We will continue to stand apart due to our digital edge: Citi Bank CEO

Pramit Jhaveri

With limited branch footprint, Citi India believes it is electronic and digital solutions that set the bank apart. Pramit Jhaveri, CEO, tells Bhavik Nair the bank wants to build on this advantage to take business to the next level

Excerpts:

What is Citibank’s strategy in India?
Our mission as a bank is to enable economic progress and growth of our clients in India. We work with global corporations and financial institutions, and with Indian businesses and enterprises, in India as well as our unrivalled network of 98 countries around the world. In consumer banking, we work with individuals and households, including non-residents, handling savings and investment, risk management and protection, as also their personal borrowing needs. Embedded in all this is the aspiration to be truly digital.

In which segment is Citi India a strong player? How do you plan to maintain your competitive advantage therein?
There are a number of banking segments, both corporate and consumer, in which we have a high market share. These businesses allow us to leverage our global footprint, spectrum of products and services and our strong digital capabilities. They include foreign exchange, custody, investment banking, trade finance, cash management, credit cards and wealth management. In each of these businesses, we have a market share incommensurately larger than our physical presence in India. To maintain our competitive advantage, we need to seamlessly deliver through our global platform and spectrum of services. To be the best in our clients’ eyes, we have to offer superior value propositions, deliver differentiated client experiences and maintain a reputation for excellence and integrity in everything we do.

In the present scenario of rising bad loans, what has been your approach to corporate lending?
Corporate banking for large and mid-sized corporations and financial institutions, Indian and multinational, is core to our India business. Our NPA levels are below 0.5% at present and we have a strong balance sheet and liquidity. So it is business as usual for us in the corporate client segments. Our loan book, for both working capital and term loans in rupee and foreign currency, has shown very healthy growth over the last 12 months. We remain optimistic about this business as a growth driver going forward.

How is Citi faring in the capital market/investment banking segment? What is your growth strategy for it?
Citi is the leading foreign investment bank in India today, as has been demonstrated by our consistent leadership in both debt and equity capital markets and M&As for more than a decade. Our leadership is evidenced by market share, league table positions, the clients who choose to work with us and, equally important, successful delivery over a period of time. We will continue to focus intensively on this business.

How does the bank plan to grow CASA? Which are the segments it is targeting for loan growth?
Citi India has amongst the highest CASA ratios in the banking industry in India. Our institutional and consumer businesses contribute equally to the high CASA ratio. We would like to believe it is our digital and electronic capabilities and the superior platform of our products and services that have enabled us to achieve this. So, we will continue to target loan growth across the institutional and consumer businesses.

How will technology and digital banking alter the way you operate?
Technology has been key to our business and at the heart of everything we do for as long as I can remember. With a very limited branch footprint, electronic and digital solutions have typically been a core differentiator for us, not just in the way we provide our clients solutions , but in the way we think. We like to believe that this would become an even stronger competitive advantage over time.

We are very excited about how technology and digital banking is changing not only banking, but also customer behaviour. This is particularly true in a market like India where multiple factors have converged at the same time. Aadhaar, digital infrastructure, mobile and internet usage, changing laws and regulations, demographics, GST, etc., are all happening in tandem. The multiplier effect of this is extraordinary, for individuals, households, and businesses.

Changes are already underway in how we develop new solutions, expand our reach, boost customer acquisition, etc. For all this, we will utilize multiple approaches, including partnerships with other industry players. At the same time, we will focus on newer areas like data sciences and predictive analytics, robotics, and artificial intelligence. Along the way, we will have to learn to be disruptive, which is always difficult in profitable, successful segments.

Do you see more growth opportunities in the country from a foreign bank’s perspective? Where does India fare among Asian countries as far as your businesses are concerned?
India is one of our largest markets in Asia and one of the seven to generate over $1 billion in revenue. We have leading institutional and consumer businesses here and we are focused on growing our share in the existing client segments.

Besides, we believe the dynamics at work in India are going to throw up a lot of opportunities. You have political stability and a government committed to the reforms process. Aadhaar will ensure transparency, as will GST. More individuals and households are coming into the fold of formal banking and the needle of ease of doing business is showing improvement. Urbanisation and digitisation too are very strong themes at play.

When you put all this together, and certainly when you compare India with other parts of the world today, you can’t choose but feel excited. There is extraordinary scope for business simply because our clients will be benefitting from the transformational journey the country has embarked upon.

(This article first appeared on Financial Express Online on March 21, 2018)