Banking in India

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Structure of the organised banking sector in India. Number of banks are in brackets.

Banking in India in the modern sense originated in the last decades of the 18th century. The first banks were Bank of Hindustan (1770-1829) and The General Bank of India, established 1786 and since defunct.

The largest bank, and the oldest still in existence, is the State Bank of India, which originated in the Bank of Calcutta in June 1806, which almost immediately became the Bank of Bengal. This was one of the three presidency banks, the other two being the Bank of Bombay and the Bank of Madras, all three of which were established under charters from the British East India Company. The three banks merged in 1921 to form the Imperial Bank of India, which, upon India's independence, became the State Bank of India in 1955. For many years the presidency banks acted as quasi-central banks, as did their successors, until the Reserve Bank of India was established in 1935.

In 1969 the Indian government nationalised all the major banks that it did not already own and these have remained under government ownership. They are run under a structure known as 'profit-making public sector undertaking' (PSU) and are allowed to compete and operate as commercial banks. The Indian banking sector is made up of four types of banks, as well as the PSUs and the state banks, they have been joined since the 1990s by new private commercial banks and a number of foreign banks.

Generally banking in India was fairly mature in terms of supply, product range and reach-even though reach in rural India and to the poor still remains a challenge. The government has developed initiatives to address this through the State Bank of India expanding its branch network and through the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development with things like microfinance. This also included the 2014 plan by the then prime minister to bring bank accounts to the estimated 40% of the population that were still unbanked.[1]


In ancient India there is evidence of loans from the Vedic period (beginning 1750 BC).[2][3] Later during the Maurya dynasty (321 to 185 BC), an instrument called adesha was in use, which was an order on a banker desiring him to pay the money of the note to a third person, which corresponds to the definition of a bill of exchange as we understand it today. During the Buddhist period, there was considerable use of these instruments. Merchants in large towns gave letters of credit to one another.[4]

Colonial era[edit]

During the period of British rule merchants established the Union Bank of Calcutta in 1869, first as a private joint stock association, then partnership. Its proprietors were the owners of the earlier Commercial Bank and the Calcutta Bank, who by mutual consent created Union Bank to replace these two banks. In 1840 it established an agency at Singapore, and closed the one at Mirzapore that it had opened in the previous year. Also in 1840 the Bank revealed that it had been the subject of a fraud by the bank's accountant. Union Bank was incorporated in 1845 but failed in 1848, having been insolvent for some time and having used new money from depositors to pay its dividends.[5]

The Allahabad Bank, established in 1865 and still functioning today, is the oldest Joint Stock bank in India, it was not the first though. That honour belongs to the Bank of Upper India, which was established in 1863, and which survived until 1913, when it failed, with some of its assets and liabilities being transferred to the Alliance Bank of Simla.

Foreign banks too started to appear, particularly in Calcutta, in the 1860s. The Comptoir d'Escompte de Paris opened a branch in Calcutta in 1860, and another in Bombay in 1862; branches in Madras and Pondicherry, then a French possession, followed. HSBC established itself in Bengal in 1869. Calcutta was the most active trading port in India, mainly due to the trade of the British Empire, and so became a banking centre.

The first entirely Indian joint stock bank was the Oudh Commercial Bank, established in 1881 in Faizabad. It failed in 1958. The next was the Punjab National Bank, established in Lahore in 1894, which has survived to the present and is now one of the largest banks in India.

Around the turn of the 20th Century, the Indian economy was passing through a relative period of stability. Around five decades had elapsed since the Indian rebellion, and the social, industrial and other infrastructure had improved. Indians had established small banks, most of which served particular ethnic and religious communities.

The presidency banks dominated banking in India but there were also some exchange banks and a number of Indian joint stock banks. All these banks operated in different segments of the economy. The exchange banks, mostly owned by Europeans, concentrated on financing foreign trade. Indian joint stock banks were generally under capitalised and lacked the experience and maturity to compete with the presidency and exchange banks. This segmentation let Lord Curzon to observe, "In respect of banking it seems we are behind the times. We are like some old fashioned sailing ship, divided by solid wooden bulkheads into separate and cumbersome compartments."

