FLEXCUBE User Training – “I get nervous about really smart people”

January 4, 2001. I took a flight to Eastern Europe (Poland) for the first time. Little could I imagine that it would be the first of the many trips I would take time and time again to Eastern Europe.

I flew from Mumbai to Warsaw via Amsterdam by KLM airlines. I was going to Warsaw to conduct user training for one of the recognized US multinational banks. I had a short stop-over in Amsterdam (it became my home after a long time) and flew in to Warsaw. The flight had reached about 20:30 hours. and because of jet lag, I felt tired and worn.

I completed the visa formalities and waited in line for the taxi. The taxi driver was a woman and she welcomed me with a “dzien dobry”. I hardly understood what it meant. Without much effort, she took my 20 kg box and pushed it in the trunk of the car.

The taxi started rolling from the airport to Warsaw city, where my studio apartment was. All I could see outside were white piles of snow – the whole city was freezing and snowing. I saw snow for the first time in my life. There was little energy left in my body to enjoy the fresh snow and before I could realize I was off in the taxi. I woke up when the taxi driver pressed hard on the break. I looked at her and she smiled at me. I guess I had to understand everything from that smile. It was more than an hour since the taxi left Warsaw Airport. I asked her how long it will take to reach the apartment for which there was no answer. I repeated the question for which the answer was a pearly smile. I lost patience and in a more stern voice I asked her if she followed what I was saying. she replied “English little, little”. I understood the upward task ahead of me. I knew survival would be tough in Poland. I had to train banking staff on software that few knew how it worked, including the developers of the software.

My landlord was waiting for me in the apartment and I was happy to get off the taxi finally.

This US bank had its regional center (CEEMEA) headquarters in Poland. This US bank had acquired a local Polish bank to increase its market share.

The bank had laid down a condition on the education consultant’s profile. The consultant who comes to conduct training sessions must also have knowledge of the legacy system. The legacy system that ran the bank was COSMOS, another avatar of MicroBanker. (MicroBanker was the previous version of Oracle FLEXCUBE). The legacy system had been running in the bank for 20 odd years. I was ready to start user training.

I had a cold reception in the bank on my first day. This was in sync with the weather conditions (minus 16 degrees C) in Warsaw at that time of year. Later I realized that Polish people are cold regardless of the season. The reason for this seems to be the historical turmoil they had gone through. The proof of the same is in Krakow and Auschwtiz.

I spent the first few days setting up FLEXCUBE software. Further, I tried to learn a few Polish words to survive and taste world-famous Polish vodkas. (I can confirm that Chopin is the best)

The training began after 3 days after I reached Warsaw. CITIL is used to follow the standardized “Train the Trainer approach”. I felt this was a good approach to create the first set of knowledgeable users of the system. Core teams had representation from various departments (Marketing, Operations, Audit, IT, etc.) with a good amount of banking experience. Furthermore, the team had members from different nationalities (Russia, Romania, Bulgaria, Czech, etc.) The team size was approx. 20 approx. I felt good about the team profile. The only reservation I had was participants from two different banks and had not met before. They got to know each other on day 1 of user education.

The training started and within minutes everyone had an angry smile. There were also small parallel discussions in progress with full laughter. I realized I didn’t have the class with me and stopped training. I wanted to know what was fun so I could laugh too. One of the participants with a mood asked me what is “scattered”? He said the system provided 2 options “One side” and “both sides”. This got me thinking a little bit and I was a little defensive.

I explained to the team that it was a jargon used in the world of treasure. It was nothing but the margin on bid and request amounts. After a few minutes, the participant who raised the query said they were all aware of the basics.

He said they had visualized a spread that would give vent to their carnal desires. Their imagination had gone wild. I wondered if it had anything to do with the freezing weather. I smiled a little and went on with the session.

As the session continued, one of the participants from Russia commented. He said the technology architecture does not convey rigor and robustness. He felt the system was designed without much thought. It was a direct attack on me and the product. I asked him what made him say it. He said that when I looked at the UI, I visualized the table structure of the database and depicted a model. I was in awe as what he said were facts. He was able to visualize the table structure based on user interface and system architecture. I had to regain lost ground. I justified table structures and design logic.

