The Public Sector Banks (PSBs) holds about 70% of Indian banking industry and its profitability has been shrinking from last few years. The paper intends to provide the insights on the impacts of PSBs mergers on the Indian economy amid global coronavirus outbreak.
The worldwide economic slowdown due to Covid-19 crisis hasn’t left the Indian economy untouched with India’s GDP fall to lowest 5% in the last six years. With Indian economy at stake, the mergers of major public sector banks (PSBs) in India on 1st April, 2020 has set alarm bells ringing for the Indian government. The Punjab National Bank has been merged with Oriental Bank of Commerce and United Bank of India; Indian Bank with Allahabad Bank; Union Bank of India with Andhra Bank and Corporation Bank; while Canara Bank has amalgamated with Syndicate Bank. It has reduced total PSBs from 27 (in 2017) to 12 only. The Indian government is the majority shareholder in the PSBs so it becomes its responsibility to resuscitate the weak PSBs through infusion of capital in times of need to financially strengthen the PSBs.
Rationale Behind The Mergers
The financially-stricken PSBs in India have shown lessened credit-creation growth with waning lending capabilities in recent years. The huge pile of Non-Performing Assets (NPAs) and low asset qualities have hit badly their capital ratios with increased provisions for NPAs due to high risk weighted bad loans eroding their profitability. Rising bad debts has shrieked their exposure to big corporate lending like real-estate, steel and infrastructure with limited access to capital market.
The capital adequacy ratio is the ratio between bank’s capital and risk weighted assets and requires huge capital to meet it. The capital requirements under Basel III norms by Reserve Bank in India require minimum capital adequacy ratio to be 8% for banks to eliminate default risks. Expanding credit need in the economy also requires more capital for PSBs for lending purposes.
The Reserve Bank of India’s Prompt Corrective Action (PCA) plan for weaker PSBs to prevent default risks has constrained their lending capacities and requires more growth capital for them. The Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code,2016 also forces public sector banks in India to accept default payments lesser than the lending amounts. All these causes have forced the government to resort to mergers as the only viable option.
Government’s Vision Regarding PSBs Mergers
The Indian government is aiming to achieve USD five trillion economy in the coming years and considers amalgamation of PSBs as favorable move. It has proposed the mergers with the idea to improve operational efficiency of PSBs as the mergers will provide regulatory as well as growth capital.The mergers has been projected to create banks with stronger national presence and international reach. It will also improve their abilities to raise market resources with next generation banking technologies.
The move will help in reduction in lending cost and will help smaller and weaker banks to fulfill the Basel III capital requirements and will bring the merging weak PSBs out from the PCA framework. The Indian government has based its decision upon recommendations of Narasimham committee and PJ Nayak committee which suggested that India only requires few major banks than fragmented PSBs. The central bank, Reserve Bank of India has also proposed that the merger banks will become lenders of global scale through cutting edge technology and state of the art payment systems.
The Indian government is planning to increase the leverage ratio of public sector banks by augmenting their money creation powers. It aims to fulfill the objective to have multiplier effect on the Indian economy.It will result into manifold gains when loans by these banks will result into continuous cycle of consumption, production and income. But the repercussions of this move can’t be ignored and need proper assessment.
Impacts On The Indian Economy
The merging public sector banks in India exhibit varying financial strengths. The most profitable Indian bank among 10 PSBs with NPA of 3.2% has been merged with Allahabad bank with NPA of 5.2%. It will adversely affect the health of Indian bank’s profitability and efficiency. The share prices of Indian bank had also fallen down after the announcement of proposed mergers and the future efficacy of mergers is very plutonian in current economic conditions. By diluting the management of stronger banks, the forced mergers will be deteriorating for the whole banking industry in India.
The Indian government has claimed that no jobs of employees will be lost after the merger. Given this, it is very unlikely that efficiency of banks will improve by getting rid of redundant and underutilized labour as the government also fears severe strikes and protests by the bank unions’ employees. The claim is duping as closedown of many branches will result in retrenchment of many employees and will increase the cyclical unemployment rate in India.
