ICICI Bank to open 500 branches every year: Kochhar

ICICI Bank to open 500 branches every year: Kochhar

Davos: India’s largest private sector lender, ICICI Bank, will add 400-500 branches annually over the next three years and focus on financing infrastructure projects in road and power.

“I feel that we have to grow beyond the number of existing) branches... Over the next 2-3 years, we would continue to add branches at the rate of 400-500 per year," ICICI Bank managing director and CEO Chanda Kochhar told the news agency in an interview.

The bank, which reported a 30.5% increase in net profit to Rs1,437 crore during the quarter ending 31 December, has been expanding its branch network at rapid pace. Presently, it has about 2,500 branches and 5,800 ATMs.

Kochhar is here as one of the six co-chairs of the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) being attended by the world’s top CEOs, heads of states, academicians and even faith leaders.

The government on Tuesday decided to honour Kocchar with the Padam Bhushan, a civilian award given by the state in recognition of an individual’s achievements.

Talking about the expansion plans, Kochhar said the bank did not open any new branch in the current financial year, as it acquired Bank of Rajasthan “that itself meant addition of 500 branches".

The bank, which has total assets of Rs3.63 lakh crore, is looking at pan-India expansion, including in Bihar, which has seen rapid development.

“Well, bank grows where GDP grows. So, all the states where GDP growth takes place, banks will grow," she added.

ICICI Bank, which was quite aggressive on personal loans till 2008, has shifted focus and it has been concentrating on corporate sector financing as one of the key areas of “sustainable growth".

With the private sector expected to play a major role in infrastructure financing, projected at $1 trillion in the next 5-6 years, ICICI Bank would remain active in areas like roads and power.

“I do feel ICICI Bank will play a major role in infrastructure project finance... As investment takes place in phases like in road and power projects, we move as investment takes place... this is an area of big focus," Kochhar, who took over the reins of the bank during the economic downturn in 2009, said.

Kochhar, considered a prodigy of ICICI Bank chairman K. V. Kamath, is responsible for shifting the bank’s growth strategy from being an aggressive lender to a “sustainable" model. For instance, unsecured personal loans to new customers “are clearly a no-go" area for her.

Asked if she considers herself a more conservative banker than Kamath, she said, “I would say that at every period, the strategy of any organisation should be suitable to the prevailing economic environment."

She said the current environment is “very volatile" and banks have to reduce their reliance on wholesale deposits. The cost of funds has gone up since the Reserve Bank started raising key interest rates in early 2010.

For the seventh time since March, 2010, the RBI raised key short-term lending (repo) and borrowing (reverse repo) rates by 25 basis points on Tuesday to 6.5% and 5.5%, respectively.

“We have to find a more stable and sustainable growth model which can withstand some of the volatilities in the interest rates, growth cycles or in capital flows... Growth has to be sustainable and profitable," she added.