The period between 1906 and 1911, saw the establishment of banks inspired by the Swadeshi movement. The Swadeshi movement inspired local businessmen and political figures to found banks of and for the Indian community. A number of banks established then have survived to the present such as Bank of India, Corporation Bank, Indian Bank, Bank of Baroda, Canara Bank and Central Bank of India.

The fervour of Swadeshi movement lead to establishing of many private banks in Dakshina Kannada and Udupi district which were unified earlier and known by the name South Canara ( South Kanara ) district. Four nationalised banks started in this district and also a leading private sector bank. Hence undivided Dakshina Kannada district is known as "Cradle of Indian Banking".

During the First World War (1914–1918) through the end of the Second World War (1939–1945), and two years thereafter until the independence of India were challenging for Indian banking. The years of the First World War were turbulent, and it took its toll with banks simply collapsing despite the Indian economy gaining indirect boost due to war-related economic activities. At least 94 banks in India failed between 1913 and 1918 as indicated in the following table:

Years Number of banks
that failed
Authorised Capital
(INR Lakhs)
Paid-up Capital
(INR Lakhs)
1913 12 274 35
1914 42 710 109
1915 11 56 5
1916 13 231 4
1917 9 76 25
1918 7 209 1


The partition of India in 1947 adversely impacted the economies of Punjab and West Bengal, paralysing banking activities for months. India's independence marked the end of a regime of the Laissez-faire for the Indian banking. The Government of India initiated measures to play an active role in the economic life of the nation, and the Industrial Policy Resolution adopted by the government in 1948 envisaged a mixed economy. This resulted into greater involvement of the state in different segments of the economy including banking and finance. The major steps to regulate banking included:

  • The Reserve Bank of India, India's central banking authority, was established in April 1935, but was nationalised on 1 January 1949 under the terms of the Reserve Bank of India (Transfer to Public Ownership) Act, 1948 (RBI, 2005b).[6]
  • In 1949, the Banking Regulation Act was enacted which empowered the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) "to regulate, control, and inspect the banks in India".
  • The Banking Regulation Act also provided that no new bank or branch of an existing bank could be opened without a license from the RBI, and no two banks could have common directors.

Nationalization in the 1960s[edit]

Despite the provisions, control and regulations of the Reserve Bank of India, banks in India except the State Bank of India (SBI), continued to be owned and operated by private persons. By the 1960s, the Indian banking industry had become an important tool to facilitate the development of the Indian economy. At the same time, it had emerged as a large employer, and a debate had ensued about the nationalization of the banking industry. Indira Gandhi, the then Prime Minister of India, expressed the intention of the Government of India in the annual conference of the All India Congress Meeting in a paper entitled "Stray thoughts on Bank Nationalization."[7] The meeting received the paper with enthusiasm.

Thereafter, her move was swift and sudden. The Government of India issued an ordinance ('Banking Companies (Acquisition and Transfer of Undertakings) Ordinance, 1969') and nationalised the 14 largest commercial banks with effect from the midnight of 19 July 1969. These banks contained 85 percent of bank deposits in the country.[7] Jayaprakash Narayan, a national leader of India, described the step as a "masterstroke of political sagacity." Within two weeks of the issue of the ordinance, the Parliament passed the Banking Companies (Acquisition and Transfer of Undertaking) Bill, and it received the presidential approval on 9 August 1969.

A second dose of nationalisation of 6 more commercial banks followed in 1980. The stated reason for the nationalisation was to give the government more control of credit delivery. With the second dose of nationalisation, the Government of India controlled around 91% of the banking business of India. Later on, in the year 1993, the government merged New Bank of India with Punjab National Bank.[8] It was the only merger between nationalised banks and resulted in the reduction of the number of nationalised banks from 20 to 19. After this, until the 1990s, the nationalised banks grew at a pace of around 4%, closer to the average growth rate of the Indian economy.

