These may not easy times for India Inc but the mood at the FE Best Banks Awards was upbeat. Concerns were set aside as the gathering at the Crystal Room in Mumbai’s Taj Palace enjoyed an evening of feting and felicitating as it raised a toast to some of the country’s best bankers. CEOs shared some light moments with their colleagues and peers even as a heavyweight panel debated whether banks had been too soft on promoters, concluding at the end of it all, that there was much to be learnt from the past and also that there was good reason to be optimistic.
Indeed, it was a time to look ahead as Jayant Sinha, minister of state for finance, shared his vision for the country’s banking sector. “To be in the banking space today is to be in heaven,’ was how Sinha put it, pointing out how differentiated the sector was becoming with the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) ushering in small banks and payments banks. Sinha, believes there’s a huge amount of wealth to be created as the economy grows from a level of $2 trillion to $4 trillion and he hopes the country will have at least four or five global sized banks by then. The minister exhorted bankers to come up with products and services to cater for consumers’ needs simultaneously highlighting the government’s financial inclusion effort which was making it possible for millions of households to access the formal banking system.
State Bank of India (SBI) walked away with the award for special initiative for its stellar contribution to financial inclusion; with over 62,200 customer service points (CSP) and with a reach into 0.78 lakh villages, SBI is the country’s biggest service provider in rural India.Arundhati Bhattacharya, chairman, SBI, accepted the award amidst thunderous applause. Shikha Sharma, CEO and MD, Axis, was adjudged Banker of the Year (2012-13) for having steered the bank so successfully at a time when the economy was slowing and the environment was less than friendly; Sharma was chosen for the award by an eminent six-member jury. Shyamala Gopinath, former deputy governor, RBI (RBI) received a standing ovation for her tremendous contribution to central banking over four decades. As DG, Gopinath had handled key portfolios including financial markets, government debt, regulation, and steered WTO negotiations. Her experience was particularly useful during the Lehman crisis.