Not interested in foreign banks, want more branches: ICICI

Not interested in foreign banks, want more branches: ICICI

Mumbai: ICICI Bank, the country’s biggest private lender that has played a key role in India Inc’s overseas expansion drive, itself does not see any merit in acquiring a foreign bank at the moment and prefers to grow through the organic route in the domestic market.

“Organic growth is the better way for us to grow further ... We are an Indian bank and for boosting domestic operations we do not need to tie-up with foreign banks... other than deep pockets, what can they bring for us on the table," ICICI Bank Managing Director and CEO K.V. Kamath told PTI in an interview.

“Foreign banks do not bring anything on the table except large capital. On technology front we have everything at par with best of them... We have right skill set also... why should we need to go for an acquisition," he said.

If anything was needed for boosting the bank’s growth trajectory, it was more branches to service customers. “Branch licensing needs to be liberalised in the country," he said.

ICICI has just about 1,000 branches, as compared to nearly 10,000 branches of the country’s largest bank SBI.

“There are immense opportunities in the Indian market. Even foreign banks are coming here only because of huge growth potential in the banking space," Kamath said, replying to a query whether the bank was considering overseas acquisitions.

Bank’s Deputy MD Chanda Kochhar also ruled out any foreign acquisition, saying “globally we are not very big and would not be interested in small acquisitions... we want to grow big (organically) before doing any thing significant".

According to Kochhar, the bank was involved in 70% of Indian companies’ overseas merger and acquisition deals in the first half and expects to maintain this market share in the remaining part of 2007 as well.

ICICI Bank has so far acquired just two small-sized banks -- Sangli Bank and Bank of Madura -- both in India. Even in domestic market, Kamath noted, not many acquisition targets were available for private sector players.

He made it clear that as such there were no banks in on its radar, saying that “even by acquiring any entity abroad we would not gain anything in the domestic market".

The preferred way for the growth of ICICI, Kamath said, would be organic and hoped that the bank would get opportunities sooner than later to expand branch network.

ICICI Bank has a highly efficient team of executives and matched the best of the technology in the world and what it lacked was the number of branches, he said.

Kamath said India needed large financial services firms, saying the top five banks together here are currently smaller than the fourth or the fifth largest bank in China.

“If we need a global size and scale in next 5-8 years, we need to start working now.... We need to create a framework for growth -- one route is consolidation, another is the organic growth and the third one could be opening the sector even further and let the global players come in," he noted.

However, Kamath said: “You must let the local players grow up before further opening the sector for foreign players to put Indian banking sector on a global stage."

Kamath also said India can emulate China in encouraging domestic banks, instead of foreign banks.

“They are not giving unrestricted access to foreign banks, rather they are allowing the local banks to grow up... besides their economy started opening up about 15 years ago, while India is only two-three years in this process," he said.

Indian banks are better placed than foreign players as the locals know domestic conditions much better, Kamath said.

However, different issues are constraining the public and private sector players, he said, adding that the problem with PSU banks was that they have yet to go up the technology scale and the skill set. Another key challenge before PSU banks was attaining the ability to dole out the right compensation.

On the other hand, the private sector had the technology and the money paying ability. But they did not have the branch network, which the PSU banks have, he said.

“There is huge growth opportunities to tap the millions of unbanked people and the government and regulators have a role to play in this growth story as a facilitator," he said.