November 12, 1989, just after midnight, over 20,000 Germans drunk
on the prospect of freedom cheered as the Berlin Wall fell, heralding
the collapse of East Germany. As a thousand flashbulbs went off,
also joining in-or at least witnessing-the unbridled merriment and
delirium was one Y. Radhakrishan, Chief Executive Officer of the
Moscow office of the State Bank of India (SBI).
Twenty-three years on Radhakrishnan, whose
term as Managing Director & Group Executive (Corporate Banking)
of the Indian banking monolith ended on June 30, 2002, recollects
with visible nostalgia the events of that day. The writing was clear
(although no more on the wall): Fences have to be torn down, say
hello to globalisation. "The concept of globalisation was born
here; for the first time, market forces and non-market forces were
integrated. Suddenly East Germany stood exposed and was forced to
compete," reminisces Radhakrishnan.
Last fortnight, as the SBI brass formally bade
farewell to their former MD, Radhakrishan was still weighing his
options, just one of which is to proceed to Hyderabad and to take
up a teaching role. Before that, the specialist in behavourial sciences,
after 38 years at this 47-year-old bank-its first avatar was Bank
of Calcutta, way back in 1806-has plenty to look back on. Not all
would be pleasant-he narrowly missed out in the race for chairmanship
of SBI in 2000 as he had only 20 months of service left (instead
of the mandatory 24). Yet, what Radhakrishan can comfortably bask
in is in initiating, in his own words, "a massive change management
project at SBI, the biggest in the world."
Radhakrishnan's experience in the East Bloc
has in many ways been relevant to SBI. Like the former East Germany,
SBI too stands exposed and vulnerable to global competition.
JANKI BALLABH, Chairman, SBI
Y. RADHAKRISHNAN, FORMER
As barriers are brought down, and private and
foreign banks surely but steadily nibble away at the behemoth's
business, change is the only way forward for this giant group that
has a staggering 13,000 branches (including its seven associate
banks), 51 foreign offices in 31 countries, 100 million accounts
and that handles 25 million transactions a day. And, yes, as SBI
officials love to point out, 40 per cent of the country's economy
passes through the bank.
The eagerness to transform SBI from a lumbering
giant to an elephant that dances is evident right from the very
top. As Chairman Janki Ballabh puts it: "SBI should not only
be the most profitable Indian bank in terms of size but should be
right there at the high end of the banking services to match the
quality of services provided by foreign and private banks,"
he declares. "Our size and structure has been a problem in
the past but we are now ready to put that behind us and by end of
2002 will emerge as one of the most technology-savvy banks in the
The Technology Imperative
To be sure, it's around technology that much
of the change at SBI revolves. The objective: profitability, efficiency
and, most important, a much-needed customer focus. The bank is pumping
in Rs 500 crore over three years to integrate its delivery points
(automatic teller machines, call centres, and tele-centres, branches)
with the product channels (deposits, mutual funds, and insurance
products), which will involve networking roughly a third of its
branches that account for 80 per cent of the bank's business. Back-offices
will be centralised, the branches that matter will no longer function
as islands, and there will be a free flow of information, which
will place SBI in a better position to decide on allocation of revenues.
Sounds simple, but implementing such a complex
exercise across thousands of branches, associate banks, subsidiaries
and foreign offices, isn't exactly a walk in the park. S. Ramadorai,
the Chief Executive Officer of Tata Consultancy Services (TCS),
which is implementing a Rs 150-crore centralised core banking system
for SBI, stresses that the project is as much about technology as
about people. "We are doing this project as an exercise in
change management and not just technology deployment. So the mindset
of the people and the focus of the organisation to relate to its
customers will also need to undergo change. The whole face of the
organisation and the people who run it are going to undergo a transformation."
THE BENEFITS OF TECH
Better management of bank's funds
Management and monitoring of NPAs
Ability to do a Profitability Analysis
Cash Management Services for customers
Increase in staff productivity
Single view of customer for management
Reduced outstandings and frauds in inter-branch
Reduced time to market for new products
A step towards US GAAP requirements
The change on the people front may take some
more time, but progress has been made on the entire project (TCS
is implementing one part of it), since the conceptual framework
was drawn out along with KPMG Consulting in April 1999. 60 per cent
of the ATMs (roughly 1,020), 150 Internet banking outlets, and 1,500
branches have been networked in Phase I, a centralised accounting
system has been created, and the back offices have been integrated
into a shared operations centre.
As in the case of most technological changes,
the tangible benefits aren't too easy to put a finger on, not at
least immediately. But let's look at the benefit of integrating
the product and delivery channels via a simple example. Suppose
a transaction takes place at the teller (the delivery point), perhaps
a deposit (which is the product), the bank's total deposits come
Without the integration of the two channels,
SBI won't know that immediately. Once the two are networked, the
bank is in a position to immediately take a view on the asset-liability
position, and then take a quick decision on the interest that needs
to be charged. "One can immediately convey changes in policy
without delays, leading to a more customer-friendly, customer-focused
and market-related entity," explains Radhakrishnan.
A more direct benefit of the technology initiative
is visible on the ATM front. For instance, a manual transaction
at the branch level costs 76 paise. At the ATM, the cost per transaction
comes down by 50 paise, to just 26 paise. Now consider that SBI
receives some 60,000 ATM hits per day, and you don't have to be
a genius to figure out the huge cost saving. With Internet banking
too, costs are much lower, at 22 paise per transaction.
can convey changes in policy without any delays, leading to
a more customer-friendly, customer-focused, and market-related
Clearly, SBI-and hopefully other public sector
banks-has realised that technology is the only way ahead. "There
are plenty of agile private and foreign banks that may have a much
smaller branch network (than the PSUs), but the difference is that
they are significantly technology-leveraged. This has allowed them
to grab chunks of share in urban segments, and in areas like high
net worth banking, where the PSUs aren't really present," says
Atul Pradhan, Managing Director (Consulting), KPMG Consulting.
