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Updated: January 20, 2014 08:37 IST

We need to have a ‘Mahila Bank’ mindset: Usha Ananthasubramanian

Aarti Dhar
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Usha Ananthasubramanian. Photo: V. Sudershan
The Hindu
Usha Ananthasubramanian. Photo: V. Sudershan

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.

This is not going to help much by providing .05 or1% higher rate if interest on Savings Bank. The poor mahila;s don;t have much money to put in SB accounts so how to get benefit of higher rate of intt. The need is how to help such needy poor women to setup their small units with the financial help from BMB for their upliftment self dependence.Plans and vision in this area is required. Their is need for Financial literacy programmes for Mahila;s. This will motivate them to come near to BMB for their requirement freely without any fear .

from:  d.k.sawhney
Posted on: Jan 21, 2014 at 13:02 IST

Dear Usha ji
This is indeed good to see your views and future plans. I may suggest that in urban areas there is not much problems to women for availing banking facilities as compared to rural/semi-urban areas. The R.Seti;s(Rural self employment training institute) at every District place are providing skill training to women and they need financial help from banks.BMB can be very useful to such trained ladies who can set up their projects with the help of BMB and can be self dependent.

from:  d.k.sawhney
Posted on: Jan 21, 2014 at 12:52 IST

The concept of BMB is a mere another political stunt by the Finance
Ministry. BMB is taking its own time to proliferate to rural areas.
Voluntarism from women category to work in BMB branches is lukeworm.
Total number of Public Sector Bank Branches as at March 31, 2013 is
70421. The Government can very well convert 1% of the total branches
into Mahila Branches. By this way, the newly emerged BMB need not
satisfy any capital adequacy norms, need not be at the mercy of
Finance Ministry to pump in required capital to run the business thus
saving thousands of crores of rupees. Let each PSB designate and re-
designate a few branches of their own with 100% manned by women
employees who will carry on their work culture without any hindrance.
The reach to the ruralites will be more easier and quicker by existing
PSBs rather than the newly emerged BMB where the ruralites would
reconcile themselves with Bank identification easily.

Posted on: Jan 21, 2014 at 06:14 IST

If it is for a real cause it would be appreciated otherwise it is waste of public money for their own cause.

from:  krishna
Posted on: Jan 20, 2014 at 21:48 IST

When there are many Women Only branches from the existing PSBs what is the need for the govt to waste Rs 500 to Rs 1000 Crore money in this new start-up? Better, PSBs and the existing banks must be asked to open Mahila Banking Branch (Women Only) in all state capitals, Metros and Tire-II and III cities.

from:  Santosh
Posted on: Jan 20, 2014 at 21:38 IST

Mahila Bank can show its different from rest of the banks by not just
giving loans but providing consultancy to women for start ups and
mentoring for sometime; Then only would the purpose of empowering of
women, what the bank intends to do can be achieved.And for that it has
to reach out and not wait for customers to come .

from:  Snehal Bhat
Posted on: Jan 20, 2014 at 16:12 IST

Mahila Bank is a waste of public money and time. Women do not face any harassment or inconvenience in other banks and there is nothing new that a Mahila Bank can offer.
BMB is a gimmickry.

from:  Abhinav
Posted on: Jan 20, 2014 at 14:05 IST

Congratulations to the CMD. It is a great challenge for her and I am
sure with her calibre she will be able to achieve her goals. When
woman empowerment is the main theme of the bank it is so sad that the
email contact details of the CMD, directors or even the branches are
not published in their site. We, career oriented women want to
contribute to this cause, be it in the form of marketing and business
development or to support CMD by suggesting policies,procedures,plans,
strategies or offering our services for such a noble cause. I humbly
request to update their site with all relevant email IDs so that we
can correspond.
From: Swathi Narayan, a bank executive.

from:  swathinarayan
Posted on: Jan 20, 2014 at 13:30 IST

It is encouraging to read this article but your website is not having
the contact telephone numbers of branches. The SHGs in Tamilnadu want to
visit your Chennai office after getting an appointment time but the
telephone numbers are missing (only the address of the bank branch is

from:  Chandrasekaran
Posted on: Jan 20, 2014 at 12:36 IST

The concept is good, but success will depend on the innovation of new business ideas, for the females, including, encouraging, piggy banks for female children, which can become competitive against insurance schemes.
The kitchen loans should not end up as consumer loans, but blossom in to selling of various pickles, papads, brooms, including export of such home made rural products. The bank should see this as an opportunity to create rural women economic force. Can this MD who boasts from BOB, and PNB, bring this change in the women of India, and bring joy in their lives? A banker should be a friend, philosopher, and guide of the community, rather than talking of tier 2, tier 3. The bank should go to customers, as barefoot bankers, become part of such society. Cant his done by this MB?

from:  A.K.Rao
Posted on: Jan 20, 2014 at 12:34 IST

Govt is never short of new concepts and ideas. In the days to come is is expected that we
will have separate nationalised exclusively for male children, for female children, for un
married ladies, for married ladies, for widows, for spinsters, for lady business people, for men
business people and so on and so forth. One doesnot know whether such decisions are
taken by economists or by politicians. We will see all fun in the coming years

from:  L sundaresan
Posted on: Jan 20, 2014 at 09:51 IST
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