Banks 'prudent, careful' as economic recovery will take long: CEOs

Banks are being "prudent, careful" in giving credit but they are not "risk averse", said industry leaders in a webinar organised by Business Standard on Thursday.

The bankers were responding to RBI governor Shaktikanta Das's statement that banks risked their own growth by being “extremely risk averse". “Remaining overly risk averse is like self-immunization but will be self-defeating in a changing environment,” he said in a webinar before the bankers spoke.

Amitabh Chaudhry, CEO of Axis Bank, Ashu Khullar, CEO of CITI India, Mallikarjuna Rao, CEO of Punjab National Bank, Rajkiran Rai, CEO of Union Bank of India, Rakesh Sharma, CEO of IDBI Bank, V Vaidyanathan, CEO of IDFC First, spoke about 'Capital is the Key'.

"There is no risk aversion. There is a requirement of standards to be properly worked out in terms of credit underwriting," said PNB's Mallikarjuna Rao.

The bankers said "green shoots" signal economic activity is picking up but a full recovery will take longer. "It will long haul for the economy before it comes back to pre-Covid-19 levels," said Axis Bank's Amitabh Chaudhry.

The coronavirus had hurt demand in the economy, affecting credit demand, said the bankers. Banks to have be careful (in granting credit) in "tumultuous times", said Chaudhry.

The economy is "clearly far away from getting back to normal" and banks are taking a "calibrated approach" in granting loans, said CITI India's Ashu Khullar. There are no "pens down".

Banks are being "prudent in lending”—that is a result of the state of the economy and the RBI's guidelines for banks, said Union Bank of India's Rajkiran Rai.

The bankers were unanimous in their view that the RBI's loan moratorium should not be a criteria to judge their balance sheet. "Everyday people are withdrawing from the option," said Rakesh Sharma of IDBI Bank.

"Economy activity has definitely started. In another six odd months, things will be back reasonably, may be to 90-95%," said V Vaidyanathan, CEO, IDFC First.

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