Liberalization in the 1990s[edit]

In the early 1990s, the then government embarked on a policy of liberalization, licensing a small number of private banks. These came to be known as New Generation tech-savvy banks, and included Global Trust Bank (the first of such new generation banks to be set up), which later amalgamated with Oriental Bank of Commerce, UTI Bank (since renamed Axis Bank), ICICI Bank and HDFC Bank. This move, along with the rapid growth in the economy of India, revitalised the banking sector in India, which has seen rapid growth with strong contribution from all the three sectors of banks, namely, government banks, private banks and foreign banks.

The next stage for the Indian banking has been set up with the proposed relaxation in the norms for foreign direct investment, where all foreign investors in banks may be given voting rights which could exceed the present cap of 10% at present. It has gone up to 74% with some restrictions.

The new policy shook the Banking sector in India completely. Bankers, till this time, were used to the 4–6–4 method (borrow at 4%; lend at 6%; go home at 4) of functioning. The new wave ushered in a modern outlook and tech-savvy methods of working for traditional banks. All this led to the retail boom in India. People demanded more from their banks and received more.

Current period[edit]

All banks which are included in the Second Schedule to the Reserve Bank of India Act, 1934 are Scheduled Banks. These banks comprise Scheduled Commercial Banks and Scheduled Co-operative Banks. Scheduled Commercial Banks in India are categorised into five different groups according to their ownership and/or nature of operation. These bank groups are:

  • State Bank of India and its Associates
  • Nationalised Banks
  • Private Sector Banks
  • Foreign Banks
  • Regional Rural Banks.

In the bank group-wise classification, IDBI Bank Ltd. is included in Nationalised Banks. Scheduled Co-operative Banks consist of Scheduled State Co-operative Banks and Scheduled Urban Cooperative Banks.

Growth of Banking in India of Scheduled Commercial Banks[9]
Indicators 31 March of
2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013
Number of Commercial Banks 284 218 178 169 166 163 163 169 151
Number of Branches 70,373 72,072 74,653 78,787 82,897 88,203 94,019 102,377 109,811
Population per Banks (in thousands) 16 16 15 15 15 14 13 13 12
Aggregate Deposits INR17002 billion (US$280 billion) INR21090 billion (US$340 billion) INR26119 billion (US$420 billion) INR31969 billion (US$520 billion) INR38341 billion (US$620 billion) INR44928 billion (US$730 billion) INR52078 billion (US$840 billion) INR59091 billion (US$960 billion) INR67504.54 billion (US$1.1 trillion)
Bank Credit INR11004 billion (US$180 billion) INR15071 billion (US$240 billion) INR19312 billion (US$310 billion) INR23619 billion (US$380 billion) INR27755 billion (US$450 billion) INR32448 billion (US$530 billion) INR39421 billion (US$640 billion) INR46119 billion (US$750 billion) INR52605 billion (US$850 billion)
Deposit as percentage to GNP (at factor cost) 62% 64% 69% 73% 77% 78% 78% 78% 79%
Per Capita Deposit INR16281 (US$260) INR19130 (US$310) INR23382 (US$380) INR28610 (US$460) INR33919 (US$550) INR39107 (US$630) INR45505 (US$740) INR50183 (US$810) INR56380 (US$910)
Per Capita Credit INR10752 (US$170) INR13869 (US$220) INR17541 (US$280) INR21218 (US$340) INR24617 (US$400) INR28431 (US$460) INR34187 (US$550) INR38874 (US$630) INR44028 (US$710)
Credit Deposit Ratio 63% 70% 74% 75% 74% 74% 76% 79% 79%

By 2010, banking in India was generally fairly mature in terms of supply, product range and reach-even though reach in rural India still remains a challenge for the private sector and foreign banks. In terms of quality of assets and capital adequacy, Indian banks are considered to have clean, strong and transparent balance sheets relative to other banks in comparable economies in its region. The Reserve Bank of India is an autonomous body, with minimal pressure from the government.

With the growth in the Indian economy expected to be strong for quite some time-especially in its services sector-the demand for banking services, especially retail banking, mortgages and investment services are expected to be strong. One may also expect M&As, takeovers, and asset sales.

