After steering State Bank of India (SBI) as its chairman for three years, Arundhati Bhattacharya bid adieu to the bank on Friday. The outgoing chief told reporters that among her unfinished agenda is revival of credit growth. Excerpts:
What is your plan after retirement?
I don’t think I’ll continue in the area of banking but obviously I am not just going to hang up my boots. In today’s time 60 is too early, of course I’m past 60 but that does not matter. If there is so much of stuff to do and you have the energy and willingness to do it then I think you can. So definitely I will be around and active but may not be directly in banking.
What is your unfinished agenda?
There is never a position where you can say that now my agenda is finished because what happens is that you start with an agenda and as you go on, you keep adding to it. So there has to be certain unfinished pieces of business. We were supposed to deliver on the digital front something that was really different and that was supposed to be sometime in July. Now it has got delayed a little because the scope of the project has widened as we have gone along. So this is something which will be delivered to you withing the next month. That is obviously an unfinished agenda but it does not matter because we have progressed a huge amount.
For instance, while we have done everything possible to improve our understanding and monitoring of risk, of improving processes, our credit underwriting standards, our follow-up processes, at the same time the credit growth is not where we wanted to. So that’s an unfinished agenda. I think that the incoming chairman has already stated his agenda to take that forward and rightfully so. We have an internal succession planning, a very good planning. As a result, people who are coming in were part of the team that has delivered for the bank in the last few years and are therefore aware as to where we are in a particular initiative and they will take that forward.
What do you think of the bad loan problem?
You’ll want big structural changes; you want big and bold steps to be taken and then you expect everything to be okay in 30-90 days. See, anything that is major will take time to percolate down and give you the benefits. So if you have certain amount of adverse numbers being reported in a 90-day time frame, then it is not the end of the world, it is the beginning of the good times. You will have to give time for many of the major things to settle down and for it to start giving the right kind of results. But if the steps being taken are being done in the right way then the right results will come in a matter of time.
Have banks recognised all non-performing assets (NPAs)?
I think much of the recognition has already happened. Since I will not be there it is not right for me to give these forward looking statements, but let me tell you that during my tenure all of you have repeatedly asked are we at the bottom and I have kept saying that we are already there. I can tell today that we are there and we should see good results going forward and whether it will be in this quarter or the next quarter, I do not know. The fact remains that every other indicator points that way. And therefore we are quite confident of seeing an uptick in the economy.
Do you think the hike in SBI’s service charges is justified?
Our service charges are much less than what other banks are charging. Except SBI, all the banks were charging for non-maintenance of minimum average balance. If we do not run bank properly then we will not be able to provide banking services in future. If the bank is not healthy then the bank will not be able to innovate or provide services. At any point of time any model we have has to be commercially viable and sustainable. For that there will be some charges. One should understand there has to be an economic model for everything. Because there were certain number of accounts that we were supporting without any charges, it was necessary. Overall there is need for improving or increasing charges it will be done. It is also a matter of inflation. Inflation takes place and other things become costly.