Banking for Every Indian
Thursday, February 18, 2010
The scale was striking. Here was the Finance Minister speaking to an audience of a thousand people last Sunday night at Mumbai’s hallowed Brabourne Stadium. His diminutive 150-cm tall frame perched on a high podium was yet a mere speck against a backdrop that stretched nine metres tall and a full 100 metres wide across the lush turf from the long off boundary to long on. It was his image projected on the screen behind him and magnified several-fold that restored parity.
One has not come across a screen that large. By putting it up, State Bank of India, which organised the event in association with its technology partners such as Tata Consultancy Services, was evidently keen to impress on the audience the scale of its achievement.
The bank had brought online, on a single computer platform, all its 17,700 branches and 20,000 ATMs — all putting through 30 million transactions each day. Few banks in the world operate on this scale. None anyway would have gone to such lengths and tribulations to accomplish it.
For instance, to set up the connectivity in one of the remote branches, engineers had to walk for three days.
The Finance Minister was appropriately wholesome in his appreciation but he was quick to point out that financial inclusion was far from accomplished. Banking must reach every Indian, he emphasised. The truth is it is far from doing so.
Barely 40 per cent of the population yet has a bank account, even 40 years after bank nationalisation. The about 400 million savings accounts that banks have pale alongside the 550 million users of the mobile phone that came into this country just 15 years ago.