Let the postman turn banker: India Post deserves to get a bank licence
India Post wants to own a bank. This is a great idea. In one stroke, this can ensure that millions more will get access to formal credit, in one of the most under-banked countries of the world.
The biggest advantage for India Post, among the most enduring institutions set up by the British, is its huge network and customer base. Compared to roughly 1,00,000 commercial and rural bank branches in India, there are 1,55,000 post offices, a majority in rural and semi-urban areas. As a collector of small savings, it has experience in taking deposits — about Rs 6 lakh crore at last count — but not in lending. A bank licence for only India Post would mean that the network of bank branches would more than double in one stroke.
India Post also fits the bill on other counts: a long track record of integrity and, most important — with one post office for every four villages — a massive presence in rural India, where the RBI wants 25 per cent of all branches to be located. Forget microfinance companies, even compared to government-owned banks, the postal bank's cost structure, if it assigns some banking duties to postmen, will be lower.
India Post wants the government to sanction around Rs 1,300 crore for capital adequacy and to hire more people. It should get the money. The RBI wants new banks to be set up through a wholly-owned non-operative financial holding company. So, the postal bank will need to be corporatised. It should run on sound commercial principles and at arm's length from political masters.
Post offices in countries like Germany and Japan have successfully offered banking services. There is no reason why it cannot be done here. Many post offices are already computerised. These machines should be upgraded with banking software. A bank, trusted by local communities, will also make it easier to implement the direct transfer scheme.
All that needs to be done is to give a mobile device, a micro ATM, to the postman who can double up as a banking correspondent. The RBI needs to think innovatively about inclusive banking and spreading the reach of formal credit where there is none, now.