In March 2006, the Reserve Bank of India allowed Warburg Pincus to increase its stake in Kotak Mahindra Bank (a private sector bank) to 10%. This is the first time an investor has been allowed to hold more than 5% in a private sector bank since the RBI announced norms in 2005 that any stake exceeding 5% in the private sector banks would need to be vetted by them.

In recent years critics have charged that the non-government owned banks are too aggressive in their loan recovery efforts in connexion with housing, vehicle and personal loans. There are press reports that the banks' loan recovery efforts have driven defaulting borrowers to suicide.[10][11][12]

By 2013 the Indian Banking Industry employed 1,175,149 employees and had a total of 109,811 branches in India and 171 branches abroad and manages an aggregate deposit of INR67504.54 billion (US$1.1 trillion or €840 billion) and bank credit of INR52604.59 billion (US$850 billion or €650 billion). The net profit of the banks operating in India was INR1027.51 billion (US$17 billion or €13 billion) against a turnover of INR9148.59 billion (US$150 billion or €110 billion) for the financial year 2012-13.[9]

Adoption of banking technology[edit]

The IT[clarification needed] revolution has had a great impact on the Indian banking system. The use of computers has led to the introduction of online banking in India. The use of computers in the banking sector in India has increased many fold after the economic liberalisation of 1991 as the country's banking sector has been exposed to the world's market. Indian banks were finding it difficult to compete with the international banks in terms of customer service, without the use of information technology.

The RBI set up a number of committees to define and co-ordinate banking technology. These have included:

  • In 1984 was formed the Committee on Mechanisation in the Banking Industry (1984)[13] whose chairman was Dr. C Rangarajan, Deputy Governor, Reserve Bank of India. The major recommendations of this committee were introducing MICR technology in all the banks in the metropolises in India.[14] This provided for the use of standardized cheque forms and encoders.
  • In 1988, the RBI set up the Committee on Computerisation in Banks (1988)[15] headed by Dr. C Rangarajan. It emphasized that settlement operation must be computerized in the clearing houses of RBI in Bhubaneshwar, Guwahati, Jaipur, Patna and Thiruvananthapuram. It further stated that there should be National Clearing of inter-city cheques at Kolkata, Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai and MICR should be made operational. It also focused on computerisation of branches and increasing connectivity among branches through computers. It also suggested modalities for implementing on-line banking. The committee submitted its reports in 1989 and computerisation began from 1993 with the settlement between IBA and bank employees' associations.[16]
  • In 1994, the Committee on Technology Issues relating to Payment systems, Cheque Clearing and Securities Settlement in the Banking Industry (1994)[17] was set up under Chairman W S Saraf. It emphasized Electronic Funds Transfer (EFT) system, with the BANKNET communications network as its carrier. It also said that MICR clearing should be set up in all branches of all those banks with more than 100 branches.
  • In 1995, the Committee for proposing Legislation on Electronic Funds Transfer and other Electronic Payments (1995)[18] again emphasized EFT system.[16]

The total number of automated teller machines (ATMs) installed in India by various banks as of end June 2012 is 99,218.[19] The new private sector banks in India have the most ATMs, followed by off-site ATMs belonging to SBI and its subsidiaries and then by nationalised banks and foreign banks, while on-site is highest for the nationalised banks of India.[16]

Branches and ATMs of Scheduled Commercial Banks as of end March 2005[16]
Bank type Number of branches On-site ATMs Off-site ATMs Total ATMs
Nationalised banks 33,627 38,606 22,265 60,871
State Bank of India 13,661 28,926 22,827 51,753
Old private sector banks 4,511 4,761 4,624 9,385
New private sector banks 1,685 12,546 26,839 39,385
Foreign banks 242 295 854 1,149
TOTAL 53,726 85,134 77,409 1,62,543

Expansion of banking infrastructure[edit]

