The Big Story

Lender's discontent

StanChart’s aggressive roadmap for wholesale banking in India has come at the cost of a bloodied balance sheet

Soumik Kar

In September last year, Standard Chartered was on the lookout for someone who could run its India operations. All was not well with the London-headquartered bank and India was proving to be a big pain point. Quite a few candidates were interviewed for this high-profile position, most of whom had cut their teeth in investment banking. But this little detail was making Bill Winters, the bank’s global CEO, distinctly uncomfortable. After a couple of no-good weeks, Winters made it clear that he wanted only a traditional banker for the top job in India. “I want someone who understands debt, not people who can close deals over dinner” is what he reportedly told close associates. It was a message that was devoid of ambiguity, which might be why the bank announced the appointment of Zarin Daruwala of ICICI Bank as its India head by the second week of November. A wholesale banking veteran, Daruwala has spent over 26 years with ICICI Bank, most of them in corporate banking and project finance. Although Winters is probably happy with this appointment (given Daruwala’s previous profile), it has been quite a long wait for StanChart, as the bank is often called. The bank has been without an India CEO since Sunil Kaushal was moved to Dubai as the head of Africa and west Asia. Daruwala, for whom this will be the first stint with a foreign bank, is scheduled to take charge in April this year.

In many ways, life has come full circle for the bank in India. StanChart, which till 2000 was largely in the retail business in India, ventured into wholesale banking soon after the buyout of Grindlays’ west and south Asia businesses around 2002. Around the same time, a decision was taken by the bank to go the whole hog in corporate banking by exploiting the balance sheet. At that point, the bank’s bosses in India estimated that the return on equity from the corporate banking business for StanChart — and most others — was 10% at best. By offering a suite of services such as working capital, forex, M&A and loan syndication, the bank could take that number to 17-18%. These numbers sold the wholesale story at StanChart. In fact, group CEO Mervyn Davies was quoted jocularly quipping to employees back then that he would shut the bank’s wholesale banking division if it didn’t grow. By the en

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