Evolution of the Indian Banking Industry:

The Indian banking industry has its foundations in the 18th century, and has had a varied evolutionary experience since then. The initial banks in India were primarily traders’ banks engaged only in financing activities. Banking industry in the pre-independence era developed with the Presidency Banks, which were transformed into the Imperial Bank of India and subsequently into the State Bank of India. The initial days of the industry saw a majority private ownership and a highly volatile work environment. Major strides towards public ownership and accountability were made with nationalisation in 1969 and 1980 which transformed the face of banking in India. The industry in recent times has recognised the importance of private and foreign players in a competitive scenario and has moved towards greater liberalisation.


In the evolution of this strategic industry spanning over two centuries, immense developments have been made in terms of the regulations governing it, the ownership structure, products and services offered and the technology deployed. The entire evolution can be classified into four distinct phases.

  • Phase I- Pre-Nationalisation Phase (prior to 1955)
  • Phase II- Era of Nationalisation and Consolidation (1955-1990)
  • Phase III- Introduction of Indian Financial & Banking Sector Reforms and Partial Liberalisation (1990-2004)
  • Phase IV- Period of Increased Liberalisation (2004 onwards)

Current Structure

Currently the Indian banking industry has a diverse structure. The present structure of the Indian banking industry has been analyzed on the basis of its organised status, business as well as product segmentation.

Organisational Structure

The entire organised banking system comprises of scheduled and non-scheduled banks. Largely, this segment comprises of the scheduled banks, with the unscheduled ones forming a very small component. Banking needs of the financially excluded population is catered to by other unorganised entities distinct from banks, such as, moneylenders, pawnbrokers and indigenous bankers.

Scheduled Banks

A scheduled bank is a bank that is listed under the second schedule of the RBI Act, 1934. In order to be included under this schedule of the RBI Act, banks have to fulfill certain conditions such as having a paid up capital and reserves of at least 0.5 million and satisfying the Reserve Bank that its affairs are not being conducted in a manner prejudicial to the interests of its depositors. Scheduled banks are further classified into commercial and cooperative banks. The basic difference between scheduled commercial banks and scheduled cooperative banks is in their holding pattern. Scheduled cooperative banks are cooperative credit institutions that are registered under the Cooperative Societies Act. These banks work according to the cooperative principles of mutual assistance.

Scheduled Commercial Banks (SCBs):

Scheduled commercial banks (SCBs) account for a major proportion of the business of the scheduled banks. As at end-March, 2009, 80 SCBs were operational in India. SCBs in India are categorized into the five groups based on their ownership and/or their nature of operations. State Bank of India and its six associates (excluding State Bank of Saurashtra, which has been merged with the SBI with effect from August 13, 2008) are recognised as a separate category of SCBs, because of the distinct statutes (SBI Act, 1955 and SBI Subsidiary Banks Act, 1959) that govern them. Nationalised banks (10) and SBI and associates (7), together form the public sector banks group and control around 70% of the total credit and deposits businesses in India. IDBI ltd. has been included in the nationalised banks group since December 2004. Private sector banks include the old private sector banks and the new generation private sector banks- which were incorporated according to the revised guidelines issued by the RBI regarding the entry of private sector banks in 1993. As at end-March 2009, there were 15 old and 7 new generation private sector banks operating in India.

Foreign banks are present in the country either through complete branch/subsidiary route presence or through their representative offices. At end-June 2009, 32 foreign banks were operating in India with 293 branches. Besides, 43 foreign banks were also operating in India through representative offices.


Regional Rural Banks (RRBs) were set up in September 1975 in order to develop the rural economy by providing banking services in such areas by combining the cooperative specialty of local orientation and the sound resource base which is the characteristic of commercial banks. RRBs have a unique structure, in the sense that their equity holding is jointly held by the central government, the concerned state government and the sponsor bank (in the ratio 50:15:35), which is responsible for assisting the RRB by providing financial, managerial and training aid and also subscribing to its share capital.

Between 1975 and 1987, 196 RRBs were established. RRBs have grown in geographical coverage, reaching out to increasing number of rural clientele. At the end of June 2008, they covered 585 out of the 622 districts of the country. Despite growing in geographical coverage, the number of RRBs operational in the country has been declining over the past five years due to rapid consolidation among them. As a result of state wise amalgamation of RRBs sponsored by the same sponsor bank, the number of RRBs fell to 86 by end March 2009.

Scheduled Cooperative Banks:

Scheduled cooperative banks in India can be broadly classified into urban credit cooperative institutions and rural cooperative credit institutions. Rural cooperative banks undertake long term as well as short term lending. Credit cooperatives in most states have a three tier structure (primary, district and state level).

Non-Scheduled Banks:

Non-scheduled banks also function in the Indian banking space, in the form of Local Area Banks (LAB). As at end-March 2009 there were only 4 LABs operating in India. Local area banks are banks that are set up under the scheme announced by the government of India in 1996, for the establishment of new private banks of a local nature; with jurisdiction over a maximum of three contiguous districts. LABs aid in the mobilisation of funds of rural and semi urban districts. Six LABs were originally licensed, but the license of one of them was cancelled due to irregularities in operations, and the other was amalgamated with Bank of Baroda in 2004 due to its weak financial position.