For many public sector units, implementation
of the Reserve Bank diktat that 70 per cent of the business should
be computerised has been more in letter than in spirit. Computerisation
for them has meant mere transfer of manual ledgers onto electronic
ones; it hasn't meant saying goodbye to branch banking; a public
sector bank's client is still a stranger outside his branch, which
is not true with the private banks. Then, the nationalised banks
have been unable to take advantage of the benefits of cross-selling
products (mutual funds, home loans, insurance etc). "All this
calls for technology, and bankers in the public sector have to become
flexible enough to implement it," adds KPMG's Pradhan.
To SBI's credit, it has shown ample signs that
it is willing to shake off its inherent inflexibility. One sure-fire
indicator of that was the implementation the bank's retirement scheme
that reduced the workforce by 20,000 (that many of the "good"
people also opted for the scheme is another matter). And such radical
changes are the need of the day.
Coping With Competition
Today SBI may still be ahead of other Indian
banks in terms of total advances-double those of nearest competitor
ICICI Bank (post-merger)-but the worry is that when it comes to
yields they're one of the lowest, with HDFC Bank, ICICI Bank and
Corporation Bank all ahead of SBI.
Similarly, SBI has been improving the quality
of its assets, with net non-performing assets coming down from 6.41
per cent of its total advances in 2000 to 5.63 per cent of its total
advances last year. But in comparison with the private banks, that
level still remains high.
It's here that SBI's technology drive-if properly
implemented-could help turn things around. The networking and integration
will ensure that NPAs can be managed and monitored more effectively,
thereby increasing profitability, and inter-branch reconciliation
will reduce, thereby reducing outstandings (it's already reached
99.98 per cent against earlier dismal levels of 22-23 per cent).
are ready to put our problems behind us and by end of 2002 will
emerge as one of the most tech -savvy banks in the country''
What's more, time to market for new products
will reduce, and staff productivity will increase. Most importantly,
as the branch barrier breaks down, the customer will get a single
view of the management, be it making a deposit or taking a housing
loan or opting for an insurance product.
To be sure, it's on the retail front that technology
could help SBI give the established players a frenetic run for their
money. Here it's clearly the image of the bank being a slow-moving
and paperwork-obsessed behemoth that's going against it. But T.S.
Bhattacharya, Chief General Manager (Personal Banking), is quick
to point out that customer perception is turning in favour of SBI.
"There are many second-level cities like Allahabad and Lucknow,
where SBI is a point of first preference," he says.
That propensity is reflected in the numbers.
For the year ended March 2002, SBI's personal segment (which includes
home loans, auto loans, personal loans and educational loans) grew
by 32.66 per cent to 17,705 crore, thereby accounting for just over
15 per cent of the bank's total advances. Housing loans accounted
for Rs 8,199 crore, a 67 per cent growth over the previous year,
making SBI the fastest growing player in the housing finance market.
It's not just the fastest, but the most cost-efficient
player, too. According to a recent JP Morgan study, the cost of
funds is lowest for SBI, at 7.6 per cent, as against 9.2 per cent
for HDFC, 8-9 per cent for ICICI Bank and 7.8 per cent for Corporation
Bank. Where HDFC and ICICI score, though is in terms of yield, which
works out to 12.43 percent as against SBI's 11.75 per cent.
Arun Sarin, Deputy General Manager (Personal
Banking), SBI, expects the personal segment to account for close
to 20 per cent of total advances by March 2003, which would translate
into an increase of Rs 7,000 crore. Housing will account for Rs
4,500 crore of that increase. By 2004-05, the target for the personal
segment is Rs 25,000 crore.
But even as SBI turns on the heat in home loans,
it has to begin making its presence felt in other segments, like
auto loans, where it doesn't figure amongst the top five. Here Bhattacharya
is trying to make a mark by becoming the preferred financier for
manufacturers. He's got one such deal going with Telco. And in areas
like personal loans and consumer loans, SBI prefers to be cautious
rather than aggressive, given the higher risk profile of such customers.
The retail gambit doubtless stands to benefit
tremendously from the branch networking. But the crucial Rs 500
crore question is: Can SBI pull it of? Analysts point out that there's
already been some delay in the implementation, given that the framework
was outlined over three years ago.
What's more, the frequent changes in top management
make the vital the task of ensuring the much-needed continuity in
implementation and motivation difficult. Two-year terms for chairmen
and managing directors is hardly good enough, since scarcely do
the top brass find their feet when they're already beginning to
contemplate life after retirement.
What makes matters worse is that the government
takes its own time to announce successors. For instance, Radhakrishnan's
last day in office was June 30, but there's no replacement yet.
SBI officials indicate that A.K. Batra, Deputy Managing Director
(International Banking), will fill the void. The other Managing
Director, S. Govindrajan, retires on July 31, and the Chairman will
hang up his boots on October 31.
Mercifully for SBI, continuity of some sort
will be ensured at the technology initiative. Ashok Kini, formerly
Chief General Manager (Information Technology), who has been promoted
to Deputy Managing Director, will take on that baton from Radhakrishan.
But then as Ramadorai of TCS stresses, at the end of day it's all
about changing people's mindsets. And as long as chairmen and managing
directors keep strolling in and out of the bank's Corporate Centre
every couple of years, that exercise will continue to be the most
daunting of SBI's challenges.