A home away from home

Rathi and (centre)
Arundhati Bhattacharya at the
London Stock Exchange
INDIA CALLING: Nikhil Rathi and (centre) Arundhati Bhattacharya at the London Stock Exchange



INDIANS in Britain are being asked to consider buying property in their homeland using mortgages from a lead­ing bank as the State Bank of India (SBI) is making a number of changes to its operations in the UK.

SBI chairman Arundhati Bhattacharya said last Friday (22) that the move will help the bank’s Indian customers in the UK as she presided over the market opening of the London Stock Exchange.

British Indians will also be able to open accounts in India paying a higher interest rate than is available in this country and the funds could be “repatri­ated” back to the UK, Bhattacharya said.

However, whether the customer gained from the transaction would depend on the exchange rate at the time. In response to a question from Eastern Eye during an interaction with Indian journalists, the chairman said: “We would love you to have holiday homes in India. Please do come and enjoy the winters, at least, with us.”

She said the SBI would continue to maintain its headquarters in the UK as a branch of the bank in India to do whole­sale business. The bank has had a pres­ence in London since 1921.

Its 11 branches in Britain would be hived off to form a UK subsidiary, to be called State Bank of India (UK), which would be incorporated in the UK and essentially act as a British bank, Bhattacharya said.

She was at the London Stock Exchange to preside over the market opening cele­brating the SBI’s collaboration with an entity called FTSE Russell which provides overseas investors with an independent analysis of what’s up and what’s down in the Indian bond market.

The two sides have come together to launch the FTSE SBI Bond Index Series. This will give international investors independ­ent information on the Indian market.

Bhattacharya said: “Today there is a lot of capital wanting to come into India. What we lacked was the transparent benchmark on which people could rely regarding performance. This index launched in collaboration with the Lon­don Stock Exchange will reassure inter­national investors that they have a bench­mark that is transparent, well governed and something they can easily rely upon.

“SBI has a very large London main branch, which mainly does wholesale busi­ness and it has 11 branches which mainly do retail business. We are going to demerge the business. The London main branch will remain a branch of the State Bank of India – the 11 retail branches will form a sub­sidiary that will be incorporated in the UK. So it will be a British company.”

She added: “With the demerger, there will be much greater focus on the retail business because it will be now on its own, plus it will have a board that will be local. We have about 150 people of which 145 are locals – only five of them are from the home country. So to that extent it will be a totally local operation with focus on ensuring that they do a good job.”

Asked whether changes would be good for the UK’s Indian population, she re­plied: “I should think so. We will try to bring the very best of IT and the very best of processes that we are using in India.”

Bhattacharya is the first woman chair­man of the SBI, whose origins go back to the formation of the Bank of Calcutta in 1806. She was lauded as a global leader and female role model by Nikhil Rathi, chief executive of the London Stock Ex­change Ltd, who said: “This is also the first retirement party for Mrs Bhattacha­rya – after a distinguished career with SBI, she will be retiring on October 6.”

“You are ranked amongst the 25 most powerful women in the world, according to Forbes – the first woman chairman of the State Bank of India,” he added. She has been chairman for four years.

Using a cricketing metaphor to re­spond to Rathi, she said she was glad the deal with FTSE Russell was now done: “I am in my slog overs, so I am trying to get out a few sixers.” She was born in Calcutta (now Kolkata), studied English Literature at Lady Brabourne College and Jadavpur University in the city, and joined the SBI as a 22-year-old probationer.

Asked whether there was any funda­mental differences between a male and a female chairman, she responded: “Yes, I suppose there is. There is a difference because it gives faith and hope to a lot of women to realise that they can aspire to be the best and it is possible to get there – they don’t necessarily have to be a man in a man’s world in order to succeed.

“When I interact with a lot of young­sters, I am very happy to see that they feel enthused. And I think that’s the only dif­ference I can say that really matters. In respect to getting there at the end of the day, yes, you have to have the necessary attributes to get to any place and those attributes have to be over and above the fact of your gender.

“And, of course, I think there is a little bit of luck in everything as well. You have to be at the right place at the right time, otherwise it doesn’t happen.”

The one subject on which Bhattachar­ya would not be drawn was the money owed to the SBI by Vijay Mallya, the bu-sinessman whose extradition from the UK is currently being sought by the Indi­an government.