With 84 offices spread across 32 countries, the overseas operations of India’s largest lender State Bank of India (SBI) cover all time zones and international financial centres. The gross balance sheet of SBI’s overseas business is now close to $25 billion (Rs1 trillion), around 17% of its total business. The bank wants its foreign operations to contribute 25% of its business. The qualifying full bank (QFB) status in Singapore will help SBI achieve this fast. In an exclusive interview with Mint, SBI chairman Om Prakash Bhatt lays down the bank’s game plan for Singapore. Edited excerpts:
What’s your plan for Singapore?
Om Prakash Bhatt, SBI chairman (Illustration by: Malay Karmakar / Mint)
SBI is not new to Singapore; it has been there since 1977. However, our focus has been on wholesale banking, including money market, loan syndication and trade finance activities and transactions are conducted in currencies other than the Singaporean dollar.
We have been fairly successful in this and the current balance sheet is more than US$1 billion. The QFB licence allows us to expand our business operations, particularly in retail, and to build a bigger network in Singapore.
How important is Singapore in SBI’s overall overseas operations?
We see Singapore as a strategically important market as it is an attractive domestic banking market—both in retail and wholesale—with strong Indian linkages. It is also a key global offshore banking hub, specifically in wholesale banking and wealth management. It can be a platform to expand SBI’s next generation international retail banking offering.
We will expand our network to 25 points of presence and offer a full range of Singapore dollar and foreign exchange products to non-resident Indians (NRIs), local Singaporeans, and other expatriates.
We are the first Indian bank allowed to expand in the retail market through opening of 25 new branches and offsite ATMs. We will leverage our vast Indian network in targeting both the Indian expatriates and Singaporeans.
When do you plan to kick off the retail business?
We plan to enter the retail market in the second half of this year with a few innovative product offerings, at competitive rates, both in deposits and advances. Within a year, we may open three-four new branches and a few offsite ATMs. Our focus will be on the mass affluent class, NRIs, and other expatriates. We are working on our business plan.
Overall, how is SBI doing?
Last week we acquired Global Trade Finance Ltd, the largest factoring company in India. Our rights issue has done well. In a volatile market, we have raised over $4 billion. This is the highest amount raised through rights issue in India and one of the biggest rights issues in the world.
We are hopeful that amalgamation and restructuring of our associate banks will be soon in place. We have other plans, too. We are building competencies and synergy across the spectrum of financial services. We want to perform better and serve our vast constituency well.