If you are the kind who likes to visit his or her bank branch regularly to withdraw or deposit cash, the message from the big three new generation private sector banks (ICICI Bank, HDFC Bank and Axis Bank) is very clear. They do not want you to come visiting their branches. Or at least not very regularly.
Starting March 1, 2017, HDFC Bank, will charge you a minimum of Rs 150 in case you carry out more than four cash transactions (withdrawals as well as deposits) a month in your home branch. In case of Axis Bank and ICICI Bank, the charge has been in effect from early January 2017, when it was re-introduced. While ICICI Bank allows the first four transactions to be free, in case of Axis Bank the limit is set at five transactions.
The move is likely to impact senior citizens and others who are still not used to the idea of withdrawing money from an ATM or carrying out digital transactions using their debit cards, the most.
Also, the banks will charge Rs 5 per Rs 1,000 as a fee in order to allow you to withdraw or deposit cash, once the number of free transactions has been exhausted. This essentially means a charge of 0.5 per cent. This is subject to a minimum charge of Rs 150 for every transaction. Hence, the 0.5 per cent charge actually comes into effect only if you withdraw or deposit more than Rs 30,000 (Rs 150 divided by 0.5 per cent) at one go.
Now what is the logic of having a minimum charge of Rs 150, which is not low by any stretch of imagination? The idea is basically to tell the bank customers to come to the branch only if a substantial amount of cash needs to be withdrawn or deposited, even after the free transactions have been exhausted.
Let’s say you want to withdraw Rs 5,000 from the bank. This would mean paying the bank a charge of Rs 150 or 3 per cent of the withdrawn amount. Hence, it would just make sense to go to the ATM and withdraw the money, free of cost, and not drop-in at the branch.
From the point of view of the bank, this move makes immense sense, given that the cost of servicing a customer at the branch is the highest. A November 2015 report in The Hindu points out: “On an average, a branch banking transaction costs a bank about Rs 40-50 per customer, while an internet or mobile transaction brings down the costs to Rs 15-30 per customer.”
Also, the move suggests that the new generation private sector banks are only looking for a certain kind of customer, the one who does not want to come to the branch.
As R Gandhi, one of the deputy governors of the Reserve Bank of India had said in an August 2016 speech: “There is a new generation of young people (known as millennials). They have different expectations and their ways of interacting with banks are also different. They prefer not to come to banks for banking services. Rather they would prefer to avail the services through online and social media based platforms.” This is the kind of customer that the new generation private sector banks want.
If you are the kind who likes to visit his bank branch regularly, then you are clearly not welcome at new generation private sector banks. Public sector banks are the place for you.
Post script: Kotak Mahindra Bank, the fourth largest new generation private sector banks, will do the same as the Big three when it comes to cash transactions, from April 1, 2017, onwards. The details can be checked out here.
The other important point that I made in the column (and have made in the past) and will make again today is that there is no reason the Modi government (or for that matter any other) should be running 27 public sector banks.
Let me first explain why I am making this point again today. Yesterday’s edition of The Times of India had a news-report headlined “Govt looks at 3 options to reduce stake in IDBI Bank“. This news-report talks about the three options the government is looking at in order bring down its stake in IDBI Bank.
While a decision on how the shares of IDBI Bank will be disinvested hasn’t been made, the three ways the government is looking at are: a) to sell the shares in small lots to the public through the stock exchanges. The trouble with this option is that the government may not be able to sell the shares at the best possible price.
b)The second option being considered is to sell the IDBI Bank shares to the likes of Life Insurance Corporation (LIC) of India, other government owned insurance companies and pension and provident funds, at a premium to the current market price. This option, as has often been the case in the past, is taking the easy way out.
c) The third option (which is very similar to the second option) being considered is to sell shares to public sector banks and financial institutions. This was tried in the case of Maruti Suzuki in 2005-2006. A PTI news-report published on January 12, 2006 points out: “The government today sold 8% shares in MarutiUdyog for Rs 1,567.60 crore with Life Insurance Corporation (LIC) picking up more than 50% of the 2,31,12,804 shares sold by the government. LIC successfully bid for 1,68,00,000 shares at Rs 682 per share. Eight public financial institutions have picked up Maruti shares. SBI would be getting 39,27,074 shares at Rs 660 per share.”
