Coronavirus outbreak disrupts PSB merger as banks put programmes on hold

The banks slated for merger were supposed to hold employee training sessions starting this week.
With public sector banks scurrying to meet the April 1 deadline for merger, the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak has caused widespread disruptions in their preparations.

The banks slated for merger were supposed to hold employee training sessions starting this week. 

According to the banks, they have either put the sessions on hold or are opting for e-learning instead of classroom sessions. Moreover, programmes involving gatherings, like customer interface programmes, have also been put on hold.

According to a senior official of Allahabad Bank, which is to be merged with Indian Bank, a training session of trainers, which was supposed to be held in Chennai this week, will now be conducted through video conferencing. Further, the trainers would also conduct sessions at the branch level through video conferencing. However, in rural branches, where banks do not have such a facility, the mode of communication is yet to be decided. Banks will also circulate digital training programme for employees.

Indian Bank managing director (MD) and chief executive officer (CEO) Padmaja Chunduru, who was scheduled to come to Kolkata to meet customers of Allahabad Bank, has postponed travel plans on account of the government advisory.

“There are hopes that the coronavirus spread will be contained in the next two weeks. If not, it is up to the government to take a call on the matter,” said a senior official of a bank slated for merger.

Senior official at Corporation Bank, which is merging with Union Bank of India, said the bank has been asked to cancel all training programmes (merger related as well as regular ones) and gatherings.

Now, web-based training and video conferencing are important modes for deliberations. Even the top management – CEO, executive directors and general managers – have been advised to avoid travel, an official said. With bank servers being centralised, most employees don’t have the option to work from home.

“The coronavirus scare has derailed all plans, especially on staff training, as people cannot come for large gatherings. Banking involves a lot of security, and hence, work from home is not feasible,” said a top official of United Bank of India. 

Close to 40,000 employees of United Bank and Oriental Bank of Commerce need to undergo the training before the merger.

The two banks are slated to merge with Punjab National Bank. Syndicate Bank, which is to merge with Canara Bank, is also planning to replace face-to-face sessions with online training.

“Various state governments are coming out with advisory on domestic travel. As a result, we are going for digital learning. Many institutional training programmes have been deferred. Banks are prepared for balance sheet merger. However, now it is up to the government to take a call on the matter,” said a senior official of Syndicate Bank.

Under the mega merger plan by the Centre, 10 public sector banks would be consolidated into four. Punjab National Bank, Oriental Bank of Commerce and United Bank will combine to form the nation’s second-largest lender; Canara Bank and Syndicate Bank will merge; Union Bank will amalgamate with Andhra Bank and Corporation Bank; and Indian Bank will merge with Allahabad Bank. The consolidation exercise will bring down the number of nationalised banks to 12 from 27 in 2017.

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