PSBs mergers will not per se decrease the amount of their bad loans. It can improve only if banks improve their recovery processes or if loans are written off against balance sheets. Mergers do not address these significant structural problems as bad debts’ recovery process is slow due to inefficient judicial system in India and banks are unwilling to show them in balance sheets due to mounting losses.
The move also doesn’t deal with the problem of political interference in the management of PSBs – a major cause for increasing bad loans. The banks are forced to extend loans to big businesses without securing any payment guarantee.It will impede the goal of financial inclusion by the government to reach the unbanked poor. Minority shareholders will be more affected than dominant shareholders i.e. the government as it has also other revenue sources.
The credit growth has deteriorated drastically in India and post- mergers, the banks will face severe challenges related to staff integration, synchronizing accounting, bad loans’ recognition policies, rationalization of branches and culture compatibility. For instance, the Punjab National Bank (PNB) who is grappling with 16% NPA can’t be expected to revive the weaker Oriental Bank of Commerce and United bank in India,.
The government has initiated the idea that through recapitalization of PSBs through mergers, credit deployment would increase but the credit flow also depends upon economic environment and bankers’ propensity to take risk. So the increased financial health may be necessary but not the only sufficient step for reviving the credit crunch in the economy.
The government fiscal deficit gap is already increasing and recapitalization funds for mergers will further aggravate the problem. Instead of multiplier effect, the deficit will compel government to more borrowings and this will lead to crowding out of private investments. The Indian government debt will rise up and it would only be intergenerational transfer of funds without yielding optimistic results.
The sole criterion used for classifying banks into recent mergers was selecting banks operating on common banking technology solutions. This would ease integration but it can’t be the only rationale for merging banks. The infusion can temporarily solve the problem but will not address deep structural woes faced by the PSBs.
Through mergers, instead of the strong banks lifting the weak PSBs, the weak ones may sink the strong. Past mergers of weak banks with strong ones have not shown riveting results in India. The merger of Punjab National Bank with the New Bank in 1993 failed to create any significant cost synergies. The State Bank of India‘s merger with its associate banks also affected the SBI’s credit growth after the merger with depressed operating performance and reduced share prices. Last year, the strong Bank of Baroda was merged with the weaker Vijaya Bank and Dena Bank, but post-merger performance showed little improvements and its share prices has also collapsed from Rs 150 a year ago to Rs 92. The weaker banks also suffer as Dena bank’s share swap ratio was much lower than expected by their shareholders.
The government has based its whole justification upon the success of the State Bank of India (SBI)’s merger. But the same effect can’t be expected from recent mergers as the SBI merger was only internal reorganization exercise as associate banks enjoyed common identity with SBI for long and SBI also had operational control over them from inception. The banks were operating under the same information technology platform so the merger had more positive impacts. While SBI had more trained employees’ pool and larger capital resources, managing 2-3 banks would be nightmare for other current PSBs as economy is already facing recessionary problems.
In previous PSBs mergers, anchor banks had better asset qualities and strong capital stocks but major banks under recent amalgamation plan are themselves not in good health. Like, both gross bad loans and net bad loans for PNB and Union Bank of India are at over 15% and 7% of assets. So, further strain from weaker banks would prove detrimental for the major banks.
The PSBs in India have also previously shown lending bias to big corporate businesses and venturesome customers only. The mergers will add fuel to this problem rather than healing it out. It is more likely that consolidated bigger entities would use their pricing power to push for greater credit to big businesses than needy small customers. The Marginal Costs of Lending rate (MCLR) of merged bank is decided by the anchor banks only and the inclusion of weak banks in operations becomes minimal. The consolidation of banks may lead to the monopolistic pricing behavior of large banks and will left out the regional banks.
The current Indian economy requires instant remedy solution but the new mergers will have more long run impacts than near-term growth. The meaningful cost synergies from banks are unlikely in the short run as they would focus more on integration and restructuring of their banks rather than lending more funds.
This merger will be a short-term reprieve and only structural change will prevent public sector banks from sliding downhill again.
As PSBs are foundational for growth of Indian economy, the analysis of this government move becomes necessary. The researcher opines that based on previous merger repercussions and current state of Indian economy, the mergers will not be healing but detrimental to Indian banking industry. It is only short term relief measure intended to distract the attention of people from the slumping economy. For achieving expected merger benefits, the corporate governance through Banks Board Bureau needs to be emphasized. The government should develop more infrastructure development banks to relieve existing PSBs from infrastructural bad loans. The PCA framework also needs to be administered efficiently.
