RBI ‘not comfortable’ with NPAs in urban co-op banks

Mumbai:┬áRBI Governor Shaktikanta Das on Monday said the central bank is “not comfortable” with the gross non-performing assets ratio of 8.7 per cent in urban cooperative banks (UCBs) and asked them to work towards improving the same.

Addressing directors of UCBs in the financial capital at an RBI-organised conference, Das urged that such lenders should improve the governance standards, avoid related-party transactions and focus on credit risks, among others.

It can be noted that the UCB sector has been fraught with multiple challenges and also witnessed difficult times in the recent past, like the implosion of the city-headquartered Punjab and Maharashtra Bank.

The governor delivered the speech on August 30 and the video was uploaded by the RBI on YouTube on Monday.
It can be noted that the UCB sector has been fraught with multiple challenges and also witnessed difficult times in the recent past, like the implosion of the city-headquartered Punjab and Maharashtra Bank.

Das reminded the directors of the UCBs that banks run on depositors and added that protection of the hard-earned money pooled in from the middle class, poor and retirees is far more sacred than going to a temple or a gurdwara.

While the overall picture at an aggregate level looks nice, the situation on GNPAs and capital adequacy is “not at all satisfactory”, Das said.

He said the overall GNPAs have improved to 8.7 per cent, which is “not a good number. It is not a comfortable number even at an aggregate level”.

Scheduled commercial banks’ GNPAs stood at a decadal best level of 3.9 per cent in March 2023 and are widely estimated to improve further.

To manage the scourge of NPAs better, Das suggested that there should be a focus on credit risk management with better underwriting.

He said the RBI has come across instances of conflicts of interest or related party transactions, which need to be avoided.

Similarly, there have been instances of many of the top defaulters being individuals or businesses having the ability to pay, Das said.

The top 20 defaulters account for over 60 per cent of the loan overdue, and focusing on this segment can help improve the overall NPAs, he added.

On the capital adequacy front, he noted that there has been an improvement in the ratios to 16.6 per cent at the end of FY23 from 15.5 per cent a year ago.

Making it clear that he wants to share the RBI’s concerns with the lenders, Das exhorted the UCBs to focus on the quality of governance by paying attention to compliance, risk management and internal audit.

He said the RBI has come across instances where there is only “paper compliance” and no compliance is observed when an on-field inspection takes place, Das said, adding that the internal audit function also requires focus.

The governor asked bank management to present a risk analysis report to the board on a quarterly basis, rather than making it into an annual effort.

It is also necessary for the directors – who are elected and not appointed based on their skill sets, unlike the SCBs – to understand the financial sector, credit risk, banking, information technology and risk management, Das said.

The Reserve Bank of India has prescribed a board of management to help the elected board members with professional help in running a bank, and the same should not be seen as an impediment, he added.

“There should be free, frank and democratic discussions. Board members should be encouraged to ask whatever questions they have on their mind,” he said.

Das also expressed the RBI’s discomfort with board committees like those handling important functions, such as audit and risk not meeting regularly, stating that it has come across instances where such meetings are not held for months or even multiple years.

On the technology front, he said the RBI has found that the quality of the core banking solution is not at all satisfactory in some banks, and the treasury operations are not getting reflected in the CBS.

Going ahead, the UCB segment will be facing competition from tech-savvy entities like digital lenders, fintechs, non-bank lenders and micro-lenders, and hence, need to focus more on technology, Das said.

The governor said the UCB sector – built to serve as the neighbourhood bank – is “doing well” from an overall perspective, and also made it clear that the RBI is fine with some of the entities in the sector growing big.