These may be tough times for bankers but the mood at the FE Best Banks Awards was upbeat. Shrugging aside their worries, the whos who of Indian banking celebrated the industrys success stories, raised a toast to the achievers and saluted the winners. The camaraderie was visible as bankers compared notes and shared experiences, relaxing with colleagues and peers.
The top brass of the Indian banking industry were in full attendance HDFC Banks managing director Aditya Puri, HSBC Indias group general manager & CEO Stuart Milne, Deutsche Banks MD & CEO Ranveet Gill, HDFC Bank ED Paresh Sukthankar, Corporation Bank CMD Ajai Kumar, Bank of Baroda chairman and MD SS Mundra, Bank of Baroda executive director SK Jain Standard Chartered Bank CFO Anurag Adlakha and SBI national banking MD Krishna Kumar.
Keeping them company were top executives from India Inc: McKinsey & Cos chairman Adil Zainulbhai, Vodafone Indias MD and CEO Marten Pieters, Blackstone Indias senior MD & and chairman Akhil Gupta, Tata Motors vice-chairman Ravi Kant, L&T Finances director YM Deosthalee, JM Financial chairman Nimesh Kampani, ICICI Ventures MD & CEO Vishakha Mulye and L&Ts whole-time director & CFO R Shankar Raman.
It was an evening of serious introspection but the underlying mood was tinged with optimism. While the winners drew applause from all and sundry, it was former Reserve Bank of India governor YV Reddy, recipient of the FE Lifetime Achievement Award, who had the crowd in splits. I take this award as recognition of the importance of public policy in general, Reddy said in his acceptance speech before adding, tongue firmly in cheek: I have been told that this award is for the lifetime achievement as a banker but Ive spent the major part of my career as a non-banker. Some even thought I was an anti-banker during my stint as the RBI governor.
Alluding to the remark from Shekhar Gupta, the editor-in-chief of the The Express Group, that no Indian bank currently featured among the top 20 banks of the world, Reddy pointed out that big was not necessarily good. It all depends on the context. If big happens to be such that it cannot fail, then that can be problematic. Big is good provided there are sufficient safeguards, he said. Reddy also highlighted the fact that fiscal health and the banking health were closely related.
During the panel discussion, for instance, Aditya Puri reiterated the fact that the Indian banking system was on a firm footing and there was no cause for undue worry. The Indian banking system is safe, sound and secure. Yes, NPAs (non-performing assets) have gone up, which they would when there is a downturn in the GDP. But is there anything to be too worried about The answer is no, said Puri, addressing a question on whether banks asset quality woes could worsen further.
Blackstone Indias Akhil Gupta, on the other hand, expressed confidence that India could easily grow at more than 7% provided the central bank took measures to ease interest rates. I am encouraged by the courage that the government has shown in making some very difficult decisions. Both substantive as well as symbolic measures are required and it is very often the symbolic gestures that can end up changing the sentiment.
Union commerce minister Anand Sharma during his address observed that the fundamentals of the Indian economy remained strong and India had to now focus on its strengths. Our high savings rate should be channelled into investments, he said. The minister also asked banks to lend to small entrepreneurs, artisans and weavers at affordable rates.
Maharashtra chief minister Prithviraj Chavan gave an update on projects worth about $1 billion that were in various stages of getting rolled out.
The tone of the ministers was quite positive, said L&T Finances Deosthalee. While the minister for commerce stressed on the need for cooperation between the Opposition and the government, the chief minister of Maharashtra did a good job of highlighting the numerous developments pertaining to infrastructure projects in the state.
A Subba Rao, president and group CFO, GMR Group, and Deepa Harris, senior vice-president, sales & marketing at Indian Hotels Company, also found the discussion insightful.
Gupta also presented Sharma with a photograph of his younger self in the company of former prime ministers Indira and Rajiv Gandhi.