Banking on Regional Growth: Baldev Prakash
When J&K Bank CEO Baldev Prakash announced his ambitious expansion plans, he was quick to reassure customers that opening up in more Indian locations would only build on its incredible success story in the foothills of the Himalayan mountains.
The J&K Bank is one of the oldest private sector banks in India and has been proudly serving the Himalayan regions of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh for more than 84 years, building up an enviable degree of trust through its commitment to integrity and transparency.
It’s a community bond that has only strengthened with time, despite competition from much larger financial institutions.
When Baldev Prakash became CEO just over a year ago, he faced many challenges in modernizing the bank and equipping it with the digital tools it needed to achieve growth in modern India. But when it came to customer loyalty, he could rest easy.
When he announced plans to expand into other regions, he made a solemn promise that his company would never take its eye off the ball in an area where it has served generations of families and businesses.
"Business growth will be our top focus, through other Indian territories and by securing some public sector business and highly rated corporate borrowers," he says. "That will help with the diversification of our concentration risk in our core geography.
We’re poised to progress with an enhanced level of capital and our net profits for the last quarter doubled year on year.
"It doesn’t mean we’re going to lose our focus on J&K and Ladakh, but we want to make inroads into other areas so we’re not so localized."
Baldev started his career with the State Bank of India as a probationary officer in 1991, working in various positions from the very smallest branches through much larger ones. He then moved on to cluster branches that looked after multiple locations, where he was appointed a regional manager.
It wasn’t long before he became the chief general manager, responsible for digital and transactional banking for corporate clients as well as framing policy and strategy.
His success led to conversations with J&K Bank, which needed someone with his experience to restructure its management and corporate governance in order to begin revitalizing its fortunes.
"I reconstituted the professional board and then institutionalized the compliance culture, revamping the structure to make it leaner and more efficient. Succession planning was done to identify and train future leaders who’ll one day take over the bank."
It was an ambitious plan, not least because the business also had to embrace digitalization to better serve its customers and stay at the cutting edge of innovation.
A digital future
"The strategic business and capital planning involved adopting technology that’ll help us make some giant leaps on our digital journey. I’m very proud to say that we’re well on our way to achieving our objectives, and the results have been steadily improving. In turn, we have a robust capital base and investors’ perceptions are getting more positive every day.
"In fact, we’re poised to progress with an enhanced level of capital and our net profits for the last quarter doubled year on year."
The return on asset is already over 0.71 percent and heading towards Baldev’s target of one percent.
"One improvement that’s really been the icing on the cake is the assets quality from our sustained focus on reducing our non-performing assets and special mention accounts (SMAs). It’s the first time since December 2015 that we’ve made such a reduction so it’s very satisfying."
We have a robust capital base and investors’ perceptions are getting more positive every day.
And his expansion plans are on track with new cluster offices in Mohali and other nearby areas.
"We opened them to enhance our focus on retail as well as mid-corporate segments. I’m very happy to say that we’re getting an excellent response from customers there who appreciate our great teams and senior officers."
He has also created 19 large credit units, who will deal with the biggest corporate entities. Each will have a relationship manager allocated around 30 clients to make sure they receive an industry-best level of service.
"With initiatives such as these, I’m very confident that we’ll be able to fulfill our plans to grow into other Indian regions."
And when customers experience the high-quality customer care Baldev has fostered, they’ll no doubt become as loyal and trusting as those in the beautiful villages and cities around Kashmir and Jammu, who accept J&K Bank as an integral part of their communities.
J&K Bank’s interest income is up by nearly a quarter, which has helped achieve a stellar 48 percent increase in operating profit. Meanwhile the all-important net interest margin is over four percent, a very healthy figure in Indian banking circles.
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