None of these methods will lead to genuine privatisation. If the government sells shares to the general public through the stock exchanges, it will continue to remain the majority owner of shares in the bank. And that is the basic problem. As I had pointed out in yesterday’s column, the private sector banks are much better run and more profitable than their public sector counterparts.
Currently, the government owns 76.5% of the IDBI Bank. Even if it were to reduce its shareholding to 49%, it will still continue to be the biggest shareholder in the bank. With government ownership comes political corruption, crony capitalism and bad lending, which leads to bad loans. This story has played out over the last few years.
In fact, the net non-performing assets of public sector banks, for the financial year ending on March 31, 2015, stood at 2.92% of their total advances (i.e. loans). It was at 2.01% for the financial year ended March 31, 2013. In comparison, the private sector banks are extremely well placed with their net non-performing assets being at 0.89% of their total advances. For financial year ending on March 31, 2013, the net non-performing assets of these banks stood at 0.52%.
What this clearly tells us is that the private sector banks are better at lending money given that they don’t have to deal with political corruption and crony capitalism. In a poor country like India it is important that any money that is being lent is utilized properly as far as possible and is not siphoned off by greedy businessmen. It has become clear over the last few years that businessmen find it easy to siphon off money they have borrowed from public sector banks in comparison to private sector banks.
The second option being considered by the government is to sell shares to LIC. The interesting thing is that LIC already owns 8.59% of the bank. Does it make sense to allow LIC’s investment in any stock to go beyond 10%? The Securities and Exchange Board of India does not allow mutual funds to own more than 10% of a company. This is to prevent concentration of risk on the overall investment portfolio. But this does not apply to LIC, given that it is an insurance company.
The question is why is the government allowing this concentration of risk in LIC’s investment portfolio to happen? Ultimately like mutual funds, LIC is also basically managing money.
Further, it is also important to state here that the money that LIC has is not government’s money. LIC manages the hard earned savings of the people of India and given that these savings need to be treated with a little more respect.
Also, selling shares to LIC or the State Bank of India, for that matter, means that the ownership stays with the government. And that as I have stated earlier, is the basic problem. For IDBI Bank to do well, it needs genuine privatisation with a private owner, with the government being a minority shareholder at best.
As I had mentioned in yesterday’s column, IDBI Bank is saddled with a huge amount of bad loans. And given this it is not surprising that the government owned financial institutions are not keen on picking up any stake in the bank.
The Times of India news-report cited at the beginning points out: “State-run entities are, however, not very keen on buying the government stake. “Given the distress in the banking sector, IDBI Bank may not be the best bet since its retail as set base is weak and it has legacy issues,” said a top official.”
IDBI Bank was a major lender to Kingfisher. It also lent to Deccan Chronicle Holdings, Bhushan Steel and Jaypee Associaties, companies which are in a financial mess.
Also, if the government follows any of these three methods to sell shares in IDBI Bank, as the majority shareholder it will have to continue to keep pumping money into the bank. In fact, the government holding in the bank has gone up “from 65.14% in July 2010 to 76.5% in December 2013 by total equity infusion amounting to Rs 5,300 crore”.
Any increase in holding will bring us back to square one.
In May 2014, theCommittee to Review Governance of Boards of Banks in India (better known as the PJ Nayak Committee) had submitted a detailed report on reforming the public sector banks in India.
The Nayak committee estimated that between January 2014 and March 2018 “public sector banks would need Rs. 5.87 lakh crores of tier-I capital.” The committee further said that: “assuming that the Government puts in 60 per cent (though it will be challenging to raise the remaining 40 per cent from the capital markets), the Government would need to invest over Rs. 3.50 lakh crores.”