Digital Futures: Driving Systemic Change for Women
Authors: Erin Watson-Lynn and Tengfei Wang*
As digital technology continues to unlock new financial opportunities for people across Asia and the Pacific, it is critical that women are central to strategies aimed at harnessing the digital financial future. Women are generally poorer than men – their work is less formal, they receive lower pay, and their money is less likely to be banked. Even when controlling for class, rural residency, age, income, and education level, women are overrepresented among the world’s poorest people in developing countries. Successfully harnessing digital technology can play a key role in creating new opportunities for women to utilise formal financial products and services in ways that empower them.
Accelerating women’s access to the formal economy through digital innovations in finance increases their opportunity to generate an income and builds resilience to economic shocks. The recently issued ESCAP guidebook titled, Harnessing Digital Technology for Financial Inclusion in the Asia Pacific, highlights the fact that mechanisms to bring women into the digital economy are different from those for other groups, and that tailored policy responses are important for women to fully realise their potential in the Asia-Pacific region.
Overwhelmingly, the evidence tells us that how women utilise their finances can have a beneficial impact on the broader community. When women have bank accounts, they are more likely to save money, buy healthier foods for their family, and invest in education. For women who receive Government-to-Person (G2P) payments, there is significant improvement in their lives across a range of social and economic outcomes. Access to safe, secure, and affordable digital financial services thus has the potential to significantly improve the lives of women.
Despite the enormous opportunity, there are numerous constraints which affect women’s access to financial services. This includes the gender gap in mobile phone ownership across Asia and the Pacific, lower levels of education (including lower levels of basic numeracy and literacy), and lower levels of financial literacy. This complex web of constraints means that country and provincial level diagnostics are required and demands agile and flexible policy responses that meet the unique needs of women across the region.
Already, across Asia and the Pacific, governments are implementing innovative policy solutions to capture the opportunities that come with digital finance, while trying to manage the constraints women often face. The policy guidebook provides a framework to examine the role of governments as market facilitators, market participants and market regulators. Through this framework, specific policy innovations drawn from examples across the region are identified which other governments can adapt and implement in their local markets.
A good example of how strategies can be implemented at either the central government or local government levels can be found in Pakistan. While central government leadership is important, embedding tailored interventions into locally appropriate strategies plays a crucial role for implementation and effectiveness. The localisation of broader strategies needs to include women in their development and ongoing evaluation. In the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, 50,000 beneficiary committees comprising local women at the district level regularly provide feedback into the government’s G2P payment system. The feedback from these committees led to a biometric system linked to the national ID card that has enabled the government to identify women who weren’t receiving their payments, or if payments were fraudulently obtained by others.
In Cambodia and the Philippines, governments have implemented new and innovative solutions to support remittance payments through public-private-partnerships and policies that enable access to non-traditional banks. In Cambodia, Wing Money has specialised programs for women, who are overwhelmingly the beneficiaries of remittance payments. Creating an enabling environment for a business such as Wing Money to develop and thrive with these low-cost solutions is an example of a positive market intervention. In the Philippines, adjusting banking policies to enable access to non-traditional banking enables women, especially those with micro-enterprises in rural areas, to access digital products.
While facilitating participation in the market can yield benefits for women, so can regulating in a way that drives systemic change. For example, in Lao People’s Democratic Republic and India, different mechanisms for targets are used to improve access to digital financial products. In Lao People’s Democratic Republic, the central government through its national strategy, introduced a target of a 9 per cent increase in women’s access to financial services by 2025. In India, their targets are set within the bureaucracy to incentivise policy makers to implement the Digital India strategy and promotions and job security are rewarded based on performance.
These examples of innovative policy solutions are only foundational. The options for governments and policy makers at the nexus of market facilitation, participation and regulation demands creativity and agility. Underpinning this is the need for a baseline of country and regional level diagnostics to capture the diverse needs of women – those who are set to benefit the most of from harnessing the future of digital financial inclusion.
