The FE Best Banks Awards are always an exclusive affair. The 2017 edition, held on December 9, was no different. With a galaxy of bankers and businessmen in attendance, conversations sparkled. Amid chime and chatter, Minister of Road Transport & Highways Nitin Gadkari handed out the awards with the august gathering applauding the winners. Kotak Mahindra Bank vice-chairman and managing director Uday Kotak took home the award for lifetime achievement, for his undying focus on preserving capital and growing several businesses simultaneously. In his acceptance speech, Kotak said thanks to digital banking, in many ways, the banking sector has had to start afresh.
Legal eagle Cyril Shroff reminisced about the growing up years with Kotak and spoke of the latter’s overwhelming desire to be innovative but within the four corners of the law and also to ensure the company always remained in Indian hands. Capital market veteran Hemendra Kothari recalled it was he who had handed Kotak his BSE membership card.
Arundhati Bhattacharya, former chairman of State Bank of India (SBI) was adjudged ‘Banker of the Year’ for 2015-16. Bhattacharya took the clean-up of bank balance sheets in her stride and also convinced the unions of SBI’s affiliate banks that a merger with the parent was good for them, apart from realising the importance of going digital.
Bhattacharya said while it was true that state-owned bankers often had their hands tied behind their backs, much like Sholay, they came out fighting with their feet.
In a panel discussion on the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC), the 58-year-old Kotak made pertinent observations on fairness and transparency in the bidding process, a testimony to Uday Kotak’s cautious optimism credo.
The 61-year-old Bhattacharya spoke eloquently on the issue of moral hazard in the context of resolution under the IBC. She elaborated on how allowing defaulting promoters to bid for their companies was a moral hazard. Bhattacharya pointed out the same people who could not run a company, would get it at a much lower price, adding how the Ordinance now stands tall as a solution.
Though Ramamurthy Thyagarajan, the father of financing second-hand trucks in the country, could not be physically present at the event for his Special Initiative Award, there was a standing ovation at the very mention of his name. After all, his pioneering vision has translated into Shriram Transport Finance Ltd. becoming a business with assets more than `80,000 crore.
Innovations in the financial space were also in the limelight. While ICICI Bank’s app was adjudged the best product in its category, Kotak Mahindra Bank’s savings bank product soared
over all else in its bracket. This year, fintechs made the cut as well, an extension of recognizing the very best in the innovation space. Juspay and PolicyBazaar walked away with top honors in the fintech arena.
Ahead of the presentation ceremony, the union minister candidly observed that core projects would be facilitated wherever banks are unable to fund requirements. Gadkari observed that despite woes of the past, bankers now had much to look forward to. He pointed to the recent uptick in the economy being an initial sign of things to come—with large projects in roads, irrigation and river-linking sectors ready to kick-off.
Earlier, Viveck Goenka, chairman & managing director, The Express Group, welcomed the guests and spoke on how disruptive technology was challenging the banking space. He also piqued interest on how the IBC would pan out. That led to a four-member panel discussion in the evening featuring Uday Kotak, Arundhati Bhattacharya, chairman of JSW Group Sajjan Jindal and UTI AMC managing director Leo Puri.
That’s how the chandelier-lit ‘The Great Room’ at the Four Seasons Mumbai lived up to its name on December 9—raising a toast to the best of banks and bankers, feting financial technology and summing up with the most critical debate searing India Inc. today.