Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Old stalwarts of Ban Hin Lee Bank

It's been quite a while since I ever wrote anything about my Ban Hin Lee Bank days. Maybe I should say something about some of the most senior people that were already working in the bank when I joined the establishment. When I say "senior", I really mean it. These people were the stalwarts: long in age and long in working experience at the bank. They were completely trusted by the bank's management. This was a time when companies treated their employees like part of their families and the people were practically employed for life at these companies. Ban Hin Lee Bank was one of them.

The day I joined, I was placed in a department known as the Securities Department. To a bank noob like me, it was a peculiar name to call a department. The only security people I knew were those that carried guns outside banks or goldsmith shops. But I soon learnt that this department was responsible for processing applications from people who wanted to borrow money from the bank. So I spent my weeks learning how to fill in the new application forms and prepare those loan forms that were due for annual reviews and renewals.

Everything was done manually in those days on huge manual Olivetti typewriters that sported extended heavy-duty carriages so that A3-size paper could be rolled in and typed on. We would go clackity-clack on these old machines and sometimes when mistakes were made, the old Tippex would come in handy. Some departments were more advanced: they had access to electric typewriters. But not the Securities Department. These ancient typewriters were only discarded in the mid-1980s when the first generation personal computers were bought.

The person in charge of this department then was Ng Chak Hon. He was already in his fifties then. A nice man, he gave a lot of advice to us youngsters who were new to the bank's employment. Later on, he was transferred to the new Bukit Mertajam branch in Aston Road to become the branch manager there. I can't remember who took over from him at the head office in Beach Street because at the same time, I was transferred to the bank's new Pulau Tikus branch as well. If I remember correctly, these two branches had opened within days of one another.

Seated quite nearby to our department was Ong Chin Seng who was in charge of the Remittances Department. I was told that he was, at that time, the oldest employed staff of the bank. He had been with the bank since 1935 when it was first established, started out a clerk and retiring about half a century later as a senior officer. Everyone remembers him as going around with a big paper or plastic bag on his arm. His job was primarily to approve and sign all those remittances between banks.

At the old Bank Hin Lee Bank building in Beach Street, the bank counter curved round in a U-shape. The Securities Department was located away from the counter as we had no business attending to the walk-in customers but next to our department were the Savings Account, the Fixed Deposit and the Cheques Receiving counters. The person in charge was Tang Yoke Hong, a grumpy and opinionated old man who, if he was not initialling the transaction slips, would spend his free time picking away at the dead skin around his elbows. It's true, this.

The head cashier, Khoo Heng Chuan, would be in the enclosed Cash Room with the rest of his people. There were three or four cash counters to receive money paid in by customers or to encash their cheques. Also seated in the Cash Room was Madam Teoh Phaik Kheng, one of the directors of the bank at that time.

At the back of the banking hall was the Current Account Department. Here was also the Accounts Department. While during the day the people there would be busy balancing the previous day's transactions, writing the entries into the journals and preparing the daily trial balances, the most important task was at day's end when the transaction slips had to be balanced. This was normally the responsibilities of Tommy Goh and Tan Hun Wee. Hun Wee was another grumpy old man who would later become the cashier at the Pulau Tikus branch. But until he was transferred there, his job was to pour over and balance all the day's transaction slips. You can imagine the bleak look in his eyes during days when the credit and debit slips don't balance - the fault of the departments - and he had to spend hours searching high and low for the errors. If looks could kill, his would have exterminated everyone in the building, myself included. Woe betide the department staff on the next morning when they reported to work. Hun Wee would be there to accuse them of slack and demand that they make good their mistakes. One good thing was that he never took these mistakes to heart so while he was a grump, it was all in the course of work and nothing else after that. Hun Wee took his talent to the Pulau Tikus branch, so while there was some rejoice of sorts at the Beach Street branch, we at Pulau Tikus of course benefited from his experience. Of Tommy, we all remember him as being partially deaf in one ear, or so he wanted us to believe, and if anyone tried to be high-handed with him, all he did to show his displeasure was to turn, literally, his deaf ear to them.

In the bank, nobody could be more colourful than the postal clerk, Chioh Eng Seng. Daily, he would make his way to the Post Office, collect all the letters from the post office box (P.O. Box), come back to the bank and distribute the letters to the various departments. At the end of the day, his job was to seal up all the out-going envelopes, weigh them to determine the individual postage costs and then take the envelopes to the Post Office. I think he was the most care-free among the old staff of the bank. He had a younger brother working in the bank too, Chioh Eng Ghee, whom we called Ah Bak. He seemed to be doing many things - more like a general staff, running errands when needed - but nothing seemed to stick in my mind exactly what his duties were.

Teoh Beng Cheang was the bank's assistant manager and he was completely trusted by the bank's management. Together with Madam Teoh Phaik Kheng, they were among the bank's most powerful signatories because at day's end when the bank needed to withdraw cash from or balance their transactions with Bank Negara Malaysia, their authorised signatures were the ones we had to seek. Beng Chiang was also in charge of the properties that belonged to the estate of Yeap Chor Ee, so looking after the estate's rental income was part of his responsibilities.

There were also three other senior staff of the bank. Oh Hock Seng and Khoo Boo Hean were the respective assistant managers at the Komtar and the Bayan Baru branches, whom I interacted much later when I worked at these branches. And then there was Abdullah Jan. He used to serve in some army overseas and always took great pride to show off his medal for bravery. He always kept it on his person. Now, instead of at the battlefield, we would see him standing at the main door with his gun in hand but at the same time we would wonder whether he could see properly through those thick spectacles of his or whether or not his firearm could actually work. Of course, we never found out but throughout his long stay, he was the bank's most faithful guard.

Other Ban Hin Lee Bank stories here.

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