The massive fraud at Punjab National Bank (PNB) seems to have infused a renewed sense of urgency in the government to ensure public-sector banks (PSBs) carry out the reforms directed by it at the earliest. PSBs will “consolidate” 35 overseas operations and also explore the possibility of undertaking such an exercise in another 69 operations that have already been identified, financial services secretary Rajeev Kumar said on Thursday. In fact, all the 216 overseas operations of PSBs will also be examined to see if further consolidation is possible. The plan to rationalise overseas operations was a part of the reform measures PSBs were directed to initiate as one of the conditions to get Rs 2.11 lakh crore in capital infusion by the government. In a tweet on Thursday, Kumar said: “PSBs to consolidate 35 overseas operations without affecting international presence of PSBs in these countries; 69 ops identified for further examination. Move towards cost efficiencies and synergies in overseas mkt.” The operations includes bank branches, joint ventures, subsidiaries, remittance centres and representative offices.
“Non-viable operations in overseas market to be closed for cost efficiency and synergy,” Kumar said, adding operations in the same geography will be consolidated. Similarly, equity stakes in joint ventures having multiple PSB partners will also be consolidated, he said.
Commenting on the rationalisation plan, State Bank of India chairman Rajnish Kumar said unless the business volumes justify an operation overseas, banks have to rationalise costs.
The government in late January announced the instillation of an unprecedented Rs 88,139 crore in 20 PSBs by March 31 to improve their ability to lend and support growth. The rest of the capital from the promised package will be provided in 2018-19. However, the massive capitalisation has been made conditional on reforms across six themes. Banks have been told to adopt differentiated business strategy and exit from non-core businesses so that they can focus more on core competencies. Each bank will adopt a policy as per its core strength and monetise its non-core activity.
Some banks have already identified non-core assets and started monetising them. For instance, PNB has already announced closure of its representative offices in Australia and China. Union Bank of India has sold a 40% stake in its mutual fund business to Japan’s Dai-ichi Life Insurance Company. Similarly, Bank of India offloaded its entire 5% stake in credit bureau TransUnion Cibil through a sale of shares to US-based TransUnion International.
The 21 PSBs together have a market share of 70%, so improving their efficiency will have a salutary effect on the banking sector, the finance ministry feels. Massive capital infusion into PSBs was necessitated as their gross non-performing assets surged from 5.4% of gross advances in March 2015 to 13.7% by June 2017. This led to a jump in their provisioning requirements to Rs 3,79,080 crore between FY15 and Q1FY18, much higher than the Rs 1,96,937 crore made during the preceding 10 years.