The government on the other hand estimates that “the capital requirement of extra capital for the next four years up to FY 2019 is likely to be about Rs.1,80,000 crore.” Of this amount it proposes to invest Rs 70,000 crore. It has not explained from where will it get the remaining Rs 1,10,000 crore.
These are not small amounts that we are talking about. The tendency is to look at the government ownership in many public sector enterprises as family silver and hence, be careful while selling it. But in case of many public sector banks that cannot be really said. If the government continues to own public sector banks in the years to come it will have to keep pumping money into them in order to keep them going.
Take a look at the accompanying table. I have picked up five banks which are of a similar size. There are two private sector banks (HDFC Bank and ICICI Bank) and three public sector banks (Bank of India, Punjab National Bank and Canara Bank) in the table. The profit of the private sector banks is many times the profit made by the public sector banks. Their bad loans are also significantly lower. In fact, HDFC Bank makes more money than Bank of India, Punjab National Bank and Canara Bank put together. So does ICICI Bank.
Source: Indian Banks’ Association. As on March 31, 2015 To conclude, people keep reminding me that comparing the performance of public sectors banks with private sector banks is like comparing apples and oranges. The public sector banks have social obligations which private sector banks don’t. This is true. Nevertheless, the question is does the government need to own 27 banks in order to fulfil its social obligations?
I think, the government can easily go about fulfilling social-sector obligations by owning the State Bank of India and 4-5 other banks which are strong in different regions of the country.
Finally, a government should not be running so many banks. There are so many other things that it should be concentrating on, but it doesn’t.
In the press conference that followed yesterday’s monetary policy, Raghuram Rajan, the governor of the Reserve Bank of India(RBI), said: “Banks are sitting on money and their marginal cost of funding (has) fallen, the notion that it hasn’t fallen is nonsense, it has fallen.” What Rajan meant here was that banks are able to raise deposits at a much lower interest rate than they had in the past. Given this, banks should be cutting the interest rates they charge on their loans. Banks have been saying for a while that they can’t cut their lending rates because interest rates they pay on their deposits and other forms of borrowing continue to remain high. Rajan essentially said that this argument was basically “nonsense”. Banks got the message immediately and by the end of the day three big banks, State Bank of India (SBI), HDFC Bank, and ICICI Bank, cut their base rates or the minimum rate of interest they charge to their customers. Both SBI and HDFC Bank cut their base rate by 15 basis points (one basis point is one hundredth of a percentage) to 9.85%. ICICI Bank was a little more aggressive and cut its base rate by 25 basis points to 9.75%. These base rate cuts have got the media very excited. Here are some of the headlines. The Times of India says: “Top 3 Banks cut lending rates after Rajan push”. The Economic Times reports: “RBI doesn’t cut rates but forces others to do so”. The normally sedate Business Standard says: “Banks bow to RBI pressure”. The question is will these base rate cuts really make any difference? Theoretically people are supposed to borrow more at lower interest rates. But is that really the case? Let’s run some numbers here. For males, SBI offers a car loan at 45 basis points above its base rate. Hence, when the base rate is 10%, the car loan is available at 10.45%. When the base rate is at 9.85%, the car loan will be available at 10.30%. (For females the car loan is available at 40 basis points above the base rate). Let’s consider a male who takes a car loan of Rs 3 lakh repayable over a period of 5 years. The EMI at 10.45% would work out to Rs 6,440.74. The EMI at 10.3% works out to Rs 6,418.49 or Rs 22.25 lower. So, is someone going to buy a car just because his EMI is lower by Rs 22? None of the newspapers which have run extremely detailed stories around the base rate cuts, have bothered to ask this basic question. What about home loans? Home loans have a much larger ticket size than car loans, so shouldn’t the difference in EMIs there be huge? Let’s see. Data from the National Housing Bank shows that the average home loan size in India in 2013-2014 stood at Rs 18-19 lakh. Let’s round it off to Rs 20 lakh, given that we are now in 2015-2016. For males, SBI offers a home loan at 15 basis points above its base rate (for females the home loan is available at 10 basis points above the base rate). When the base rate was at 10%, the interest charged on a home loan to a male would be 10.15%. At a base rate of 9.85%, the interest rate charged on a home loan to a male would