Bharatiya Mahila Bank (BMB) is the first of its kind bank in India, meant for women. However, the bank is neither completely run by women, and nor is it exclusively for women.
The first CMD of Bharatiya Mahila Bank, Usha Ananthasubramanian, explains to The Hindu the concept of the Bank which is just about two months old. Edited excerpts from the interview:
How is Bharatiya Mahila Bank different from the other banks?
There is a kind of confusion prevailing in the minds of people. The bank is for everyone . When it comes to deposits, we are open to taking deposits from both men and women. Both are welcome to our branches, to open accounts with us and to bank with us.
The raw material (for banks) is the deposit. In India, where money rests with men, we cannot have restrictions and allow only women to open accounts, in which case we will be deprived of the raw material.
On the advances or loaning side, we need to be different. We are a ‘mahila’ (woman) bank, so we want to predominantly loan to women. That is where the distinction comes. Otherwise, we will be like any other public sector bank. So by differentiating on the loaning front, with a thrust and focus on women, differentiation will happen.
Are the bank’s employees of both genders as well?
The staff comprises both men and women, though we would like to have our offices staffed by women. As of now, we are drawing staff from various banks. It depends on the interest evinced by the people. I was going through the new staff for some of the centres, for example Ranchi, where 30 to 40 people are interested in joining, but there are only two females.
People may also see this as an opportunity to come to their hometowns . So there are many men who have applied. We want to be predominantly staffed by the women but currently are running a ratio of 70:30, in favour of women. But, of course, we do not know what the new staff is going to be like.
What exactly will this bank do for women?
Most women in India do not have a formal relationship with a bank. Only 26 per cent have some kind of dealing with a bank. We have a female population of 47-50 per cent, but a small population of this actually does banking. It is not very encouraging. First and foremost, we want them to have a relationship with a bank. And, any relationship starts with a simple savings account. We want women to get introduced to a simple savings account and the next step is a group account, and then self-help groups, or activities, individually or otherwise. So, we are open to encouraging women to have some kind of economic activity . I am keen on some income generation things happening in this bank.
The bank’s branches are mainly in towns where women already have access to banks. Are you planning to move to rural areas also?
Yes. This is a new bank. In a huge country like India, we first need to establish our presence. So we are going to all State capitals, except in Bhopal, since we already have one in Indore. All capital cities are getting covered from Kerala to Arunachal Pradesh to get a pan-India presence. The next plan will entail covering a set of Tier-2 and Tier-3 centres and unbanked rural centres.
How will the bank go out of its way to facilitate and encourage women to open an account, considering that a lot of documentation is required to open an account?
We need to look at issues case by case. We would not dilute certain standards but on a case to case basis we will have to work with them. We would rather support them and facilitate them.
How is working at the Bharatiya Mahila Bank different from other public sector banks? Are there differences in work culture?
I have come from Bank of Baroda, which is more than a hundred years old. I have also been with Punjab National Bank, which is 115 years old. These are two giants of the Indian banking industry and have distinct work cultures.
The challenge is to evolve a culture for this organisation. It is a multi-cultural organization. Every organization must have a culture of its own. This needs to evolve and it does not happen in a month or two. As of now, except a few directly recruited officers whom I can claim are the properties of the bank, everybody here is from a different bank.
How were these people brought here, on deputation?
Yes, on deputation. There was a circular from the Ministry of Finance to encourage people to come here. We brought them here one grade higher as an incentive. I will not say it is a great incentive but it is an incentive, nevertheless. Banks— like Bank of Baroda and Punjab National Bank—are already established organisations. The systems, procedures, cultures, everything is set, but there is improvisation happening.
But here, we are just starting to lay down the system, procedures, and practices. We need to have lots of policies in place and we need to create a culture for the organization. We need to have a Bharatiya Mahila Bank mindset. At present, we are a multi-cultural organization with officers and staff bringing their own cultures. To come out of that mindset and be your natural self, and adapt to a new culture, is the challenge to the officers also.
When you took over this place, were you given a brief from the government or the Finance Ministry on how to mould this bank, or anything specific you were told to do?
I would say no and yes. I was part of the M.B.N. Rao Committee, set up after the announcement of the bank in the 2013-14 Budget . After the announcement, he formed a committee with six members to give the government a direction on how this bank has to be conceptualized, and what kind of business model it would be. Of course, things would change but it was the blue print that the committee made. It gave me an idea of what was in store After the report of the committee was submitted, the government formed a core management team— drawing members from different banks. It was a group of 8 people and I was the leader.
We had 13-14 meetings. We had engaged some senior retired executives to write policies for the bank. This tenure at the leader gave me the fullest picture of how and in which direction we were moving. It was a preparatory ground for me to come over here.
How would you inspire someone to open an account?
We have some attractive interest rates on the savings deposits. Up to Rs.1 lakh, we give 4.5 per cent and beyond that we give 5 per cent. The bank has launched some innovative schemes for empowering women like kitchen loans, education loans, crèche loans and loans for starting small home-based catering businesses. The bank has attractive rates of interests for women.