Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Arundhati Bhattacharya: Why should there be different set of rules for public sector banks?

Mumbai, March 20:  Arundhati Bhattacharya, chairman, State Bank of India (SBI), will create history on April 1 when all five associate banks will merge with itself — in the largest such exercise in the banking sector — to blossom out as a single entity. She created history in 2013 when she rose from the ranks and took over as the first woman chairman of the 211-year old bank.

In an exclusive interview, she tells Manju AB that her life’s journeys are never with a complete roadmap but with a conviction that challenges can be tackled and goal post is never too far.

Is it necessary for SBI to demand a high monthly minimum average balance (MAB) of Rs 5,000 in savings accounts?

Arundhati Bhattacharya: There is an interest of 4% paid on savings bank account. Suppose someone is earning a salary of Rs 15,000, then for three days his account can fall below Rs 5,000. If you have Rs 60,000 in your account, you can fall below Rs 5,000 for many days, so it is the average of all the days in a month. In the urban areas, it is Rs 3,000, and in semi-urban areas, it is Rs 2,000. In rural areas, it is Rs 1,000. The Jan Dhan is zero balance.

According to RBI data, the Jan Dhan accounts have deposits of Rs 74,600 crore giving banks a free float?

Arundhati Bhattacharya: Yes, these accounts have money, but there are no restrictions on withdrawing the money. We pay 4% interest on these deposits. Every account is accompanied by a RuPay card which cost the bank about Rs 68 and the ATM infrastructure has to be built where every transaction costs Rs 18 to be paid to the card companies. We allow five free ATM transactions to our customers if they are using other bank ATMs.

Was the cost of running the demonetisation too expensive? Some private banks had shut their ATMs after the government waived off all transaction charges?

Arundhati Bhattacharya: The cost of demonetisation is pretty large. During the time of the demonetisation, it was the PSU banks which served the people. In many places, only the SBI ATMs were open. We refilled the ATMs regularly. Though the government waived off transaction charges on ATMs, we had to pay the card companies. The sheer logistics of transporting so much cash was quite large. Why should there be extraordinary expectations from the public sector when we are in the forefront of nation building?

HDFC Bank recently claimed that they offer five-star services...

Arundhati Bhattacharya: I don't accept that the private sector services are five-star and our services are not. I do not accept that at all. No one complains when the private banks charge high rates. Penalty for not maintaining minimum balance in a private sector bank is anywhere between Rs 450 to Rs 790 per month while for us it is Rs 20 to Rs 100. Why should there be a different set of rules for the public sector banks? Our internet banking site is by far superior to the others. It is the fifth most visited financial site globally. You don't achieve this by running shoddy services.

What will be the role of SBI’s subsidiary, Infra Management Solutions (SBIIMS)? What is SBI’s real estate valued at? Are you open to selling a part of this?

Arundhati Bhattacharya: The real estate is valued at Rs 35,000 crore excluding the assets of the associate banks and about Rs 15,000 crore is added to our tier 1 capital. We are also open to selling our real estate in areas where it is in excess and unutilised. This company will be manned by engineers and construction specialists who will negotiate on our behalf and also look after the upkeep of these premises.

Are you worried for your loans to the telecom sector? Reliance Jio, for instance, is running the longest promotional scheme to capture customers. Have you spoken to the government?

Arundhati Bhattacharya: Not just for us, it should be a matter of concern for the government as well as they are also loosing revenue because of these schemes. We have not exactly spoken to the government in so many words. But we have flagged it off at various quarters that banks have a substantial exposure to the sector. When you have such schemes, there is an impact on competition. Quarterly results of major telcos are pretty impaired. So, it depends on how long these schemes will run. If it is for a short period of time, these people can surely weather the storm.

Any anxieties about the mega merger?

Arundhati Bhattacharya: We are all set for the merger. We already had a template as two banks were merged. So, we worked on the template left behind by our predecessors. Our books of accounts are merged. Relocation of banks and ATMs will happen as we expand our foot print into new areas. We may take some branches a few kilometers away from where they are now. Branches which are set up in clusters in the older part of the cities may be repositioned in the newer parts of the cities. I feel the younger people in the associate banks will be happier to be part of a bigger bank like SBI. The older lot may find it difficult to relocate, and so, we have a Voluntary Retirement Scheme (VRS). But, we are not forcing anyone.

The total NPA pile is likely to cross Rs 9 lakh crore at the end of March 31, and SBI has more than Rs 1.5 lakh crore...

Arundhati Bhattacharya: Post the merger, SBI may end up with Rs 1.6 lakh crore gross NPAs, according to the consolidated figures, we have up to December 31, 2016. We will meet the RBI deadline of March 31, 2017, to clean up our balance sheet. Resolutions will also happen.

But isn’t the issue about over-leverage? Bhushan Steel and Essar Steel would have about Rs 1 lakh crore of loans taken together, almost equivalent to the total stressed debt in the sector?

Arundhati Bhattacharya: Yes, which is why we are saying that there should be a valuation of these assets. We should take some pain. We should take some write-downs and also some conversion of debt to equity. Reduce the debt burden. There is no point running these accounts to the ground.

In the restructuring schemes like Scheme for Sustainable Structuring of Stressed Assets (S4A) and Special Drawing Right (SDR), the share prices soar initially, when the schemes are getting approved by banks and then plummet when banks take over part of the shares?

Arundhati Bhattacharya: If you look at the SDR scheme closely, the Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi) has already given an exception. The conversion of debt to equity is allowed at par value and it will not trigger an open offer if we go beyond a certain limit. We have requested these provisions to be provided for in corporate debt restructuring (CDR) and S4A. The 10% conversion of debt into equity in a CDR is too less.

You want the CDR terms to be diluted?

Arundhati Bhattacharya: Yes. Not necessarily be diluted but changed if you allow the Sebi formula for conversion to be allowed into SDR to CDR. It is not dilution. If bankers have the right kind of mechanisms, we will be able to turn around these units. What is the basis of seven-year turnaround in CDR? It should be more like the time given under 5/25 scheme


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