Loan growth, digitisation still unfinished agenda: Bhattacharya

Loan growth, digitisation still unfinished agenda: Bhattacharya

 Arundhati Bhattacharya, the outgoing chairperson of the country's largest bank the State Bank of India, today said digitisation and higher credit growth are the two unfinished agendas which she is leaving behind.

Bhattacharya, the first woman chair in the 214-year-old history of the bank, hang up her boots today after being at the helm for four years.

"In one's life there is never a position where one can say that now the agenda is finished. 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," she said during her last media interaction.

"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. That obviously is an unfinished agenda, but it does not matter because we have progressed hugely," she said.

Bhattacharya further said that despite taking major steps, the bank's credit growth has not been very healthy.

"While we've done everything possible to improve our understanding and monitoring of risk, of improving the processes, our credit underwriting standards, our follow-up processes, at the same time the credit growth are not where we wanted to. So that's an unfinished agenda," she said.

Stating that the bank has seen good, bad and neutral times, Bhattacharya said, "It's been a very interesting but very difficult journey as well, but I think we've gone through it well.
These times of difficulties that we have had, I think we've used this in strengthening the bank and strengthening it internally so as to ensure that going forward that the bank is in much better position to be a part of the growth story".

The banker said she was hopeful that the bank will show better numbers in future.
When asked about the stressed asset situation at the bank, she said bank had promised to deliver better numbers going forward and it will stick to that.

"Let me tell you that through my entire tenure all of you have repeatedly asked are we at the bottom (of the NPA cycle) and I have kept saying that we are already there. I can tell you 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," she said.

Bhattacharya said there is going to be an uptick in the economy sooner rather than later.
She said the merger of five associate banks was in her mind when she became chairman but first wanted to strengthen the bank.

"Initially when I came in, it (merger of associate banks) was not something that I had not thought of. I had thought of that and I had discussed it as well. But it was felt at that point of time that first get the bank itself a little on a solid ground, which we did. Only after we got the bank on the solid ground, we went for it," she said.

The bank has seen some impact on growth in Punjab, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Kerala, Karnataka and Maharashtra, where merger has taken place.

"We are seeing the impact in the states where merger has happened. In the states where the merger has not happened our growth rate has not fallen," she said.

Admitting that post merger some customers of associate banks have moved out, she said the bank is quickly gaining ground where it had lost.

"This was one of those things where we had to take some short term pains because the merging entities were a little unsure. They did not get access to the right system, they needed new products, they gave to retrained. We are still training those employees. I am sure by the end of the financial year, that lost ground will be regained," she said.

According to her, GST has huge benefits and will improve efficiency and the time taken to transfer goods.

"There are very big positives for GST. If we keep looking at difficulties, we will never understand are the positives," she added.

The bank is working on a model where if one just show his or her input and output tax returns, it will give money for working capital without any other requirement.

Asked about her future plans, Bhattacharya said she may not be continuing 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," she said.

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