Bank merger: Re-entry to the pre-1969 era for small businesses?

There is an apprehension that merger among the PSBs may lead to deprivation of opportunities for small businesses and startups to obtain a bank loan.

Govt has been pursuing the policy of consolidation of public sector banks(PSBS) into  4 to 5. Already SBI subsidiaries are merged. Last year another round of merger was implemented under the Bank of Baroda. Now again we are witnessing one more round of mergers.

We are looking at how this plays out in supporting small businesses that were one of the reasons behind bank nationalization undertaken in 1969.

Contribution of PSBs in Lending to MSMEs

It is a fact that PSBs are shouldering the responsibility of delivering credit support to the needy section of the society- be it agriculture, MSME, etc.  PSBs are always very magnanimous in supporting the MSME ventures, patronized innovations and have extended the long & short term loans. They have been wholeheartedly participating in Govt Schemes like PMEGP.  The support for financially distressed entities is commendable and they are meticulously implementing guidelines from Govt and RBI.

How the scenario may change:

With the consolidation, it is likely that the business at the branch level will also be consolidated like it is done with other mergers in the past. This will lead to lesser attention span for the extra customer load the branch will have to deal with. The attention span is important for the reason that social sector banking activities require handholding of the customers that is the hallmark of public sector banking service since 1969.

With reduced branch presence of PSBs, the access points will dwindle and invariably small businesses will have to have banking business with private peers however what they likely to miss is credit support the way they get in PSBs.

Thirdly even for PSBs, more orientation will be towards profitability since capital efficiency was the reason for consolidation. That may drive them to reorient towards large value exposures.

Private Banks show no or less keen to lend in priority sector lending:

It is a fact that private sector banks show little or no interest in priority sector lending. They prefer other via media to engage with such clients resulting in higher cost of credit for end users. Also, they are happy to compensate for the gap through alternate options extended by RBI.

They are very particular about securing their loans by taking collateral of fixed assets. Even though Govt has implemented CGTMSE scheme to extend credit guarantee for small business loans and it has been here since nearly 20 years, private banks have not shown much inclination to extend loan under this window.

They are obsessed with securing their loan more than supporting the entrepreneurship.  As a result, many budding entrepreneurs will not have access to bank credit and will be forced to seek support from predatory lenders.

If one looks at the profile of the product of many private banks, they are more keen to finance immediate needs than supporting capital investment. Support in distress is a far cry.

Role of RBI needs special mention:

Presently priority sector lending is handled by RBI. Most of the compliance with its directions are coming from only PSBs. With the reduction of their share and the increasing presence of private banks, we may see social sector lending will be reduced to islands everywhere.

Further, the RBI itself has created avenues for private banks to avoid direct participation in the priority sector lending that will further add to the declining credit flow.

Sadly RBI does not measure the flow of credit at the grassroots level rather relies on secondary data from Banks.

One can conclude that RBI action on this front is more of administrative and not accountable for the flow of credit to these needy segments.

How a merger may impact different sectors?

Mergers and consolidation of PSBs may create a huge vacuum of space of social sector lending. We believe that Micro and small enterprise will suffer more than agriculture because agriculture may get support from Coop Banks and Societies.  Also, political activism may help agriculture, that privilege is not available to MSMEs.

The way forward:  “Bring in a new law for creating sustainable financial architecture”:

Since consolidation exercise is underway, it seems there will not be any rethinking. However, Govt has to act to alleviate the apprehensions of a lack of access to credit from this process to small businesses.

In these circumstances, it is necessary to bring in legislation to create a sustainable financial architecture that binds regulator (RBI) and the banks to undertake lending to priority sector irrespective of ownership. They may be incentivized, extended liberal guarantees scheme coupled with provision for punitive action for not adhering to stipulations.

The notable benefits are :
a) It will make lending norms a legal mandate and ownership neutral.
b) It will universalise the access to credit in any region or activity


Bank merger without implementing an alternative model to support social sector lending will leave a huge vacuum and may affect the economically weaker section resulting in further widening of inequality. This may end up at creating a pre-1969 era of lack of access to credit for small businesses and others. Legislative action is necessary to preempt this scenario. 

By: Anil Kumar Shetty, Founder SME Advisors (email: [email protected])