SBI Canada moves closer to the Community

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Amitabh Saxena

It was in 2014 that a certain Narendra Damodardas Modi took charge of India and the rest, as they say,is history. Also in 2014, a certain Rajesh Gupta arrived from India to take charge of State Bank of India, Canada as President and CEO and is still creating history in 2017.

Back in November 2013, a few days after he arrived in Canada, Rajesh was given a clear mandate by the SBI board.Cut down the operating losses of the financial year 2012 and 2013 and quickly turn things around.

After taking charge on January 2, 2014, the new CEO, with more than 28 years of banking experience under his belt, got right down to it by forming a core committee for rationalization of costs.This committee adopted a four-pronged strategy of reducing the cost of funding, improving earning on interest, improving non-interest earning and reducing the operating expenses.

The going was tough and Rajesh recalls that the first four months of his stewardship were marked by an increase in the operating losses.The fifth month, however, showed a small operating profit. The challenge then was to increase the operating profit. This was achieved by consolidating the bank’s various investments in Canada into loan assets, investing in Canadian bond market and reorganizing the bank’s assets including closing down a non-performing branch in British Columbia as well as restructuring the physical size of other remaining 6 branches across Canada.

According to Rajesh, early in his innings as CEO, a decision was taken to move the Corporate office from downtown Toronto to downtown Mississauga.However, the actual move happened only in early 2017, upon the expiry of the lease on the bank’s downtown Toronto property.

SBI Bank Canada which is operating in Canada since 1982 currently has 6 branches,4 in Ontario and 2 in British Columbia.The bank now has a swanky Corporate office in the heart of Mississauga, right next to the iconic Square One Mall at 77 City Centre Drive.

On being quizzed about the move from core downtown Toronto to a neighboring city, Rajesh remarked that the Mississauga location was chosen after an exhaustive search that spanned over 25 other locations in Mississauga and Brampton.The idea, he says was to be as close as possible to the bank’s ‘core strength’…the businesses as well as the people of Indian origin! The Mississauga location is also free from that bane of downtown Toronto, shortage of affordable parking spots.The Corporate office will soon open an extension counter to cater to the needs of the retail clients.

According to Rajesh,for Corporate clients, SBI Canada is mainly providing loan syndication service in collaboration with the big 5 Canadian banks as well as major Global banks and is also providing loans for Commercial mortgages.Currently, the bank is not providing any services to the Indo-Canadian SMEs.
On the retail front, SBI Canada Ban has recently introduced a number of new products including Home mortgage, Credit card, an Unsecured line of credit, RRSP, TFSA etc.The bank intends to introduce RESP very shortly as well as a monthly savings scheme.Rajesh commented that SBI Canada’s rate, as well as transaction charges, were comparable to the best Canadian banks if not better.

One little known but the big advantage of having SBI as your banking partner was that usage of their card back home in India did not attract the ‘triple loop’ charge, like any other bank’s card, typically would.

On the bank’s strategy for attracting more South Asian clients, Rajesh candidly admitted that SBI Canada was keen that its target group actively considered SBI Canada as their second bank.This was based on the established fact that SBI as a brand is well entrenched in every Indian’s psyche, as a bank with the widest network providing quality service at the best rates available in the market.

Quoting numbers, Rajesh said that there are currently 1.35 million Indo-Canadians in the country and every year approximately 40,000 Indians arriving including 15,000 students.These would be actively wooed by the bank, he said.

Allaying apprehension among some Indo-Canadians, Rajesh clarified that SBI Canada was a schedule two Canadian bank governed by Canadian banking regulations and laws and there is no provision to share to details of its customers with any regulatory body in India including RBI.

On the issue of some NRIs and Canadians of Indian origin stuck with demonetized currency, the SBI Canada CEO said that unfortunately, since they were a Canadian bank, no intervention was possible for Indian currency.

The ‘ turnaround ‘ CEO remarked that at every given opportunity he never got tired of encouraging the Indo- Canadians to open an account with one of the two ‘Indian’ banks in Canada, SBI or ICICI.The philosophy he says is: Be Canadian, Buy Canadian but Bank Indian!

According to Rajesh, in the years to come, SBI Canada plans to significantly increase its presence and visibility within the Community and focus on the Home mortgage as a product.

In conclusion, Rajesh whose term as CEO and President is until the end of 2018 mentioned the joy and pride he felt every time he came across Indians settled in Canada, doing well in their adopted country and contributing to its growth.

amitabh@www.weeklyvoice.com