Puri, who counts JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon as one of his inspirations, said the biggest challenge of his career was to scale up the bank. “When you don’t understand the challenges required to scale, you will falter.”
Kumar said perhaps no other chairperson had to face as challenging a time as he faced. “When demonetisation happened, I was MD. As chairman, I witnessed the merger with associate banks; we underwent asset quality reviews and a stress on the balance sheet; then there was the bankruptcy code, and now the pandemic.”
Kumar said anyone who joined as a probationary officer in SBI
had the ambition to become chairman, but it was a long journey. “It is not that what I have, others did not have. They were equally competent people. Maybe, to some extent, it is destiny,” he said, adding that like most officers, he too had missed a promotion once.
When Puri was asked if he could go back in time, would he do things the exact same way, he replied in affirmative, while Kumar said he would probably have been a teacher if not a banker.
On the importance of money as a means of motivation, both Kumar and Puri said money as a motivator lost its value after a point. “For me State Bank is everything. So it is the loyalty factor,” Kumar said.
“Money has to be regarded as a collateral benefit and beyond a certain point, it is just a figure. It is the passion you put into a job, it is the desire to achieve that counts. The young people need to understand that money cannot be a prime motivator,” Puri said.
The two also spoke on policy, financial and economic matters.
Kumar said the economy had seen a recovery from June, but cautioned that sectors like aviation, tourism, hospitality and entertainment services would continue to be severely stressed. He added that there had been no pressure from the government for banks
to support the loan guarantee scheme for micro, small and medium enterprises.
“There was no pressure from the government to support the MSME scheme. The scheme was designed in consultation with us. It is a well-designed scheme, which is why it is so successful,” Kumar said.
Kumar and Puri also spoke on the term loan instalment moratorium scheme, which ends August 31, and is a matter in front of the Supreme Court on whether interest could be waived or, whether banks
could stop charging interest on interest accrued during the moratorium period.
Puri said the decision on moratorium by the government and the Reserve Bank of India was a good one since banks’ cash flows were getting affected, while Kumar said the numbers differed from bank to bank.
Kumar said while demand for credit had not been high during the Covid-19 pandemic, the banks had tried to protect senior citizens from falling interest rates even as operational costs for serving savings bank account customers were high.
On bank consolidation, Puri and Kumar differed a little from one another. While Puri said that consolidation just for the sake of it would not help, and ownership did not directly co-relate to efficiency, Kumar said public sector banks eventually became clones of one another, and supervising a large number of banks was challenging for regulators.