Several banks were set up during the freedom movement to empower Indians. Founded on February 18, 1924, in Mangaluru amidst the national fervour of India’s freedom fight, Karnataka Bank emerged as a symbol of self-reliance then. Srikrishnan H, MD and CEO of the bank, feels that the bank’s rich legacy of trust and excellence has been built over 100 years, beginning with the Founder Directors and carrying on over multiple generations of leadership across decades. In this interview, Srikrishnan highlights the bank’s future journey as “Startup @ 100,” symbolising its continued innovation as it enters its second century. Excerpts:


On various occasions, you have mentioned that Karnataka Bank was a start-up in the centenary year. Can you explain this? 

Across the world, start-ups have been the challengers and have emulated businesses that have been existing for over several decades. Such a spirit of entrepreneurship is being promoted as a culture at Karnataka Bank, and hence we coined the mantra “Start-up @ 100,” whereby the workforce across all levels thinks and acts entrepreneurially. This will bring the required agility and dynamism, build on the core strengths of the bank, and perform in a highly competitive environment.


As you know, the bank has developed a certain culture in the last 100 years. Did you face any challenges in transforming that culture into a start-up culture? How did you manage that?

Culture is a mindset that also keeps changing over time. This is reflected even in our homes as we adopt new methods, technologies, and practices. A banking institution is no different, and our teams across the country have accepted the need for change. Having said that, we are not making any changes in a hurry, and everything is being thought through and communicated openly with total acceptance. As we have built trust with our customers over generations, the bank will build more trust amongst our colleagues, who have been extremely receptive and cordial.


While the bank is in lateral hiring mode for top-level executives, it still continues with the existing human resources at other levels. How are you planning to infuse start-up culture into the entire spectrum of your bank?

The strength of Karnataka Bank lies in its people, who have developed a superior service culture that stands out. Start-ups have succeeded in filling up the gaps identified in a way that is accepted by the users who are looking for a change. Our colleagues understand this very well and have been able to adapt to such needs in the past and will continue to do so in the future as well. Our first principle in lateral hiring has been to look for internal talent, and only specialist positions for skills unavailable internally are being filled up through lateral hiring.


You have many third generation customers with you. How are they coping up with these changes?

The fundamentals of banking and financial services have remained the same across generations. However, the younger generations look for simpler solutions delivered through technology. This has happened across all verticals, such as telecom, retail, e-commerce, healthcare, and so on. Banking and financial services are no exception to this, and our customer behaviour is reflected in the adoption of online transactions, that is over 90 per cent at current levels. We will always maintain a healthy mix of personalised deliveries through the branch channels while offering full-service banking through digital channels as well.


The bank has been entering into tie-ups with various fintech companies for co-lending, insurance, and other activities. How will these tie-ups help the bank?

We have identified certain areas for collaboration to build products through partners only with a view to ‘go-to-market’ (GTM) faster. Building on our own takes time, and collaborations help us deliver faster. While we enter into such arrangements, we certainly secure our customers and the bank from all types of risks to ensure continuity.


With its rich history of 100 years, Karnataka Bank is still considered a South Indian-centric bank. What initiatives will be taken to create a pan-India outlook and presence for the bank?

As a first step, we are re-positioning our brand as ‘Bharat Ka Karnataka Bank’. This campaign has just been launched, and we wish to communicate that we are a 100-year-old private sector bank spread across India in 22 states and two union territories, reflecting our national presence. Moreover, we have over 50 branches in the neighbouring States to Karnataka, such as Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, and Tamil Nadu. With our digital offering, where we take the bank to our customers virtually, such boundaries are turning out to be more and more blurred and invisible.