“We need people like him at the RBI”. These were the first reactions of the CEO of a private bank when the news came out that J Swaminathan or Swaminathan Janakiraman, currently a Managing Director at State Bank of India is set to take charge as Deputy Governor of Reserve Bank of India from today and his portfolio will be known soon. For people at SBI this was a thrilling announcement that came late Tuesday evening, for after almost a two-decade gap, someone with a long career at SBI made it to the central bank’s top position.

Swaminathan is a career SBI employee. By 1998 he had assumed managerial positions at branch levels and by January 2021, landed a seat in the big league as MD. His forte is what is internally called as foreign banking, with rich experience in trade financing in his earlier years. From retail to corporate credit to stressed assets management, he’s pretty much seen it all. In 2019, he took charge as the bank’s chief digital officer, gaining expertise in digital aspects of banking. He has also handled critical roles across SBI’s subsidiaries, including YES Bank; the famous bailout happened in March 2020.

“He is a man with fine subject knowledge and likes to be thorough with laws and regulations before making any decisions. His strength is his eye for detail,” said a person who worked under Swaminathan until recently.

Humble start

Fondly referred to as Swami by people closely associated with him, his rise to the top, like most PSU bankers, started as a humble journey. He completed his high school at Town Higher Secondary School, Kumbakonam (Tamil Nadu) in 1981. Famous mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujam; former FM TT Krishnamachari; Shiv Nadar of HCL Technologies; K Dwarakanath, former Chairman, Ordnance Factories Board; Franklin Templeton’s Anand Radhakrishnan are all alumni of this school. Later, in 1984, he graduated in commerce from Government College, Kumbakonam, University of Madras. His friends and acquaintances say he’s maintained his humility over the years. At work, whether his subordinates or his bosses, they root for him as a team player.

“Swami has always let his work speak for him, not his words. Even when it is about taking credit for a job, he would put his team first,” says a former board member of SBI. Undoubtedly, his biggest strength is his ability to take his people with him along the way. Known to be a silent banker, leaders in the banking fraternity feel there couldn’t have been a better choice for the deputy governor position.

Task ahead

Swaminathan will be stepping into the central bank when the banking sector fortunately isn’t saddled with much pressures. Yet, there is an interesting task cut out for him - that of fine-tuning the system and ensuring that there isn’t much room for fresh troubles to germinate.

t On several occasions, RBI Deputy Governors and even the Governor himself have expressed discomfort with a certain segment of loans, especially unsecured. The digital lending arena is also going through a massive revamp with questions cropping up around the sustainable quality of these loans. Can Swaminathan find the answers to these questions? How the lending space, particularly in banking, could refine in the years to come will be interesting to watch.