Anurag Jain Joint Secretary, Department of Financial Services Ministry of Finance, Government of India

-Government has issued detailed strategy and guidelines on Financial Inclusion, advising banks to open branches in all habitations of 5,000 or more population in underbanked districts and 10,000 or more population in other districts,- says Anurag Jain. In Conversation with Nayana Singh.

Today Financial Inclusion is a key focus area for the Government of India. Tell us about the work that you are doing for promoting Financial Inclusion in the country? We need to develop policies and systems for proving basic financial services like insurance, banking and the related facilities to all sections of society. It is well known today that the expansion of the banking and insurance networks are being planned very aggressively. RBI and similarly IRDA have already come up with guidelines that enable certain kind of branches to be opened without any permission. In the ministries last budget speech, the Hon’ble Finance Minister had set a very aggressive target for opening up of new branch offices for banking and insurance verticals. Another major step that we have taken is to map the entire country into zones that are not being adequately serviced by the banking industry. In such areas, other systems, like the Banking Correspondents model, are being developed to provide banking related services. In 2006, RBI permitted banks to use the services of intermediaries for providing financial and banking services through the use of Business Facilitators (BFs) and Business Correspondents (BCs). Business Correspondents act as retail agents of the banks in providing banking services at locations other than a bank branch/ATM. BCs and the BC Agents (BCAs) represent the bank concerned and enable a bank to expand its outreach and offer limited range of banking services at low cost, particularly where setting up a brick and mortar branch is not viable. BCs as agents of the banks, thus, are an integral part of the business strategy for achieving greater financial inclusion.

Financial Inclusion

Banks play a key role in implementation of DBT and this involves four important steps: Opening of accounts of all beneficiaries Seeding of bank accounts with Aadhaar numbers and uploading on the NPCI mapper Undertaking funds transfer using the National Automated Clearing House – Aadhaar Payment Bridge System (NACH-APBS) Strengthening of banking infrastructure to enable beneficiary to withdraw money Financial Inclusion

What kind of impact are the initiatives taken by the Finance Ministry having in the rural areas? Please tell us about the challenges that you face in bringing Financial Inclusion in the country. The challenges will always be there, but we are working to bring improvements. It is only a matter of time before we are able to reach out to every corner of the country. The point is that if you look at from the point of viability, then it becomes obvious that the brick and mortar kind of branches will not be financially viable in the sparsely populated rural areas. Therefore we need to come up with innovative approaches like Ultra Small Branches (USBs) and the BC model. Opening a brick and mortar kind of branch, even if it is of minimum staff strength, will cost lot of money, so we have to rely on the USBs and the BCs. You see an USB can work very effectively with only one employee and an affiliated BC. Regional Rural Banks (RRBs) are also allowed to open branches in Tier 2 to Tier 6 centres (with population up to 99,999 as per Census 2001) without the need to take permission from the Reserve Bank in each case, subject to reporting, provided they fulfil certain conditions. The challenges that we face are being overcome by use of new technology. Today BCs can share data by using small hand held devices. This enables us to reduce cost, while providing timely services in remote areas.

The government has come up with the ambitious Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) scheme. What kind of impact do you see DBT having on Financial Inclusion? DBT will definitely serve as an incentive for the people to open bank accounts. After all, there can’t be any DBT if people do not have bank accounts. In some places, where banking facility was not available, people had accounts in post offices or primary cooperative society. Now many of these institutions are not on CBS, so you can’t make transfer of funds. The postal departments are now having an aggressive programme for computerisation; once that happens they will be able to support DBT. Many cooperative banks are also developing the CBS platform. You see, the DBT will force players in the financial space to upgrade their technologies and that will be beneficial from the angle of financial inclusion as then these institutions will be able to deliver many more financial services.

What is the roadmap for implementing DBT in every government department? The DBT programme was rolled out on January 1 this year, beginning with 43 districts and expanding to 121 districts from July one. Transfer of LPG subsidy through DBT was rolled out from June 1 and now covers 20 districts. In LPG, over 2.8 million DBT transactions valued at `116 crore have taken place in seven weeks. The thing is that when people talk about DBT they usually mean Aadhaar linked transfers. Unfortunately in many districts Aadhaar is yet to be generated. The Direct Benefit Transfer for LPG (DBTL) scheme is currently under implementation. In this case the districts have been selected on basis of their success in enrolling the population for Aadhaar. The districts were the Aadhaar generation is highest have been taken up for DBTL. As of now this is working quite well. Once we have sizeable Aadhaar enrolment in all the districts, DBT will become the norm. The bulk of the work in DBT at the moment is in digitization of databases, re-engineering government processes for automating financial transactions, enrolling in Aadhaar and ensuring that every recipient has bank accounts seeded with Aadhaar.

ATMs have become very popular in the urban areas. Do you see the scope of using ATMs for improving access to financial services in rural areas? ATM can provide the 24X7 services, and so it is very important. In rural areas, we have issues about the timing of the bank branches. Normally the branches operate from 9 AM to 6 PM, but villagers normally want services early in the morning or late evening. It is also true that you can’t have bank branch everywhere. So ATMs are important as they will allow the citizens to access their funds in banks whenever they wish. The Finance Ministry has now asked state-run banks to expedite installing ATMs in rural areas.

Ministry of Finance has started the scheme to install White Label ATMs. What kind of progress is being made in that area? The banking space has seen considerable growth through the ATMs, (approximately 87000 ATMs at present) but the same has been restricted principally to the urban/metro areas. Last year, the Reserve Bank of India, had allowed corporates to set up white label ATMs to increase the penetration of ATMs in several areas of the country. Most ATMs, or machines that dispense cash, are owned by banks. But ones that are owned and operated by non-banking companies are called while-label ATMs (WLAs). They function just the same way as any other bank-run ATM. This scheme has picked up late. From Jan 2013 it is started so by Dec 2014 we should have 63000 WLAs in place.

In Kenya and few other countries of Africa mobile banking is a success story. But in India mobile banking is not picking up to a substantial extent. Why is that so? Efforts are being made to popularise mobile banking. Today most public sector banks have enabled mobile banking and it is matter of time before large number of consumers start recognising it as a good medium to meet their banking related needs. As far as policy front is concerned, all the regulations are in place, not it is only a question of taking the product to the consumer. In Africa, mobile banking is popular because it is the only channel for consumers who want to avail of banking facilities, whereas in India consumers have access to a range of facilities. Also the mobile banking charges need to come down. Another point is that even though today we have more than 70 crore mobile users, not everyone is using device with data connectivity. That too needs to change.

DBT Will Enable our Financial institutions to upgrade their technology

Over the last decade Public Sector Banks have made many commendable efforts to integrate IT into their operations. What else can be done to leverage ICT to improve the efficiency of the public sector and cooperative banks? Today it is difficult for us to imagine banking without IT technologies. Most of the banks have integrated operations with Core Banking Solutions (CBS) in place, and most of these platforms are capable of talking to each other. The same is the case with ATMs. The Department of Financial Services has worked to make PSBs become clones in terms of technology, standardisation of manpower recruitment, accounting practices. Cooperative banks are different; their operations are such that they cannot immediately go to the CBS platform. NABARD came up of a scheme to put the cooperative banks on CBS, but its execution will take time. One reason why cooperative banks find it difficult to achieve a 100 percent implementation of CBS is the remote locations of branches. This also makes it impractical to roll out technological solutions to all branches.