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A bank for women, by women
While the long-awaited new banks are yet to make their appearance, an innovative bank for women, managed by women is expected to join the banking sector soon under government ownership.

Beginning its innings with six branches in metropolitan centres, it is proposed to have an all women bank with 25 branches by March 2014. A provision in the Union Budget for Rs.1000 crore is reported to have been already made. Steps have been initiated to invite applications from experienced women bank officers of different grades working in public sector banks. The success of this experiment is beyond doubt as already there are three big public sector banks managed by women chairpersons.


Gender inequality in banking

The banking sector in India has not reached out to a large percentage of female members. Female bank customers, those who have deposit accounts, are less than a fourth of the total deposit accounts handled by the banking sector. The number of deposit accounts of female customers is 21.84 crore out of the total deposit accounts of 90.32 crore as on March 2012. As the female population is 58.64 crore, hardly 37 per cent of them can be considered having access to banking. Remember, as the number of deposit accounts is not equal to the number of depositors, the percentage of female customers would be less than 37 per cent.


Employment in banks

Banking sector has been employing women in good number during the last fifty years. However, majority of them were working in clerical cadres, foregoing transfers and promotions. The ambitious among them did accept the challenges and went up in the hierarchy. Quite a few ladies have entered the boardrooms of big public sector banks. Incidentally, the Reserve Bank of India, the regulator of banking sector, also had two ladies as deputy governors till recently.

As a result of rapid branch expansion adopted by the banking sector, the number of bank employees has increased to 11.75 lakh, of which women employees are 2.15 lakh as on March 2012. As far as bank officers are concerned, they are 5.02 lakh in number, while women officers are only 84,375. The total number of women staff working in rural and semi-urban areas, is 56,324. Mobility of female staff, both spatial and hierarchical, has been quite fast in the recent years unlike in the past.

In the current selection process of bank officers conducted at the apex level by the Institute of Banking Personnel Selection (IBPS), women are found to be participating very successfully. Some banks are recruiting officers in large numbers and training them through outside agencies by offering incentives in terms of education loans. In the initial stages, the new Bank can take trained officers to begin the branch level business.


Strategy for success

To be cost-effective and accessible to large number of ‘unbanked households’, the new bank could adopt the branchless banking model by opening large number of ultra small branches in rural and semi-urban centres. The Branchless Banking Centres (BBC) are to be managed by selected local women designated as business correspondents. Women are more suitable for this job, as they would be rendering this service from their homes. The informal atmosphere at such centres makes the villagers quite comfortable in doing their banking transactions. The scope for setting up such BBCs is immense, as there are 6.31 lakh villages in India and the number of rural branches is less than 40,000 at present. Even if the banking sector proposes to extend this facility to one lakh villages, it may require one lakh business correspondents. The Mahila Bank should opt for a major share in this plan.

Also Self Help Groups can be gainfully used for business expansion. Majority of their members are women from middle income group living in towns and villages. These groups are instrumental in reaching out to lakhs of households for expanding sales of some FMCG companies. Enhancing the level of financial literacy can be attempted through such field level workers for attaining financial inclusion.

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