Y. Sudhir Kumar Shetty, former president of the UAE Exchange, who is going back to settle in India after living here in UAE around 35 years. Image Credit: Ahmed Kutty/Gulf News

Abu Dhabi: When flights were suspended from the UAE to India for more than 20 days in 1994 due to a plague outbreak in the western Indian state of Gujarat, expatriates had no way to send money to their families as a manually created instrument [popularly called draft] was the only mode of remittance those days.

Customers had to visit a money exchange centre, get the instrument and send it by post or courier to their families, recalls a top money exchange executive who has retired after 28 years of service.

“When flights were suspended, there was no postal or courier service and expats from villages did not have any means to communicate with their families though letters and send money to India. Then telephone network was not widespread in rural India and letter was the only mode of communication [with people in villages],” Y. Sudhir Kumar Shetty, who has retired as president of the UAE Exchange, told Gulf News in an interview.

Y. Sudhir Kumar Shetty explains how suspended flight services from the UAE to India in 1994 due to plague outbreak in Surat in Gujarat changed mode of money remittance afterwards. Binsal Abdul Kader/Gulf News

An attempt to help the customers during that imbroglio paved the way for innovative and faster remittance from the UAE to other foreign destinations, he said.

We never conducted formal recruitment drives even during fast-paced expansion. Most of the recruitments
were done through references.

- Y. Sudhir Kumar Shetty, President of UAE Exchange for 28 years

“As flights from London to India were operating, we engaged a courier company that took our customers’ drafts [along with letters to their families] from the UAE to India through London. Our offices in India collected the envelops and send them to their families or banks through local courier or postal service,” he explained.

Customers were happy that they were able to communicate with their families [through letter] and send money during that difficult time. “This created a solid relationship with them and the experience proves that we could turn a crisis into an opportunity,” Shetty said.

The episode triggered thoughts about handling such situations in future.

“Out IT team developed a system that would do away manual instruments [drafts] that had to be dispatched by post or courier,” Shetty said. The instrument was a check drawn on company’s current accounts in various currencies maintained across the world, which was popularly known as draft.

Y. Sudhir Kumar Shetty narrates relationship between illiterate workers and his staff who used to write letters to their families on their behalf during 1990s while making drafts for them. Binsal Abdul Kader/Gulf News

The system sent electronic files to the company’s local offices in India [and other foreign destinations], which printed the drafts and sent them by local courier or post to the customers’ families or banks.

“The drafts were delivered to the destination within 72 hours.”

This quick service and subsequent introduction of new products using technological upgradations strengthened the relationship with the customers and helped the company grow faster. “When I took charge as chief manager on December 22, 1991, we had 67 employees in four branches in the UAE — Abu Dhabi, Al Ain, Dubai and Sharjah. Now we have around 17,000 employees in 47 countries, together with our partner Travelex,” Shetty said.

He said his 28-year long journey witnessed the transformation from “100 per cent manual operations to 100 per cent automated operations.”

A young Shetty (right) with Sri Lankan cricket stars Sanath Jayasurya (left) and Roshan Mahanama in Al Ain Palace Hotel, Abu Dhabi, in 1997. Image Credit: Supplied

After printing the instrument in destination countries, instant cash, express money transfer and real time online transfers and many such innovative products were introduced.

9/11 attacks

A gold card carrying all details of customers, introduced in 1996, helped the company easily deal with the global regulation after 9/11 attacks, which meant to stop terrorist funding.

The regulations stipulated to collect all details of the sender, including the copy of their ID cards. The gold card had already collected all such details years back from regular customers.

“When a US delegation visited the UAE, the Central Bank advised them to visit our offices. They were happy about the system [Gold card] that keeps details of all customers,” he said.

As an active member of the community, Shetty has been attending farewell parties organised by the Indian community organisations during the past one month. “I was always part of the community. I was never free on weekends as I never denied invitation to community events. Now I may enjoy family time,” said a smiling Shetty who is going to settle in his hometown Mangalore in the South Indian state of Karnataka.

Counter staffs write letters for illiterate workers

In the early 1990s counter staff at the UAE Exchange used to help illiterate workers to write letters to their families, recalls a retired top money exchange executive.

When workers visited the exchange centres to get financial instruments [drafts] to send money back home, they would seek help from the staff to write letters, said Y. Sudhir Kumar Shetty, who retired as the president of the UAE Exchange.

The staff happily helped the workers and forged a personal relationship with them. “The staff knew each and everything about a customer thanks to that relationship. Therefore, we recruited such people only — who could pleasantly interact with customers and build a relationship with them,” he said.

Therefore, the company preferred pleasant personality to higher educational qualification.

“I have selected many pleasant individuals whom I came across at restaurants, cafés, hotels and airports. We never conducted any formal recruitment drives even during fast-paced expansion. Most of the recruitments done through references,” Shetty explained.

However, the technology has transformed the relationship between customers and staff into mere transactions, he said.

Since manual transactions has paved the way for fully automated system, the staff does not need much interaction with customers. “Customers are numbers now. They are identified by numbers instead of their names,” he said.