Who runs this bank? Women.By 10 in the morning, the shutters of the Agriculture Development Bank in Tripureshwor are lifted and customers begin to gather in its foyer, forming a queue at the cash counter. Sharmila Chaudhary, who primarily looks after credit, helps out the bank tellers during the morning rush.
By 10 in the morning, the shutters of the Agriculture Development Bank in Tripureshwor are lifted and customers begin to gather in its foyer, forming a queue at the cash counter. Sharmila Chaudhary, who primarily looks after credit, helps out the bank tellers during the morning rush.
Chaudhary, 40, has been working at the bank for 17 years, but this is her first year at the Tripureshwor branch. She is among 12 employees at the bank—all of whom are women.
“I kept wondering what it would be like to work at an all-female-branch when I was first transferred,” says Chaudhary.
“But now, I don’t want to get transferred from here, and even if I do, I want to go to a similar branch.”
The Tripureshwor branch of the Agriculture Development Bank, a largely government-owned entity, is located opposite to the United World Trade Centre, placed between two garment shops.
At this branch, all of the employees, from branch manager to teller, are women, and it has been this way since its establishment in 1989. In its 30-year history, it has had 16 female branch managers. The only man at the branch is the security guard.
In 1986, the Agriculture Development Bank had just 10 branches that provided banking services in Kathmandu and Patan. Even then, 60 percent of bank staff in the Valley were females.
However, only those with a Bachelor’s degree were eligible for higher designations; high school graduates were trained accordingly once hired, after being selected through the Public Service Commission and other governmental entities like the Finance Ministry, as per the Agriculture Development Bank, Nepal Act.
So, while women constituted a majority at the bank’s branches, very few were eligible for promotions, since many women then did not pursue a Bachelor’s degree.
Shrikrishna Upadhyay, then chairman of the bank, saw how efficient these women were, but also realised that not all of them were receiving the kinds of promotions and benefits they deserved. In 1989, Upadhyay decided to establish a branch that would be staffed completely by women.
Upadhyay’s proposal was presented to the Nepal Rastra Bank and forwarded to the Finance Ministry. The proposal was approved and the branch, which was initially located near Teku, was moved to Tripureshwor. From then on, only female staff were transferred there.
“Even though opportunities were scarce for both men and women, there were already many women involved in banking. But we wanted to provide opportunities for them to achieve higher positions,” says Upadhyay, who is now the Chairperson of Sappros Nepal, a non-governmental organisation active in 24 districts of the country.
Following Tripureshwor’s example, two other all-female branches were established, at Kapan in 2011 and Kamalpokhari in 2014. Now, most urban branches of Agriculture Development Bank have close to 70 and even 90 percent women employees, says Anil Upadhyay, current CEO of the bank.
But when Barsha Adhikari Pandey was appointed manager of the Kapan branch, she didn’t quite know how to handle an office staffed completely by women. Pandey assumed that her employees would be asking for more days off, which she understood as a working mother.
“I was wrong,” says Pandey, who is now manager of the Tripureshwor branch. “Instead, the women were dedicated to putting in more effort and didn’t have any issues committing their time at work.”
Ever since the bank was established, women staff were seen to possess leadership capabilities, discipline, and impressive social skills that resulted in better productivity, says Anil.
“Women were and are still appreciated for their loyalty in such a risky job,” says Pratap Subedi, acting deputy general manager at the bank.
Even the bank’s customers have taken note of how a branch staffed primarily by women operates. For Bednath Panta, who has been frequenting the Tripureshwor branch for 14 years, going to the bank is an experience he actively looks forward to. Panta works at the nearby National Sports Council and needs to visit the Tripureshwor branch nearly every day. It’s also where his salary gets deposited.
“I like that they make me feel like family,” says Panta, 49, who sometimes visits the bank twice a day. “They’re efficient and the queue isn’t long so I get my work done on time.”
The work is the same everywhere but the difference here is that it is a sisterhood and an open, comfortable space to talk about issues, says Pandey.
But it wasn’t always like this. There was a time when many women didn’t know their responsibilities and had problems functioning well, recalls Babli Paudel, branch manager at Tripureshwor from 2012 to 2017.
After being transferred to Tripureshwor from the bank’s head office in Ramshah Path, Paudel realised that she had an important role to play. “I began by encouraging them to treat the workplace as a home and their colleagues as family,” says Paudel.
Whenever there were birthdays, Paudel would organise a small celebration. Whenever someone was sick, she would extend help.
“They felt special and acknowledged for their hard work,” says Paudel. “And that motivated them to be honest and committed to their work.”
Poudel, now 57 and retired, would deploy each employee to one department for six months and then change their department. This enabled each woman to learn to function at all departments and were able to fill in for each other during absences.
During meetings, Paudel would encourage everyone to participate and present their opinion, aiming to make them “bold” and able to speak for themselves. “It feels good to know that two or three of them have even become branch managers now,” says Paudel. “It was a struggle then but now, I’m glad that they’re sharing what they’ve learned.”
This all-women initiative isn’t well known in the Valley but for those in the know, it is an inspiring movement.
Pratikshya Gyawali, a junior officer at the Dallu branch of Nepal SBI Bank, which also has a majority of female staff, says it’s not the gender but it’s the effort in put by individuals that makes work effective. “The all-women branch indeed is a good initiative,” says Gyawali, 32. “Now people have started to understand more how equally important women are.”
Having a workplace dedicated solely for women has opened up opportunities for women empowerment and access to higher positions. According to Pandey, if more such branches are opened, many more women would get to experience the banking sector to the fullest.
In order to achieve the same kind of gender ratio in rural areas, the bank rotates its employees, deploying the young people from urban areas to rural branches and moving employees around from branch to branch, says Anil Upadhyay.
Branch manager Pandey wants her employees to succeed and achieve what she herself has. “I also want to see them become branch managers,” says Pandey. “They have worked hard for years and they deserve it.”