Physical as well as virtual expansion of banking through mobile banking, internet banking, tele banking, bio-metric and mobile ATMs is taking place [20] since last decade and has gained momentum in last few years. As per the census of 2011, 58.7% of households are availing banking services in the country. There are 102,343 branches of Scheduled Commercial Banks (SCBs) in the country, out of which 37,953 (37%) bank branches are in the rural areas and 27,219 (26%) in semi-urban areas, constituting 63% of the total numbers of branches in semi-urban and rural areas of the country. However, a significant proportion of the households, especially in rural areas, are still outside the formal fold of the banking system. To extend the reach of banking to those outside the formal banking system, Government and Reserve Bank of India (RBI) are taking various initiatives from time to time some of which are enumerated below:

  • Opening of bank branches: Government had issued detailed strategy and guidelines on Financial Inclusion in October 2011, advising banks to open branches in all habitations of 5,000 or more population in under-banked districts and 10,000 or more population in other districts. Out of 3,925 such identified villages/habitations, branches have been opened in 3,402 villages/habitations (including 2,121 Ultra Small Branches) by end of April, 2013.
  • Each household to have at least one bank account: Banks have been advised to ensure service area bank in rural areas and banks assigned the responsibility in specific wards in urban area to ensure that every household has at least one bank account.
  • Business Correspondent model: With the objective of ensuring greater financial inclusion and increasing the outreach of the banking sector, banks were permitted by RBI in 2006 to use the services of intermediaries in providing financial and banking services through the use of Business Facilitators (BFs) and Business Correspondents (BCs). Business correspondents are retail agents engaged by banks for 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. Banks had been permitted to engage individuals/entities as BC like retired bank employees, retired teachers, retired government employees, ex-servicemen, individual owners of kirana/medical/fair price shops, individual Public Call Office (PCO) operators, agents of Small Savings Schemes of Government of India, insurance companies, etc. Further, since September 2010, RBI had permitted banks to engage "for profit" companies registered under the Indian Companies Act, 1956, excluding Non-Banking Financial Companies (NBFCs), as BCs in addition to individuals/entities permitted earlier. According to the data maintained by RBI, as in December, 2012, there were over 152,000 BCs deployed by Banks. During 2012-13, over 183.8 million transactions valued at INR165 billion (US$2.7 billion) had been undertaken by BCs till December 2012.
  • Swabhimaan Campaign: Under "Swabhimaan" - the Financial Inclusion Campaign launched in February 2011, banks had provided banking facilities by March, 2012 to over 74,000 habitations having population in excess of 2000 using various models and technologies including branchless banking through Business Correspondents Agents (BCAs). Further, in terms of Finance Minister's Budget Speech 2012-13, the "Swabhimaan" campaign has been extended to habitations with population of more than 1,000 in North Eastern and Hilly States and to habitations which have crossed population of 1,600 as per census 2001. About 40,000 such habitations have been identified to be covered under the extended "Swabhimaan" campaign.
  • Setting up of ultra-small branches (USBs): Considering the need for close supervision and mentoring of the Business Correspondent Agents (BCAs) by the respective banks and to ensure that a range of banking services are available to the residents of such villages, Ultra Small Branches (USBs) are being set up in all villages covered through BCAs under Financial Inclusion. A USB would comprise a small area of 100 sq ft (9.3 m2) - 200 sq ft (19 m2) where the officer designated by the bank would be available with a laptop on pre-determined days. While the cash services would be offered by the BCAs, the bank officer would offer other services, undertake field verification and follow up on the banking transactions. The periodicity and duration of visits can be progressively enhanced depending upon business potential in the area. A total of over 50,000 USBs have been set up in the country by March 2013.
  • Banking facilities in Unbanked Blocks: All the 129 unbanked blocks (91 in North East States and 38 in other States) identified in the country in July 2009, had been provided with banking facilities by March 2012, either through Brick Mortar Branch or Business Correspondents or Mobile van. As a next step it has been advised to cover all those blocks with BCA and Ultra Small Branch which have so far been covered by mobile van only.
  • USSD Based Mobile Banking: National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI) worked upon a "Common USSD Platform" for all banks and telcos who wish to offer the facility of Mobile Banking using Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) based Mobile Banking. The Department helped NPCI to get a common USSD Code *99# for all telcos. More than 20 banks have joined the National Uniform USSD Platform (NUUP) of NPCI and the product has been launched by NPCI with BSNL and MTNL. Other telcos are likely to join in the near future. USSD based Mobile Banking offers basic Banking facilities like Money Transfer, Bill Payments, Balance Enquiries, Merchant Payments etc. on a simple GSM based Mobile phone, without the need to download application on a phone as required at present in the IMPS based Mobile Banking.
Steps taken by Reserve Bank of India (RBI) to strengthen the banking infrastructure
  • RBI has permitted domestic Scheduled Commercial Banks (excluding RRBs) to open branches in tier 2 to tier 6 cities (with population up to 99,999 as per census 2001) without the need to take permission from RBI in each case, subject to reporting.
  • RBI has also permitted SCBs (excluding RRBs) to open branches in rural, semi-urban and urban centres in North Eastern States and Sikkim without having the need to take permission from RBI in each case, subject to reporting.
  • 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 RBI in each case, subject to reporting, provided they fulfill the following conditions, as per the latest inspection report:
    • CRAR of at least 9%;
    • Net NPA less than 5%;
    • No default in CRR / SLR for the last year;
    • Net profit in the last financial year;
    • CBS compliant.
  • Domestic SCBs have been advised that while preparing their Annual Branch Expansion Plan (ABEP), they should allocate at least 25% of the total number of branches proposed to be opened during the year in unbanked Tier 5 and Tier 6 centres i.e. (population up to 9,999) centres which do not have a brick and mortar structure of any SCB for customer based banking transactions.
  • RRBs have also been advised to allocate at least 25% of the total number of branches proposed to be opened during a year in unbanked rural (Tier 5 and Tier 6) Centres).
  • New private sector banks are required to ensure that at least 25% of their total branches are in semi-urban and rural centres on an ongoing basis.

