Press release on Arundhati Bhattacharya session
Ms Arundhati Bhattacharya, former Chairman, SBI sees a natural progress to digital currency, albeit she does not believe that the world is ready for it yet. According to her, digital currencies will prevail once the world becomes comfortable with their security features. She insists that digital currencies must have stable value and they cannot be like volatile commodities. “Its time will come, but that time is not today,” she says.
Ms Bhattacharya, who is now Chairperson and CEO of Salesforce, India, expressed her views in AIMA’s 55th LeaderSpeak programme. Mr Sunil Kant Munjal, Chairman, Hero Enterprise moderated the session and Ms Rekha Sethi, Director General, AIMA anchored it.
Ms Bhattacharya is also convinced that the days of the conventional banking are numbered. She does not see the current banking surviving beyond the next 10-15 years. “Banks have the trust but fintech has the solutions to people’s banking pain points,” she said. However, she added that there must be a bridge between banking and fintech because human touch is essential in matters of health and wealth. “People need assurance from experts. Everything cannot be done by machines,” she said.
Talking about getting slotted as a woman leader, former SBI Chairman, said that though gender parity has come a long way, the unconscious bias is still to be addressed. She gave the example of SBI not finding even a single woman for promotion to the DGM level in a particular year and the SBI Chairman’s explanation being that women do not do the hard assignments, especially serving in rural areas. She argued that women do not choose their postings and then they are penalized for not doing hard postings. She pointed out that at SBI, women are 33 per cent of the young recruits and they are only 4 per cent of the top management. “This unconscious bias is not acknowledged and this needs to be addressed,” she said.
The celebrated former SBI Chairman conceded that she may not have been a success at SBI in terms of improving customers’ experience at branches. She said that chairman after chairman at SBI has tried to improve the staff’s handling of customers, but not everybody’s response is same. “Digitization was important precisely because of that,” she said. She mentioned that because of digitization, the old customers of SBI no longer need to requisition cheque books, as the bank can track their usage and send replacement without the customer asking for it.
She said that her biggest challenge as SBI Chairman was changing perception - of her staff and customers. She said that when she proposed digitalization of SBI, her colleagues pointed out that they already had internet banking. To explain, she built SBI branches in shopping malls equipped with self-service machines for all banking tasks and casually dressed young guides. “We had to become a cool bank,” she said, pointing out that young people who came to SBI for student loans would open their salary account with one of the ‘cool’ ones, and they would return to SBI for home loans later in life.
In response to a question on India’s economic prospects because of the Russian oil supplies to India and the US threat to India because of that, Ms Bhattacharya said that India’s leadership has a better view of the situation and it is doing what is best in the national interest. However, she said, wars penalize the weak the most - the old, the young and the women. She said that her current employer is doing humanitarian work to alleviate the sufferings of war.
When asked for advice for Sri Lanka, which is in financial mess, the former SBI Chairman said that the country’s two key sectors - tourism and remittances - have been hit by the pandemic and the lenders need to restructure so that the country can start functioning again. “They need more money to restart the economy…the only way to get out of the hole is to dig deeper in the hole and start climbing out of it,” she said.
Talking about the absence of anecdotes about her Chairman years at SBI, Ms Bhattacharya explained that one meets more people and learns from them during their years in the field, but as one rises higher up the system, one meets fewer people who speak to them openly. However, at her current organization, Salesforce, she has instituted a system of formal meetings for informal conversations. “It is easier to do it in a flat organization like Salesforce than in a hierarchical one like SBI,” she said.
About her extensive thanking of the people who helped her in her career, Ms Bhattacharya said that the more one thanks for the help, the more help one gets. “I don’t believe anybody can achieve anything without a lot of people helping them,” she said.
The programme was also livestreamed on AIMA’s social media channels.