Though I do not blog very often, this blog is now more than six years old and it is time for some reflection on the couple of things that I got right.
In 2013 when the then central government came up with a bank which was supposedly exclusively for women, I wrote this blogpost titled - ‘Bhartiya Mahila Bank - A Misguided and Pointless Endeavour’.
Bhartiya Mahila Bank was inaugurated with much fanfare in 2013 with Sonia Gandhi handing account opening documents to the first customers and the then Prime Minister in attendance. Media reports of the time indicated bank’s ambitious plans of 25 branches in the first year and 75 more every following year..
In 2017 my words have come true and the Bhartiya Mahila Bank has was merged with State Bank of India on 1 April 2017 along with the SBI Associate Banks. The merger has finally ended the central government's first and thankfully the only experiment with a government promoted bank (all other PSUs were nationalised rather set up afresh). Bhartiya Mahila Bank never really promoted itself like other new private banks did and reports indicate that it had significant trouble getting new business. It also also remained headless from August 2015 onward when Usha Ananthasubramnian, the bank's former CMD was appointed as the CMD of Punjab National Bank. At the time of merger, it only had 103 branches which is a far cry from the stated expansion plans at the time of its innaugural.
On the merger, the SBI said that although the addition of 103 branches of the BMB and business of approximately Rs 2,000 crore will not have a significant bearing on the SBI, it will be ensured the merger strengthens and reinforces the focus on financing of women entrepreneurs.
Approximately 2,000 crore is also State Bank of India being generous and other reports have pointed out that the special bank for women had total business of only 1,600 crore rupees. While SBI opened its first all women employees branch in 2013, the same year that Bhartiya Mahila Bank was set up, by 2017, SBI already had 126 all women employee branches whereas the Bhartiya Mahila Bank had managed only 7. It couldn’t be clear that women can be served better by State Bank of India.
I had ended the my blogpost with the following words:
“The Mahila Bank is hence a solution that no one was asking for and also one that is likely to worsen the problem which it set out solve. When the question is asked a few years from now “What did the Mahila Bank achieve?”, the government is not going to have any answer.”
Let’s hope that the government has learnt its lesson and does something actually meaningful to improve women’s lives rather than going ahead with half baked segregationist policies.