STATE BANK OF India the country’s largest lender kept its 22,000-strong branch network and nearly 60,000 automated teller machines (ATMs) functional during the lockdown. It also went online to reach out to its customers, with top officials directly connected with customers to explain a range of products that the government introduced as part of its stimulus packages.

“Baring 100-150 branches in the containment zone, all were operational (during the lockdown). We ensured banking services are available to all our customers across our channels. In this lockdown, 90 per cent of our ATMs operating all through. For any ATM network, this uptime is one of the best,” said CS Setty, managing director (retail and digital banking), SBI.

The bank is going online to meet its customers directly, and has organised 125 e-townhall meetings for its micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSME) customers.

In one such meeting last Friday, Setty and General Manager S Kalyanram took questions from various MSME customers on products ranging from Guaranteed Emergency Credit Line (GECL) to Mudra Loan schemes to anyone who wanted clarification on the issue. About 800 participants took part in the programme.

Under GECL, the bank sanctioned about 150,000 loans aggregating Rs 15,000 crore, Setty said.

But the customers have not taken the full amount sanctioned under the scheme because of the lockdown. Of the sanctioned amount, the bank has disbursed Rs 8,800 crore to 83,000 customers. “We expect customers to avail of the residual limits already sanctioned on partial easing of lockdown and once the activities restart,” said Setty. The bank plans to offer GECL funding to its entire customer base by the end of June.

While most banks are cutting down on personal loan exposures during an economic slowdown, SBI saw significant traction in the past three months. About 326,000 loans aggregating to Rs 9,600 crore were sanctioned in the past three months, Setty said.

“In April, we have sanctioned 4,600 new loans (both working capital and term loans) aggregating Rs 780 crore. There is an improvement in May, and 15,000 new corporate loans aggregating to Rs 1,800 crore have been sanctioned,” Setty said. “Wherever we are engaged, we have supported the sector,” he said in one of the virtual meetings with clients last Friday.

The bank plans to completely shift its home loan sanctioning mechanism online in a couple of months. Its home loan book is about Rs 4.5 trillion, and all the customers were given the offer of availing of a moratorium. However, its strategy of targeting salaried staff, especially from the government and defence sectors meant that the moratorium seekers were relatively less in the bank’s portfolio. SBI ChairmanRajnish Kumar recently said just 23 per cent of its customer base asked for a moratorium.

“At the end of May, we found that 80 per cent of our term loan customers have actually paid at least two of three instalments,” Setty said. However, the low credit growth continues to remain a concern for the bank.

Our accretion to deposit in the past two months has been significant.

Hence, we need to deploy our funds. As a proxy to the economy, credit growth of SBI mirrors the economy. However, given the present economic scenario, credit growth in this year is likely to be muted and much will depend on pickup in the second half,” he said.

Setty doesn’t expect the entire MSME and corporate customer base to report stress after the lockdown is lifted, but “impact faced by some sectors may be long drawn.” He said COVID-hit units might seek restructuring and not a one-time settlement.

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