The Jan Dhan Scheme has by far been the quickest and most expansive financial inclusion drive launched in the country. It was launched with a set target for the existing banks. The results are quite amazing and actually provide some guidance to the new players entering the market as ‘payments’ or ‘small’ banks.
So far, 81.2 million accounts have been opened of which 60% are in rural areas. Banks, primarily public sector banks (PSBs), have issued 51.1 million RuPay cards for these accounts. Deposits in these accounts were R6,355 crore as of November 26. Interestingly, there were 60.7 million zero-balance accounts, which implies an average of R3,100 in the non-zero accounts. This scheme has been aggressively implemented and the focus was more on opening accounts with minimum KYC norms to expedite the process. The idea is laudable as it is a quick way of accomplishing a task. But the high zero-balance accounts, as well as low balances on an average, actually signal that these households typically do not have the money to keep as deposits or are sceptical of the same. Alternatively, they may not really be interested in such deposits, notwithstanding the add-ons of a debit card as well as possible future credit and insurance going forward.
Therefore, RBI’s decision to start issuing licences to payments banks that will take savings bank deposits and invest only in government securities for a 1-year duration or less and, to a certain extent, in other bank deposits, will pose a challenge to the licensees as they will have to create a superstructure to keep their business going. All options are open and telecom companies and other card-based companies can tie their businesses with bank accounts and probably be more successful than banks as there is already an existing business relationship with the customer. The question is will these households actually keep the deposits with these banks or not?
Post offices qualify for such a licence and are well poised to leverage this market. They would only have to scale up and not really have to start afresh like the supermarkets or telecom companies. Their deployment of funds too would change—passing it on to the Centre and states; they will have to deploy all in short-term paper. Their operations too have to be altered unless a new Post Office savings bank is opened in the same premises, as there are other products being offered which can no longer be done—postage, fixed and recurring deposits, and small savings (including the Kisan Vikas Patra). Regulation does not permit the same and, hence, a new bank may be created for this purpose. However, for an completely new entrant, the establishment costs would be considerable.
The model, for any entrepreneur, makes a lot of sense as the bank will get deposits at 4% or free (current accounts) and can earn a good 7-8% return. Operational costs will be low at 1-2%, and hence a return of 1-2% can be maintained without any encumbrance of NPAs or capital as these variables will become irrelevant given the business model. However, if fresh infrastructure is to be created then there would be high overheads.
The small bank concept is, of course, more challenging as 75% of the funds have to go to priority sector lending, to the farm sector and the SMEs, with a cap of R25 lakh for 50% of the loans. This will be on top of the CRR and SLR requirements. Intuitively, it can be seen that the cost of servicing these small-sized loans would be high for these banks which will also have to open up brick-and-mortar branches, unlike the payments banks.
Additionally, both these segments are vulnerable. When the monsoon fails, the farm loans go bad and the cycle of monsoon failures has been moving with shorter amplitudes. Further, the economic cycle too has become more unpredictable and, often, a sustained industrial slowdown results in higher NPAs being generated as they get affected almost immediately when the economy slows down. This being the case, the pressure on quality would be high. This will also pressurise their capital and hence will be onerous, unlike it is for commercial banks where the portfolio is well spread across all sectors, smoothening the risks .
MFIs and NBFCs can apply here and it will be interesting to see if they are attractive to these players. This will hold for MFIs who would get access to deposits in a formal manner and can lend to these segments where there is a modicum of familiarity. NBFCs, too, may be inclined to consider this option given that the regulatory structure has become a little more intense for them in their normal line of business.
The crux of these banks working well would depend on their ability to garner deposits in the rural areas in particular. The Jan Dhan Yojana warns that it may be difficult to get the deposits, though opening accounts would be easy. It will require a lot of awareness. Counter-intuitively, if the Jan Dhan programme that offers the promise of credit and insurance has not caught on, would a plain vanilla deposit be convincing to the household. This is where the payments bank should work and linking one’s own product to the deposit could be a good way of making a start.
The author is Chief Economist, CARE Ratings. Views are personal