For nearly a decade, Indian banks - a largely male-dominated industry - have been a rare bastion for female leaders. But things have started to change now. It is certainly not a good time for Indian banks battling one storm after the another over the past few months. The biggest names involved in the turbulence -—scams, toxic assets, and sinking profitability— are of women. Here are stories of three iconic Indian women bankers and their encounter with unpleasant situations.
Chanda Kochhar: a feisty banker in trouble
India's most iconic banker, Kochhar - who's been the leading lady of the ICICI Bank since 2009- is facing charges of a conflict of interest in a loan granted to a company founded by her husband. After backing their CEO, the bank finally agreed for an external inquiry. Kochhar will now proceed on leave till the roobe is complete.Kochhar, a padma awardee, has over three decades of association with the ICICI Bank, joining the erstwhile bank in 1984. Kochhar had played a major role in building the bank’s retail business. More recently, she has demonstrated how quick decisions can help in effective resolution of bad loans, although ICICI was in the same boat as public-sector lenders when it came to non-performing assets.
Usha Ananthasubramanian: the banker who faced PNB axe
Early this year, Indian banking industry was rattled by a $2 billion fraud—the biggest in the country’s banking history- at the Punjab National Bank. At the heart of the fraud were two diamantaires, Nirav Modi and his uncle Mehul Choksi. The CBI, in a charge sheet filed in May, named Usha Ananthasubramanian, a former chief executive at the bank, as an accused. Ananthasubramanian, who was heading the Allahabad Bank, was stripped of all her executive powers.Ananthasubramanian, an industry veteran, was chosen in 2013 to head Bharatiya Mahila Bank, which later was merged with State Bank of India (SBI) within a couple of years of its operations after the BJP government came into power.
Shikha Sharma's fall from grace
In July last year, Axis Bank reappointed its chief executive and managing director Shikha Sharma for three years from June 2018. It was her fourth three-year term. But the Reserve Bank of India asked the bank's board to reconsider her new term. Reasons include the bank’s performance and its deteriorating asset quality.When Sharma was appointed Axis Bank's MD & CEO in 2009, its chairman and CEO PJ Nayak resigned well before the end of his tenure. He was sore at the appointment of an outsider. Sharma was managing director and CEO of ICICI Prudential Life Insurance. But Sharma pushed aggressively for growth, which helped her build the business. After succeeding Nayak, she acquired Enam Group’s investment and broking business, propelling Axis to the top position in equities advisory and mergers and acquisitions.
India's banking mess
India’s nearly $1.7 trillion formal banking sector is coping with $210 billion of soured or problem loans, and some regional banks have been ensnared in fraud scandals. India announced a $33 billion recapitalization plan in October last year to tackle one of the highest stressed loan ratios in the world. But the latest scandals have raised concerns that most of the capital to be pumped in will go into providing for more losses towards soured loans, leaving very little for fresh lending. That bodes badly for the economy which is already estimated to have slowed to a four-year low in 2018.