Banking in India

Banking on Retail

With a jump in the Indian economy from a manufacturing sector, that never really took off, to a nascent service sector, Banking as a whole is undergoing a change. A larger option for the consumer is getting translated into a larger demand for financial products and customisation of services is fast becoming the norm than a competitive advantage. With the Retail banking sector expected to grow at a rate of 30% [Chanda Kochhar, ED, ICICI Bank] players are focussing more and more on the Retail and are waking up to the potential of this sector of banking.

At the same time, the banking sector as a whole is seeing structural changes in regulatory frameworks and securitisation and stringent NPA norms expected to be in place by 2004 means the faster one adapts to these changing dynamics, the faster is one expected to gain the advantage. In this article, we try to study the reasons behind the euphemism regarding the Retail-focus of the Indian banks and try to assess how much of it is worth the attention that it is attracting.


Potential for Retail in India: Is sky the limit?

The Indian players are bullish on the Retail business and this is not totally unfounded. There are two main reasons behind this. Firstly, it is now undeniable that the face of the Indian consumer is changing. This is reflected in a change in the urban household income pattern. The direct fallout of such a change will be the consumption patterns and hence the banking habits of Indians, which will now be skewed towards Retail products.

At the same time, India compares pretty poorly with the other economies of the world that are now becoming comparable in terms of spending patterns with the opening up of our economy. For instance, while the total outstanding Retail loans in Taiwan is around 41% of GDP, the figure in India stands at less than 5%.

The comparison with the West is even more staggering. Another comparison that is natural when comparing Retail sectors is the use of credit cards. Here also, the potential lies in the fact that of all the consumer expenditure in India in 2001, less than 1% was through plastic, the corresponding US figure standing at 18%.


But how competitive are the players?

The fact that the statistics reveal a huge potential also brings with it a threat that is true for any sector of a country that is opening up. Just how competitive are our banks? Is the threat of getting drubbed by foreign competition real? To analyze this, one needs to get into the shoes of the foreign banks. In other words, how do they see us? Are we good takeover targets?

Going by international standards, a large portion of the Indian population is simply not “bankable” – taking profitability into consideration. On the other hand, the financial services market is highly over-leveraged in India. Competition is fierce, particularly from local private banks such as HDFC and ICICI, in the business of home, car and consumer loans. There, precisely lie the pitfalls of such explosive growth. All banks are targeting the fluffiest segment i.e. the upwardly mobile urban salaried class.

Although the players are spreading their operations into segments like self- employed and the semi-urban rich, it is an open secret that the big city Indian yuppies form the most profitable segment. Over-dependence on this segment is bound to bring in inflexibility in the business.

What about the foreign giants?

The foreign banks have identified this problem but there are certain systematic risks involved in operating in the Retail market for them. These include regulatory restrictions that prevent them from expanding their branch network. So these banks often take the Direct Selling Agent (DSA) route whereby low-end jobs like sourcing or transaction processing are outsourced to small regional layers.

So now on, when you see a loan mela or a road show showcasing the retail bouquet of an elite MNC giant, you know that a significant commission earned out of any such booking gets ploughed back to our own economy. Perhaps, one of the biggest impediments in foreign players leveraging the Indian markets is the absence of positive credit bureaus. In the west the risk profile can be easily mapped to things like SSNs and this information can be publicly traded. PAN is a step in this direction but lot more work need to be done. What has been a positive step towards this is a negative file sharing started by a consortium of 11 banks. However, as a McKinsey study points out actual write-offs on NPAs show a strong negative correlation with sharing of positive information. On top of this, the spend-now-pay-later “credit culture” in India is just not picking up. A swift legal procedure against consumers creating bad debt is virtually non-existent.

Finally, the vast geographical and cultural diversity of the country makes credit policy formulation a tough job and it simply cannot be dictated from a Wall Street or a Singapore boardroom! All these add up to the unattractiveness of the Indian retail market to the foreign players.

So over the past few years, in spite of the entry of MNCs in many industries, Retail Banking has seen a flurry of panicky exits.

Fewer than 40 remain in India and their share of total bank assets currently 7.2% is falling. Those that remain might be thought to be likely buyers of Indian banks. Yet Citibank, HSBC and Standard Chartered—all in India for more than a century, and with relatively large retail networks—seem to have no pressing need to acquire a local bank. Established foreign banks have preferred to take over customers or businesses from other foreign banks that want to leave. Thus HSBC, in recent years, has acquired customers from France's BNP, Germany's Deutsche Bank and Japan's Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi. ABN Amro took over Bank of America's retail business.

So all for the keeping then?

This will perhaps be the most wrongful inference that can be drawn from the above. We just cannot afford to look inwards and repeat the mistakes that were the side effects of the Nationalization of the Banking System. A growing market can never be an alibi for lack of innovation. Indian banks have shown little or no interest in innovative tailor-made products. They have often tried to copy process designs that have been tested, albeit successfully, in the West. Each economic culture has its own traits and one who successfully adapts those to the business is the eventual winner.

A case in point is the successful implementation of micro-credit networks in Bangladesh. Positioning a bank as a tech-savvy financial vendor in a country where Internet penetration is an abysmal 1.65% can only add to the over-leveraging as pointed out earlier. The focus of the sector should remain in macroeconomic wealth creation and not increasing the per capita indebtedness that will do little but add to the NPA burden. Retail Banking in India has to be developed in the Indian way, notwithstanding the long queues in front of the teller counters in the Public sector banks!

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Your Citation
Chatterjee, Suchintan. "Banking in India." ThoughtCo, Jun. 9, 2016, Chatterjee, Suchintan. (2016, June 9). Banking in India. Retrieved from Chatterjee, Suchintan. "Banking in India." ThoughtCo. (accessed December 16, 2017).