*Tengfei Wang, Economic Affairs Officer
This article is the second of a two-part series based on the findings of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) Policy Guidebook: Harnessing Digital Technology for Financial Inclusion in Asia and the Pacific, and is jointly prepared by ESCAP and the Griffith Asia Institute.source: UNESCAP
Empowering women-led small businesses in Nepal to go digital
Authors: Louise Anne Sophie Lavaud and Mitch Hsieh*
Throughout the years, Laxmi Shrestha and her husband saw the opportunities that opening an online shop could bring to her family business.
“Looking at the trend of TikTok and other sites, we thought selling online could help us but we weren’t technically sound,” said Laxmi, the owner ofLaxmi Hastakala Store, in Banepa, Nepal, and part of a family of artisans.
As she learned about selling online, she picked up on how to market her shop digitally and, according to Laxmi: “It has surely given our business a push we always wanted. Recently we started selling our products online and we also receive payments online.”
Laxmi Hastakala Store is among the 1,800 women-led micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) in Nepal being trained on digital and financial literacy by Sparrow Pay – one of the winners of the Women Fintech MSME Innovation Fund launched in 2019 by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) and the United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF).
Sparrow Pay has created a local digital marketplace where women-led MSMEs can offer products and services to its existing 800,000+ digital payment service users. Additionally, Sparrow Pay is supporting these women entrepreneurs in adopting digital payments and creating a payment history to support access to additional financial services.
MSMEs are a vital source of employment and a significant contributor to a country’s GDP. However, more than 45 per cent of MSMEs in Asia and the Pacific are constrained from accessing finance and other support for their businesses. Socio-cultural norms mean women-led enterprises have to overcome gender-specific barriers to access institutional credit and other financial services.
ESCAP and UNCDF aim to encourage easy access to digital finance for MSMEs in Asia and the Pacific, break the financial barriers surrounding women-led enterprises and support entrepreneur-centric growth and inclusiveness throughout the region. Initiatives by the 10 winning fintech companies are currently supporting more than 9,000 women-led MSMEs in Bangladesh, Cambodia, Fiji, Myanmar, Nepal, Samoa and Viet Nam.
Just like Laxmi, these women business owners plan on successfully growing their companies in the digital area.
The Women Fintech MSME Innovation Fund is part of a regional programme “Catalyzing Women’s Entrepreneurship: Creating a Gender-Responsive Entrepreneurial Ecosystem,” which seeks to support the growth of women entrepreneurs in Asia and the Pacific by enabling a policy environment for such business owners, providing them with access to finance and expanding the use of ICT for entrepreneurship.
*Mitch Hsieh Chief, Communications and Knowledge Management Section
Is It Possible to Lift Sanctions Against Russia? — No
Every conflict sooner or later ends in peace. Such is the conventional wisdom that can often be heard from those who, amid the current situation of the sanctions tsunami and confrontation with the West, are trying to find hope for a return to “normality”. The logic of such wisdom is simple. At some point, the parties will cease fire and sit down at the negotiating table. The end of hostilities will lead to a gradual reduction in sanctions pressure on Russia, and our businesses will be able to return to work with Western partners.
We have to disappoint those who believe in such a prospect. Sanctions against Russia, for the most part, will not be lifted even in the event of a ceasefire in Ukraine and a peace agreement. There will be no return to “pre-February normality”. Instead of remembering a lost past, we will have to focus on creating a new future in which Western sanctions remain a constant variable.
Why is the lifting of Western sanctions on Russia extremely unlikely? There are several reasons.
The first reason is the complexity of the conflict between Ukraine and Russia. It has every chance of being prolonged for a long time. There may be pauses in active hostilities. The parties may conclude temporary truces. However, such truces are unlikely to remove the political contradictions that gave rise to the conflict. Currently, there are no parameters for a political compromise that would suit all parties. Even if an agreement between Moscow and Kiev is reached, its sustainability and feasibility are not guaranteed. The experience of Minsk-2 shows that the mere appearance of agreements does not automatically resolve political problems and does not lead to the lifting or easing of sanctions. The Ukrainian problem can smoulder and flare up again for decades, partly because both sides are limited in the possibilities of a decisive military victory and complete surrender of the enemy. Relations between Russia and Ukraine are at risk of entering the ranks of long-term conflicts, similar to relations between India and Pakistan, or North and South Korea. The complexity and longevity of the conflict guarantee Western sanctions for the long term.
