In in an effort to improve its stock in Kerala, SBI plans to reach out to customers and non-customers in the state, including those in the lowest strata of society. It plans to take banking to their doorsteps, with the objective of developing mutual relations, while actively pursuing CSR initiatives and government-sponsored social security schemes.

For administrative ease, the bank has been divided into 17 circles, mostly analogous to State/Union Territories, with a few exceptions. Hence these circles also represent its country-wide retail canvas, sources in the top management in the Kerala Circle told businessline here. 

Numbers, output don’t match 

Despite having a talented, knowledgeable and creative workforce, the Kerala Circle’s contributions are not commensurate with its skillsets. “Circles such as Guwahati, Chandigarh, Patna or Lucknow perform better despite many local challenges. This is best reflected in sales of retail products, where the Kerala Circle contributes the least,” the sources pointed out. 

This is true of gold loans/ agriculture advances, despite the state’s legacy status as a portfolio leader, along with Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, in the South. Discussions with trade union leaders revealed not many of them were aware of the bank’s unenviable position in overall business ranking in the state. On the deposits side, too, rivals are gnawing away at the comfortable lead SBI used to command earlier. 

Tough local competition

Arrival of regional player Kerala Bank and the Treasury Savings Bank has not helped matters. The bank has a poor cost-to-income ratio, with an employee strength of 14,000..

It has set up a Multi Products Sales Force (MPSF), basically a sales team, with young and vibrant employees (mainly clerical staff), to sell diverse SBI products. A cluster of contiguous branches has been created and a special team of four members formed under a team leader (a deputed specialist officer). The team will interact with customers and non-customers, build relationships, and increase awareness of its products. 

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Least disruption in work

The MPSF has been a work-in-progress over the last six months. The sources said it has been conceived in such a manner that it has minimal impact on routine work, except that team members would be asked to visit the neighbourhood to seek incremental business. Whole-hearted support from the MPSF will help the bank regain public patronage, improve market share, and retain its public sector character.

The clerical staff union has found it difficult to buy the argument. The officers’ association had reservations to start with, but is now convinced. The circle management is currently engaging the union and hopes to convince them about ‘the need of the hour’ - which is to restore SBI’s premier banking position in the state. “We are not so rigid as to reject outright the demand for revising/ lowering the number of MPSF members from the original strength of 1,200. We want to allay the union’s concerns, and will continue to engage till we agree on a suitable number,” the sources said.