Newsmaker: Ravneet Gill and the big bet on the wrong bank

Topics Ravneet Gill | YES Bank | JP Morgan

The first task of Gill, who passed out from Hindu College in 1985 with a masters in political science, was to recognise the huge bad debt piled up by his predecessor Rana Kapoor | File Photo
Fifty-six-year-old Ravneet Gill has two passions – good sleep and workout. Both would have been in short supply in the past 12 months since he took over as managing director and CEO of YES Bank. During that period, two key parameters of the bank – deposit mobilisation and gross non-performing assets - significantly worsened. That is, deposit mobilisation fell by 7.26 per cent (Q2 FY20) on a quarter-on-quarter basis, and gross non-performing assets rose to 7.4 per cent (Q2 FY20). On Thursday, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) superseded the board. Surely, the former CEO of Deutsche Bank would not have expected to leave in such circumstances.  

To be fair to him, Gill’s work was extremely challenging – the huge bad debt to the tune of Rs 45,000 crore left by his predecessor and the bank’s co-founder Rana Kapoor, in the corporate loan portfolio. No wonder, JP Morgan has estimated its equity share value at just Re 1 a share. On Friday, after the RBI action, the shares of the bank fell to a low of Rs 5.65 before recovering.

Besides bad debt, which was a legacy issue, his main hurdle was fund-raising. And that is where he faltered by over-promising. While he was able to raise Rs 2,000 crore last August, that was too little, too late. “The bank needed a large dose of capital, and it was not coming from any investor,” said a former YES Bank official. The crux of the problem, his detractors say, is that he remained just another good executive but failed to make the transition to take up an challenge that required him to be entreprenurial.

Gill tried several times to raise significant capital by approaching Microsoft and PayTM initially, but it seems that no one wanted to throw good money after bad. Last October, the bank announced that it had received a $1.2 billion binding offer from an investor and informed the stock exchanges without naming the investor. When the investor’s name did come out – Canadian investor Erwin Singh Braich and one Citax– it shocked the market as Braich had a chequered history and had filed for bankruptcy in the past and Citax’s financials were not that impressive. But the continuous announcements of marquee investors, queueing up to invest in the bank, kept coming in. Interestingly, many institutional investors and former promoter Kapoor were able to exit the stock during this phase.

In 33 years as a banker, he worked in Deutsche Bank’s private wealth management and corporate bank divisions in the initial years. In 2003, he took over as head of corporate banking and held the position till December 2008, when he was appointed head of coverage for global markets. He became India CEO of Deutsche Bank in 2012. Gill was also appointed on the advisory boards of Daimler India and the IPL franchise, Rajasthan Royals. More importantly, he was well connected. In an interview, Gill said he frequently played tennis with former RBI governor Raghuram Rajan in New Delhi and was close to him.

Despite the pedigree and connections, Gill faced stiff opposition from the bank’s board and top management. A whistle-blower wrote to the board and the RBI about Gill’s high expenses on buying art and re-designing the CEO’s office in Mumbai’s plush Indiabulls Towers and sacking top officials. Gill denied the allegations, even as several top officials quit the bank.

The die was cast since January after independent director, Uttam Prakash Agarwal, exited the board after making allegations that the bank hid information that it lost Rs 1 trillion in fixed deposits and failed on the corporate governance front. YES Bank officials called Agarwal’s allegations baseless and said he was not even ‘fit and proper’, as per the RBI criteria, to hold the position. But the fact remains that Agarwal was head of the bank’s audit committee and alleged that it failed in corporate governance, which makes it a serious charge. The fact that Gill did not take the charges seriously will not sit well with many corporate governance experts. Things only went downhill from there.

Speaking to Business Standard a few years back, Gill had said he was a very positive person… “Well, my blood group is B+, and I suppose being positive is in my blood.” As usual, he was being over-optimistic.

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