be 10%. Let’s consider a male who takes a home loan of Rs 20 lakh, repayable over a period of 20 years. At 10.15% his EMI works out to Rs 19,499.62. At 10%, it is Rs 19,300.43 or Rs 199.18, lower. So is an individual going to buy a home because his EMI is will now be lower by Rs 199? What if the loan size were bigger. Let’s say around Rs 60 lakh. How do things look then? In this case the EMI difference comes to around Rs 597.55. So, someone who can afford a home loan of Rs 60 lakh is definitely not going to be impacted by such a low amount. As I have often said in the past, in case of real estate, interest rates and EMIs are really not the problem. The problem is simply the price of homes. They have gone way beyond what most people can afford. And unless there is a correction there, no amount of rate cuts by banks is going to revive buying. This is a simple fact that everyone who makes a living through the real estate industry needs to realize. What these calculations also tell us is that the impact interest rates have on consumption is terribly overrated. The media spends too much time analysing will the RBI cut the repo rate(I am guilty of the same). Then it spends even more time analysing whether banks will pass on the cut to their consumers. If banks do not pass on the cut it spends time on analysing why banks are not passing on the cut. It would do a whole lot of us more good if the ‘good’ journalists who cover banking start using the PMT function on MS Excel. (This function essentially helps calculate the EMI on a loan). The issue is whether a minuscule base rate cut really makes a difference? And the answer as I have shown from the calculations above is, it does not. What makes a difference is basically how confident is the consumer feeling about the future. In India, we really do not measure this properly. The Consumer Confidence Survey carried out by the RBI “provides an assessment of the perception of respondents spread across six metropolitan cities viz., Bengaluru, Chennai, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Mumbai and New Delhi.” Given that it has limited use. To conclude, it is best to quote something that the economist John Kenneth Galbraith wrote in The Affluent Society: “There is no magic in the monetary policy… It survives in esteem partly because so few understand it.” And that indeed will be the way how thing shall continue.
(Vivek Kaul is the author of the Easy Money trilogy. He tweets @kaul_vivek)
Stings in India till now have been carried out to expose politicians. The Cobrapost sting is the first sting that has brought into the public domain the murky way in which the big Indian private banks operate. But more than just exposing the murky way in which big banks operate, the sting brings out in the open other uncomfortable truths as well.
1. The finance minister P Chidambaram in his recent budget speech had said “There are 42,800 persons – let me repeat, only 42,800 persons – who admitted to a taxable income exceeding Rs 1 crore per year.” Of course no one took that number seriously. We now know why. The Cobrapost sting clearly shows us that there are many more people with a taxable income of more than Rs 1 crore. The straightforward and more than helpful way in which the banks were ready to help invest the black money of the ‘supposed’ politician that the Cobrapost reporter was fronting for, can only tell us one thing: Banks seem to be doing this regularly. And given this we can only conclude that there are many people out there with taxable incomes of more than Rs 1 crore, who don’t pay tax, than just 42,800. While it’s an obvious conclusion that did not need this visual evidence, but it is still an important conclusion nonetheless. 2. The second thing that the sting tells us is that those who have black money do not keep all of it under their mattresses. A lot of it as we know goes into buying real estate (largely benami). But the holders of black money seem to like to diversify their hoarded “wealth”. As the Cobrapost press release points out “(Banks) accept huge amounts of cash and invest it in insurance products and gold.” The money invested in insurance products is in turn invested in stocks, government securities and financial securities issued by corporations. So hoarders of black money do seem to be following the age old investing principle of “don’t put all your eggs in one basket”. They seem to be buying everything. From gold. To real estate. To stocks. And even have money in fixed deposits with banks. 3. By investing at least in gold and fixed deposits, hoarders of black money also show us that they like to have some liquidity in the assets that they own. Real estate is not terribly liquid and neither are insurance policies. 4. The sting also shows our love for gold which goes with the large amount of black money in this country. Very small amounts of gold can be used to store a large amount of black money as wealth. India has lot of gold because Indians love it is the normal claim that is made, but India also has a lot of gold because there is a lot of black money floating around. 