The second reason is the stable nature of the contradictions between Russia and the West. The conflict in Ukraine is part of a larger Euro-Atlantic security palette. An unstable system of asymmetric bipolarity has formed in Europe, in which the security of Russia and NATO can hardly be indivisible. Russia has no way to crush the West without doing unacceptable damage to itself. However, the West, despite its colossal superiority, cannot crush Russia without incurring unacceptable losses. Containing Russia is the best strategy for the West. Ukraine is doomed to remain one of the areas of containment. For Russia, the strategy of asymmetric balancing of Western superiority remains optimal. It is possible that part of such a strategy will be a course towards a radical territorial redistribution of Ukraine, tearing away from it the eastern and southern parts. But in itself, such a redistribution will not remove the problems of Western sanctions.
The third reason is the institutional features of the sanctions policy of the initiating countries. Experience shows that sanctions are relatively easy to impose but very difficult to lift. Thus, with regard to Iran, a whole “web of laws” has formed in the United States, which significantly limits the administration’s ability to lift sanctions. Even if the sanctions are not enshrined in law, their cancellation or mitigation still requires political capital, which not every politician is ready to spend. In the US, such steps will cause criticism or even opposition in Congress, and in the EU – disagreements among member states. Of course, individual restrictions are lifted or relaxed in the interests of the initiating countries themselves. The experience of sanctions pressure on the Republic of Belarus shows the existence of the “sanction remissions” when restrictions are eased. However, the legal mechanisms of sanctions themselves remain and can be used at any time.
The fourth reason is the quick reversibility of the sanctions. Often, their abolition is accompanied by political demands, the implementation of which is a complicated process. For example, the Iranian nuclear deal required several years of complex negotiations and significant technological decisions. However, the return of sanctions can be carried out overnight. There is an asymmetry in the fulfilment of obligations. Fulfilling the requirements of the initiators requires significant changes, while the return of sanctions requires only a political decision. Rapid reversibility breeds distrust among target countries. It is easier for them to continue to live under sanctions than to make extensive concessions and risk receiving new sanctions. Historical experience shows that the initiators of sanctions tend to play the game of “finishing” the opponent. After the concessions come new, more radical political demands and the threat of new sanctions. The “Pompeo 13 Points” – a list of US demands on Iran beyond the limits of fulfilling the terms of the nuclear deal – have already become a textbook example. The Iranian lesson, apparently, was well learned in Moscow. Iran itself is actively working to achieve its goals in the field of nuclear arms. Ultimately, this shows the ineffectiveness of sanctions in terms of influencing the political course of the target country. But questionable effectiveness does not negate the fact that sanctions continue to be applied and enforced.
The fifth reason is the ability to adapt. Without a doubt, Russia will suffer enormous damage from the restrictive measures which have been introduced. However, the possibility of it adapting to the sanctions regime remains high. Russia has the chance, first, to partially make up for the shortfall in supplies from abroad with the help of its own industry, although this will require political will and the concentration of resources. Second, it has access to non-Western markets, as well as alternative sources of goods, services and technology. The key conditions for solving this problem will be the creation of reliable channels for financial transactions that are not related to the US dollar, the Euro, or Western financial institutions. Such a task is feasible both technically and politically, although it will also require time and political will. Iran’s experience shows that sanctions have seriously hit the country’s development opportunities. However, they did not interfere with the development of agriculture, industry and technology. The modernisation of the Soviet Union also proceeded under severe Western sanctions. The ability to adapt reduces the motivation for concessions to the demands of the initiating countries, especially given the risk of playing for “finishing”.
These reasons make the prospect of lifting or significantly reducing sanctions pressure on Russia extremely unlikely. The US, EU and other initiators have already introduced the most severe restrictions on Moscow. But the upward wave of sanctions escalation has not yet been exhausted. In addition, the achievement of the ceiling of the applied measures is unlikely to mean the abolition of those already introduced. However, the sanctions also do not mean the “end of history” of the Russian economy. It found itself in new conditions that will require adaptation and the search for new opportunities for development and growth.
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