She was called “Simply Great” by her colleagues at the Reserve Bank of India (RBI). Shyamala Gopinath, who spent close to four decades at the RBI until June 2011, when she retired as deputy governor, handled key portfolios including financial markets and government debt, shaping regulation and steering WTO negotiations.
But her vast experience and deep insights into the financial system were probably never more valuable than during the Lehman crisis. It was Gopinath’s understanding of the situation that helped India emerge virtually unscathed from the global financial meltdown as she assisted D Subbarao, who had just taken charge as governor.
In fact, if the RBI is held in high esteem for having regulated with prudence and pragmatism, much of the credit goes to Gopinath.
Indeed, one is glad she signed on with the central bank and not Central Bank, which had offered her a job way back in the early 1970s. For her tremendous contribution to central banking in India, Gopinath has been awarded the FE Best Banks Lifetime Achievement Award.
Shikha Sharma, CEO and MD, Axis Bank, takes home the award for Banker of the Year (2012-13) for her ability to grow the business in a difficult environment without compromising on asset quality. A high-powered jury comprising S Ramadorai, adviser to the PM in the national council on skill development, former CAG Vinod Rai, Sunil Bharti Mittal, chairman and group CEO, Bharti Group, AM Naik, group executive chairman, Larsen & Toubro, Sanjay Nayar, CEO, KKR India, and Janmajeya Sinha, chairman, Asia Pacific, Boston Consulting Group, selected Sharma for the bank’s performance in consumer banking where the focus was on secured loans and the strong retail liability franchise built with innovative use of technology.
The share of retail assets rose to 27% in March 2013, up from 20% in March 2012, with the launch of several premium products driving the business. The SME portfolio too was strengthened with weaker borrowers being weeded out.
Sharma ensured the loan book was of high quality even as the bank remained profitable with net interest margins in the region of 3.25%. Under Sharma’s leadership, Axis Bank proved it was possible to lend to infrastructure without piling up bad debts — net NPAs are under 1% of its loans, and the bank has grown its profits by more than 20% every year for the last five years.
State Bank of India (SBI) has walked away with the Special Initiative award for its role in financial inclusion, yet again, having taken banking to the farthest corners of the country. With over 62,200 customer service points (CSPs) and with a reach into 0.78 lakh villages, SBI is the country’s biggest service provider in rural India. In another year or so, SBI will have reached out to another 0.28 lakh villages. Indeed, SBI has issued more RuPay cards than the rest of the banks put together. The bank pursues an inclusion strategy that ropes in corporate entities such as SEWA, Oxygen and GeoSansar to help it reach out to customers in far-flung areas. It is also training CSPs in the area of debt recovery so that it can reduce the stress in agri-lending. As of March, 2014, SBI had recorded 7.1 crore transactions involving a sum of Rs 22,500 crore.