Growing Interest: Why Banks Are Reaching Out to Rural India

Friday, January 29, 2010

In the western Indian state of Maharashtra, in the Mann Desh region, lives 39-year-old Lakshmi Shellar. She spends a typical day in the field tending to her crops; she also rears buffaloes and sells their milk in the village door to door. A widow since the age of 17, Shellar got in touch with Mann Deshi Mahila Bank, a cooperative bank in rural Maharashtra, a few years ago, where she learned the basics about banking products. Now she runs a financial literacy school by night, attended by 20 women from her village.

Women such as Shellar act as business facilitators to India’s banks. Some work directly for the bank, others through banking correspondents (BCs) such as microfinance institutions and nongovernment organizations. Each facilitator is connected to hundreds of people. On behalf of the bank, they create awareness about savings and other products, identify potential borrowers, collect and verify loan applications, monitor borrowers’ repayment and follow up for recovery.

Shellar’s story is told whenever Duvvuri Subbarao, governor of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), delivers speeches on financial inclusion across the country. Subbarao hopes more women like Shellar will help to promote banking deep within the country. It will be crucial for an organized financial system to find its roots in rural India.

A December 2009 RBI report, “Financial Inclusion: Challenges and Opportunities,” points out that the country has 600,000 habitations — clusters where the population is 100 or more — but only 30,000 have a commercial bank branch. Less than half the population has a bank account, with the disparity greater in the northeast. Only about 10% of the people have life insurance, and less than 1% have other types of insurance. A full 37% of the population still lives below the poverty line.

Source: Knowledge@Wharton (link opens in a new window)