Bank Report

ICICI’s Chanda Kochchar should step down pending inquiry, says IIM-A professor

‘The issue is one of alleged impropriety involving the CEO. The board has the power and the competence to do what is required.’

Two of India’s most celebrated woman bankers have been in hot water for the last three months.

Shikha Sharma, CEO of Axis Bank, the country’s third-largest private lender, stepped down reportedly following a strong signal from the Reserve Bank of India that it was unhappy over rising bad loans and falling profits. The firm also faces other regulatory challenges. Meanwhile, in March, allegations of nepotism and favouritism over a loan disbursement of Rs 3,250 crore surfaced against Chanda Kochhar, managing director and CEO of ICICI Bank. Indian investigative agencies and regulators are looking into the allegations.

These problems stem from the inefficiency of these banks’ boards,which have relatively less at stake, believes TT Ram Mohan, professor of finance and accounting at the Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad, the country’s top business school. Mohan feels Kochhar, too, must step down till the probe is concluded and that the ongoing boardroom drama is unnecessary.

Edited excerpts from an interview:

India’s private banks, which had been relatively better placed, are now plagued by corporate governance issues. Do you think they are losing their halo?
The reputations of ICICI Bank and Axis Bank have taken a knock in recent months. At Axis Bank, the issue was the board giving Sharma a fourth term despite what was perceived by analysts in general as unsatisfactory performance. When the RBI questioned the decision, the board wasn’t able or willing to defend its decision. At ICICI Bank, the issue is a conflict of interest involving the CEO and apparent non-recusal from matters involving certain parties. However, one must be careful not to generalise across private banks. Axis Bank and ICICI Bank are board-managed and professionally run banks.

Private banks that have a dominant promoter with a substantial equity stake, such as HDFC Bank or Kotak Mahindra Bank, are doing better. The promoters have skin in the game which is a different situation from banks run by professionals with little or no equity stakes. The culture of board-managed companies being answerable to institutional investors is yet to mature in India.

There are very few companies in India – L&T and Infosys are a couple of names that readily come to mind – that fall in the category of professionally managed and board-run, unlike in the West where that is the dominant model. ICICI Bank and Axis Bank have shown the inadequacy of the board-managed model in Indian context.

In the case of ICICI Bank, what is it that the board should have done?
The board should have ascertained whether Kochhar had made the necessary disclosure about conflict of interest and recused herself from matters that involved such a conflict. If she had not done so, the board should have asked her to step down. The whole issue is being made to be very complex and there are reports that the board is going to appoint a committee headed by an outsider to probe the issue. This is not some bureaucratic or government-related situation where a judicial inquiry is called for. The issue is one of alleged impropriety involving the CEO. The board has the power and the competence to do what is required. There is disappointment that it has failed to do what was required.

Do you think Kochhar should step down as CEO while she is being probed?
Yes, she must.

Why are international ethical and governance practices such as the CEO of scandal-hit bank stepping down not followed in India?
It’s a sorry comment on the functioning of our boards of directors and also on the accountability enforced by institutional investors and regulators.

The pile of bad loans is increasing, yet, every quarter, banks have been claiming that the worst is over. How does one trust them any more?
At an NPA [non-performing asset] level of around 14% of assets at public sector banks, the bad loan level is pretty high. However, slippages cannot be predicted accurately. There have been unexpected economic conditions that caused slippages to increase, such as demonetisation and its adverse impact on the economy and dumping by China. Regulatory changes like stricter norms for recognition and provisioning and the new resolution framework proposed by RBI have also upset forecasts. In other words, in the last three years there have been several changes in the external environment as well as the regulatory environment that have made prediction of slippages rather difficult. But from here on, one can expect less divergences between the guidance given by management and actual slippages as most of the bad news seems to have got factored in.

This article first appeared on Quartz.

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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.