5. The good bit is that instead of just lying around under the mattresses of people, some of the black money is coming into the financial system. When people buy insurance policies which in turn buy either debt securities issued by the government or the private sector or invest in shares issued by a company getting listed on the stock exchange, they are in some way financing someone who needs the money. That is the ultimate job of any financial system. To move money from those who have it, to those who need it. Now what proportion of the total black money comes into the financial system, that no one has any clue off. But its better than people just channelising all their black money into land and other forms of real estate. Also as more of this money comes into the financial system the greater are its chances of being detected. 6. The other interesting thing is that banks are helping channelise black money into insurance and not mutual funds. The main reason for this is the fact that insurance companies pay a much higher commission than mutual funds do, even though mutual funds remain a much superior mode of investing. It also goes with the cross selling that banks tend to do these days given that almost all of them own insurance companies. So if you have ever wondered why the moment you enter a bank they try to sell you all kind of insurance policies and not attend to the need you really went there for, you now know the answer. 7. Another major reason for banks selling insurance and not mutual funds to this set of clientèle who wants to put its black money to work is the fact that the know your customer (KYC) norms for mutual funds are much stronger than those required to invest in insurance. This is clearly an anomaly that needs to be done away with. Either mutual fund KYC norms need to be weakened or insurance KYC norms need to be strengthened. If it was not for these KYC norms, mutual funds remain a better way of hoarding black money given that they are very liquid. You can buy a mutual fund today and sell out tomorrow (unless you are buying a tax saving mutual fund that comes with a lock-in of three years). The same is not possible in case of insurance which comes in with a minimum lock-in of five years. Hence, mutual funds also need to be provided equal access to black money as insurance has. Also someone who has a lot of black money and is wealthy, doesn’t really need to pay for the “pure” insurance that compulsorily comes with the investment oriented insurance plans. 8. The sting also tells us that banks have double standards. If you are ready to deposit/invest a lot of money with/through them, then they are more than ready to lay out the red carpet for you. If you are not, then try changing your address once and wait for all the proofs they want. Or try asking for a locker, and wait for the bank clerk/relationship manager to tell you that you will also have to open a fixed deposit of a few lakhs to get a locker. Meanwhile as the Cobrapost press release points banks “ allot lockers for the safekeeping of the illegitimate cash, including special large size lockers to accommodate crores of hard cash.” Or try depositing money and the bank clerk will give you a nasty look for having to count the total amount of money you are depositing. Whereas if you have black money, the bank will come to your residence to collect it. As the Cobrapost press release points out the bank will “personally come to the residence of the client to take the black money deal forward and collect the cash, even bring along counting machine.” Wow. 9. What the sting also tells us is that how simple it is to create a fake identity in this country. The rapist Bitti Mohanty could do it. So can you if you have black money. And the banks will help you with it. As the Cobrapost press release points out “ICICI Bank officials were ready to make a suitable profile for the client, such as showing him as an agriculturist or engaged in some business, so as to make the investment unquestionable. On the other hand, Axis Bank officials proved to be a notch above in inventing fraudulent means. Use “sundry” accounts of the bank, they suggested, to deposit all the illegal cash from where it is to be routed into investment. Either use accounts of other customers, for a fee, to transfer money abroad, or use some shell company and take away a chunk of foreign currency as expenses toward business-cum-leisure trips.” 10. And to conclude, what the sting clearly tells us is that everybody who pays Income Tax in this country is basically an idiot who is being taken for a royal ride. If you have a lot of black money and you are not paying tax on it, chances are somebody out there is waiting for you with a red carpet. Please go find him.
a href="http://www.firstpost.com/business/10-things-that-the-cobrapost-sting-tells-us-about-banks-661376.html">article originally appeared on www.firstpost.com on March 14, 2013