Business Segmentation

The entire range of banking operations are segmented into four broad heads- retail banking businesses, wholesale banking businesses, treasury operations and other banking activities. Banks have dedicated business units and branches for retail banking, wholesale banking (divided again into large corporate, mid corporate) etc.

Retail banking

It includes exposures to individuals or small businesses. Retail banking activities are identified based on four criteria of orientation, granularity, product criterion and low value of individual exposures. In essence, these qualifiers imply that retail exposures should be to individuals or small businesses (whose annual turnover is limited to Rs. 0.50 billion) and could take any form of credit like cash credit, overdrafts etc. Retail banking exposures to one entity is limited to the extent of 0.2% of the total retail portfolio of the bank or the absolute limit of Rs. 50 million. Retail banking products on the liability side includes all types of deposit accounts and mortgages and loans (personal, housing, educational etc) on the assets side of banks. It also includes other ancillary products and services like credit cards, demat accounts etc.

The retail portfolio of banks accounted for around 21.3% of the total loans and advances of SCBs as at end-March 2009. The major component of the retail portfolio of banks is housing loans, followed by auto loans. Retail banking segment is a well diversified business segment. Most banks have a significant portion of their business contributed by retail banking activities. The largest players in retail banking in India are ICICI Bank, SBI, PNB, BOI, HDFC and Canara Bank.

Among the large banks, ICICI bank is a major player in the retail banking space which has had definitive strategies in place to boost its retail portfolio. It has a strong focus on movement towards cheaper channels of distribution, which is vital for the transaction intensive retail business. SBI’s retail business is also fast growing and a strategic business unit for the bank. Among the smaller banks, many have a visible presence especially in the auto loans business. Among these banks the reliance on their respective retail portfolio is high, as many of these banks have advance portfolios that are concentrated in certain usages, such as auto or consumer durables. Foreign banks have had a somewhat restricted retail portfolio till recently. However, they are fast expanding in this business segment. The retail banking industry is likely to see a high competition scenario in the near future.

Wholesale banking

Wholesale banking includes high ticket exposures primarily to corporates. Internal processes of most banks classify wholesale banking into mid corporates and large corporates according to the size of exposure to the clients. A large portion of wholesale banking clients also account for off balance sheet businesses. Hedging solutions form a significant portion of exposures coming from corporates. Hence, wholesale banking clients are strategic for the banks with the view to gain other business from them. Various forms of financing, like project finance, leasing finance, finance for working capital, term finance etc form part of wholesale banking transactions. Syndication services and merchant banking services are also provided to wholesale clients in addition to the variety of products and services offered.

Wholesale banking is also a well diversified banking vertical. Most banks have a presence in wholesale banking. But this vertical is largely dominated by large Indian banks. While a large portion of the business of foreign banks comes from wholesale banking, their market share is still smaller than that of the larger Indian banks. A number of large private players among Indian banks are also very active in this segment. Among the players with the largest footprint in the wholesale banking space are SBI, ICICI Bank, IDBI Bank, Canara Bank, Bank of India, Punjab National Bank and Central Bank of India. Bank of Baroda has also been exhibiting quite robust results from its wholesale banking operations.

Treasury Operations

Treasury operations include investments in debt market (sovereign and corporate), equity market, mutual funds, derivatives, and trading and forex operations. These functions can be proprietary activities, or can be undertaken on customer’s account. Treasury operations are important for managing the funding of the bank. Apart from core banking activities, which comprises primarily of lending, deposit taking functions and services; treasury income is a significant component of the earnings of banks. Treasury deals with the entire investment portfolio of banks (categories of HTM, AFS and HFT) and provides a range of products and services that deal primarily with foreign exchange, derivatives and securities. Treasury involves the front office (dealing room), mid office (risk management including independent reporting to the asset liability committee) and back office (settlement of deals executed, statutory funds management etc).

Other Banking Businesses

This is considered as a residual category which includes all those businesses of banks that do not fall under any of the aforesaid categories. This category includes para banking activities like hire purchase activities, leasing business, merchant banking, factoring activities etc.

Products of the Banking Industry

The products of the banking industry broadly include deposit products, credit products and customized banking services. Most banks offer the same kind of products with minor variations. The basic differentiation is attained through quality of service and the delivery channels that are adopted. Apart from the generic products like deposits (demand deposits – current, savings and term deposits), loans and advances (short term and long term loans) and services, there have been innovations in terms and products such as the flexible term deposit, convertible savings deposit (wherein idle cash in savings account can be transferred to a fixed deposit), etc. Innovations have been increasingly directed towards the delivery channels used, with the focus shifting towards ATM transactions, phone and internet banking. Product differentiating services have been attached to most products, such as debit/ATM cards, credit cards, nomination and demat services.

Other banking products include fee-based services that provide non-interest income to the banks. Corporate fee-based services offered by banks include treasury products; cash management services; letter of credit and bank guarantee; bill discounting; factoring and forfeiting services; foreign exchange services; merchant banking; leasing; credit rating; underwriting and custodial services. Retail fee-based services include remittances and payment facilities, wealth management, trading facilities and other value added services.

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