Reforms, Productivity, and Efficiency in Banking: The Indian Experience (Distinguished Lecture)

Author: Rakesh Mohan
Publication Year : 2005

India embarked on a strategy of economic reforms in the wake of a serious balance-ofpayments crisis in 1991. A central plank of the reforms was reform in the financial sector and, with banks being the mainstay of financial intermediation, the banking sector. The objective of the banking sector reforms was to promote a diversified, efficient and competitive financial system with the ultimate objective of improving the allocative efficiency of resources through operational flexibility, improved financial viability and institutional strengthening. Beginning from 1992, Indian banks were gradually exposed to greater domestic and international competition. India’s approach to banking reforms has been somewhat different from many other countries. Whereas there has not been privatisation of public sector banks, through a process of partial disinvestment a number of public sector banks have been listed in Stock Exchanges and have become subject to market discipline and greater transparency in this manner. Besides, newly opened banks from the private sector and entry and expansion of several foreign banks resulted in greater competition. Consequent to these developments, there has been a consistent decline in the share of public sector banks in total assets of commercial banks and a declining trend of Herfindahl’s concentration index. Improvements in efficiency of the banking system were reflected in a number of indicators, such as, a gradual reduction in cost of intermediation (defined as the ratio of operating expense to total assets) in the post reform period across various bank groups (barring foreign banks), and decline in the non-performing loans. As a result of these changes, there has been an all-around productivity improvement in the Indian banking sector. While the cost income-ratio (i.e., the ratio of operating expenses to total income less interest expense) as well as net interest margin (i.e., the excess of interest income over interest expense, scaled by total bank assets) of Indian banks showed a declining trend during the post-reform period, the business per employee of Indian banks increased over three-fold in real terms exhibiting an annual compound growth rate of nearly 9 percent. At the same time, the profit per employee increased more than five-fold, implying a compound growth of around 17 percent. Branch productivity also recorded concomitant improvements. Such productivity improvements in the banking sector could be driven by two factors: technological improvements, which expands the range of production possibilities and a catching up effect, as peer pressure amongst banks compels them to raise productivity levels. As far as the future of Indian banking is concerned, a number of issues, such as the credit to small and medium enterprises, customers’ interests and financial inclusion, reducing procedural formalities, listing of the public sector banks in the stock exchange and related market discipline are of paramount importance.