It was a rare occasion, where the Prime Minister attended the bankers’ meet along with the Finance Minister, the Governor of Reserve Bank of India and the top officials of the Finance Ministry.
The deliberations of the two-day meet were focused. The outcome has been positive in directing the banking sector to improve its operational mechanism to respond to the changing aspirations of the masses, without sacrificing efficiency.
Reaching out to the unreached...
Providing easy accessibility to banking services for the poor continued to be the major thrust area. Banks have travelled miles since the launching of the National Mission for Financial Inclusion in August last year, under the Pradhan Mantri Jan-Dhan Yojana. It appears that banks have collectively opened 10.63 crore new basic savings bank accounts. Nearly 78 percent of these accounts are having zero balance of deposits, while 2.30 crore accounts are having a total deposit of Rs.8369 crore. According to Census 2011, the percentage of households availing banking services was 58.7 and it has now risen to 98 percent. With this remarkable achievement, banks must now ensure that the accounts with zero balance do not slip into dormant accounts.
Curtailing non-performing assets (NPA)
The rise in NPAs is a cause for concern. According to the Reserve Bank of India, the gross NPA has increased to 4.5 per cent and net NPA has gone up to 2.5 per cent of the total advances as on September 2014. Banks have been directed to strengthen their risk management apparatus to receive early warning signals. The government is planning to make laws relating to recovery of dues more stringent by amending the SARFAESI Act. Laws pertaining to debt recovery tribunals (DRT) are also expected to be amended to effectively deal with bad loans and willful defaulters.
Maintaining autonomy of banks
Political interference in the public sector banks’ operations has been an issue which could not be eliminated so far. This is reflected in the nomination of directors in the banks’ boards also. The Prime Minister has assured bankers that there would not be any interference by the PMO. It is highly desirable to include in the board, experts in financial management and even retired bank executives of proven track record, instead of persons owing allegiance to political parties.
It was decided to leave the decision of bank mergers to the banks themselves: no bank merger would be initiated by the government. Merger is not a desirable strategy at this stage as it is bound to dilute the amalgamated banks’ interest in intensifying their recovery drives. Also the mere merger of banks is not going to make the public sector banks competitive, so long as they continue to carry less remunerative business components.
Improving the human resources
Banking sector employs over a million. But for their participation, it could not have reached out to over 150 crore households across India. So far no thought has been devoted to making them the shareholders of banks. As the Government of India is planning to reduce its shareholding in the public sector banks, bank staff may be encouraged to become shareholders. When the wage revision is being negotiated, the staff may be advised to invest at least 10 per cent of the enhanced wages in their own banks’ shares. The officers and workmen are represented by their elected leaders as directors in the banks. It is time the banks’ unions consider the feasibility of investing in the banks’ shares. n