he returned to his hometown Kolkata and is now spending his golden years travelling the world (until Covid, that is), playing bridge, befriending Netflix & Prime Video and writing in his wife’s travel blog.)