I realized this participant could visualize beyond spread. What he said was logical and made sense to me. He made every moment of the training session miserable and difficult. Following perestroika in the USSR, many rocket scientists took jobs in banks as data center operators. This participant was a research engineer who had worked on actual rocket science projects. He played with our “technology” and caught my eye. I felt exhausted by day one and I was worried if I could handle the 3 week training myself. It didn’t take much to realize that it would not be possible to hold the session alone. I had sent an extra resource request to my boss on day 1. I said a resource is needed to deal with the training situation.

You know how easy it is to get a resource when you ask for one. My boss convinced me that I was a super star and he had complete confidence in me to do the job. I had to be strict with him. The message was loud and clear to my boss – (I assume) curse me he said he will act on it and come back to me in 24 hours.

Day 2 started with a discussion about another Treasury product. (NDF – Non-Deliverable Forward Games). Within 20 minutes of the meeting, there was great chaos and quarrel between the group members. The problem was that the US bank had a certain norm for the passage of accounting records. The FLEXCUBE system handled the requirements as required by the US MNC bank. The participants of the local Polish bank had pointed out certain major accounting deficiencies. Accounting records passed by FLEXCUBE were in violation of the guidelines set by the Central Bank. The Polish bank participants disagreed with the US MNC Bank. This was a peculiar situation as I had nothing to do with it. The situation revealed whether an M&A transaction was sufficient. Core system transformation was not well thought out at the operational level.

Day 2 went on similar lines as Day 1, with the only difference being that the Russians were joined by the Czechs. The core team took everything from me and the system out. Day 2 at the end of the day saw me tired and exhausted at. 16.30.

It was time to take feedback from the participants. The summary of the feedback was as follows:

(Participant 1- From Bulgaria): I’m not very good with English. I do not follow your Indian English and accent

(Participant 2 – From Romania): Your age is my experience in this bank. You should not ask me questions and reveal my ignorance. I thought I was sent to join the program for some rest from my routine activities

(Participant 3 – From Poland): On a superficial level it looks like this: 7.30pm these days. After implementing this new software, it looks like I’ll be home by 1 p.m. 23:00.

(Participant 4 – From Russia): This system is a junk and we are bound to buy this. We have to design a new system and the training sessions are a waste of time.

My head started spinning after reading and assimilating the feedback.

Day 3 – I decided to take things in control and set the rules of the game.

1. You will not criticize the software further as it is a software purchased by them

2. The sales phase, ie. love letter phase is over and marriage has taken place. Now we have to figure out how to run the family instead of criticizing the software time and time again

3. Disagreements will be discussed and an agreement was reached

4. Neither party makes the other feel small or small

I managed to survive through the week and as a great relief, a resource joined me more over the weekend. I told him we will handle the sessions every other day. I reasoned so that we would not be exhausted by this fleeting and super brilliant group.

Day 6 of the training session, my colleague handled the session. He also received a “fair” treatment of the group. I was there to back him up and read the playing rules agreed on Day 3 for the participants. I think I referred to the rules of the game at least 4-5 times. The participants began to become friendly with me as time progressed. Stockholm Syndrome had gone down.

It was time for feedback again on the evening of day 6:

One of the lady participants was struggling to book a transaction in the system. I took the extra initiative and volunteered to help her. After all, you know she was a virgin in distress and I was the hero waiting to save her. – When I sat down next to her and told her I wanted to show her how to book a Forex deal, she sighed with relief. “I’m so glad you’re teaching me instead of him.”

Surprised, I said that my colleague was far more experienced than I was.

“Yes,” she said, “but I feel much more comfortable with you. I get nervous about smart people.”

This summed up for me how the participants felt about my training, although she was subtle. I was glad that this was private and only to my ears.

Exercise completed after 3 weeks. It was time for me to transfer the project to my colleague and return to Bangalore, India.

I have created a lifelong partnership with this wonderful bunch of participants. They had taught me their own products and technology within 15 days. I had also taught FLEXCUBE software to them. The only parallel I could draw was the U.S. Navy SEAL training. However, I had long wondered who was training who. I remember the days when I received emails for New Year from these attendees.

I was happy and relieved when the lady officer at the immigration in Poland stamped my passport. She wanted me Good Bye in Polish. (“do widzenia”)

If you are interested in countless secrets of Poland and the implementation of the core bank, write to: prakhash@bfsiconsulting.com