In India, where extending banking services to the underserved and unserved sections of the population is a challenge, there is merit in considering access to bank credit and services through expansion of small banks in unbanked and under-banked regions.
In India an experiment with small banks was taken up following an announcement made by the then Finance Minister in the Union Budget in August 1996 and the RBI issued guidelines for setting up of Local Area Banks (LABs) vide its Press Release dated August 24, 1996. The LABs were conceived as low cost structures which would provide efficient and competitive financial intermediation services in a limited area of operation, i.e., primarily in rural and semi-urban areas. LABs were required to have a minimum capital of Rs. 5 crore and an area of operation comprising three contiguous districts. Presently, four LABs are functioning satisfactorily.
Taking into account the above and that small finance banks can play an important role in the supply of credit to micro and small enterprises, agriculture and banking services in unbanked and under-banked regions in the country, the RBI has decided to licence new “small finance banks” in the private sector. While permitting small banks, however, the issues relating to their size, capital requirements, area of operations, exposure norms, regulatory prescriptions, corporate governance and resolution need to be suitably addressed in the light of experience gained. Hence RBI has come out with following guidelines for licensing of small finance banks in the private sector.
The objectives of setting up of small finance banks will be to further financial inclusion by
Promoter/promoter groups should be ‘fit and proper’ with a sound track record of professional experience or of running their businesses for at least a period of five years in order to be eligible to promote small finance banks.
The minimum paid-up equity capital for small finance banks shall be Rs. 100 crore.
The promoter's minimum initial contribution to the paid-up equity capital of such small finance bank shall at least be 40 per cent and gradually brought down to 26 per cent within 12 years from the date of commencement of business of the bank.
The foreign shareholding in the small finance bank would be as per the Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) policy for private sector banks as amended from time to time.
If the small finance bank aspires to transit into a universal bank, such transition will not be automatic, but would be subject to fulfilling minimum paid-up capital / net worth requirement as applicable to universal banks; its satisfactory track record of performance as a small finance bank and the outcome of the Reserve Bank’s due diligence exercise.
In terms of Rule 11 of the Banking Regulation (Companies) Rules, 1949, applications shall be submitted in the prescribed form (Form III) to the Chief General Manager, Department of Banking Regulation, Reserve Bank of India, 13th Floor, Central Office Building, Mumbai – 400 001. In addition, the applicants should furnish the business plan and other requisite information as indicated.
Some of the operational Small Finance Banks in India are as follows.
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