India's best bank for Microfinance 2019: RBL Bank
When Vishwavir Ahuja took over as managing director and chief executive of Ratnaker Bank in 2010, the lender was a small operator based in the Maharashtrian city of Kolhapur. Along with a group of veteran dealmakers and operators who cut their teeth at Citi or alongside him at BAML, Ahuja transformed RBL (as the lender was re-branded) into a national operator, investing heavily in its public image and in digital banking.
But, as Ahuja is quick to point out, the bank also focuses on supporting lower-earning individuals and small companies. At the end of 2018, 41% of the bank’s book comprised loans to retail, including microfinance, up from zero three years ago.
Its microfinance team has undergone its own transformation. In June 2018, the bank raised its stake in Mumbai-based micro-credit provider Swadhaar Finserve, to 100% from 60.48%, renaming its expanded microfinance division RBL FinServe.
The aim, says Harjeet Toor, head of retail, inclusion and rural business, was to transform RBL FinServe into the “market leader in the space of inclusive finance, catering to underserved households and small businesses”, and providing financial literacy training to people across the country.
And it is working. At the end of 2018, RBL FinServe had 940,000 customers, with the division boasting combined assets under management of Rs25 billion ($350 million).
Its microfinance business is expanding fast wherever you look. At the end of 2018, RBL Bank had 804 dedicated micro-banking branches, many of them in poorer states such as Bihar and Odisha, while it continues to expand its network of business correspondents, connecting itself to the remotest of villages.
New products are designed with the owners of small businesses in mind. Take the example of Hospicash, which extends financial support to any customer who becomes hospitalised. So far, 1.5 million have signed up to the service.