Further reading[edit]

  • The Evolution of the State Bank of India (The Era of the Imperial Bank of India, 1921–1955) (Volume III)
  • Banking Frontiers – a monthly magazine, published by Mumbai based Glocal Infomart. Editor

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "India's Narendra Modi launches bank accounts for all". BBC. 28 August 2014. 
  2. ^ C Gomez – Financial Markets Institutions And Financial Services Prentice-Hall 2008 Retrieved 11 July 2012 ISBN 8120335376
  3. ^ A Chavez Irapta, Et Al – Introduction to Asia: History, Culture, and Civilization Rex Bookstore, Inc., 2005 Retrieved 11 July 2012
  4. ^ "Evolution of Payment Systems in India =Reserve Bank of India". 
  5. ^ Cooke, Charles Northcote (1863) The rise, progress, and present condition of banking in India. (Printed by P.M. Cranenburgh, Bengal Print. Co.), pp.177-200.
  6. ^ Reference
  7. ^ a b Austin, Granville (1999). Working a Democratic Constitution – A History of the Indian Experience. New Delhi: Oxford University Press. p. 215. ISBN 0-19-565610-5. 
  8. ^ Parmatam Parkash Arya; B. B. Tandon (2003). Economic Reforms in India: From First to Second Generation and Beyond. Deep & Deep Publications. pp. 369–. ISBN 978-81-7629-435-5. 
  9. ^ a b "Statistical Tables Related to Banks in India - Reserve Bank of India". 
  10. ^ "ICICI personal loan customer commits suicide after alleged harassment by recovery agents". Retrieved 28 July 2010. 
  11. ^ "Karnataka / Mysore News: ICICI Bank returns tractor to farmer’s mother". The Hindu (Chennai, India). 30 June 2008. Retrieved 28 July 2010. 
  12. ^ "ICICI’s third eye: It’s Indiatime". Retrieved 28 July 2010. [dead link]
  13. ^ "Computerisation of banking sector". 
  14. ^ "MICR technology". 
  15. ^ "Committee on Computerisation in Banks (1988)". 
  17. ^ "Reforms in banking system". 
  18. ^ "Reforms of banking sector". 
  19. ^ Indian banking system. I.K. International. 2006. ISBN 81-88237-88-4. 
  20. ^ Srivastava, Samir K, "Expansion of banking in India", The Economic Times, 7 June 2008, pp. 8 (Available at:

External links[edit]