Prasanta sahu :WSJ :13 Nov 2013
Usha Ananthasubramanian, 55, is widely tipped to be the first chief executive officer of the India’s first women’s bank.
Bharatiya Mahila Bank, [Indian Women’s Bank] which will be owned by the government, has made no formal announcement about its leadership team, but Ms. Ananthasubramanian is actively involved in preparing the business model and groundwork ahead of the bank’s opening in October in New Delhi.
Plans for the bank were announced in this year’s budget as part of measures to improve women’s safety in the country after the gang rape and murder of a young woman in Delhi in December.
Ms. Ananthasubramanian, who works as an executive director of India’s second largest state-run lender, Punjab National Bank comes from Chennai.
Her father, who was a teacher, told her when she was young that the best gift that he could give her was good education. Her mother was a homemaker.
Ms. Ananthasubramanian holds two master’s degrees, one in statistics from University of Madras in Chennai, the other in ancient Indian Culture from University of Mumbai.
While statistics helped get her her first job as a specialist – an actuarial assistant – in the country’s largest insurer Life Insurance Corp., she says knowing about ancient Indian culture gave her an insight into risk management.
She started her banking career in state-run Bank of Baroda in 1982 as a specialist officer in planning. She helped the bank move into the insurance business. She moved to Punjab National Bank in July 2011 to take up her current role as executive director.
WSJ: Is there a need to set up a separate bank for women?
Usha Ananthasubramanian: The un-served women’s population is huge. According to an international management consultant firm, India is placed 115, out of the 128 countries in the women’s empowerment scale. There are women who have sharp business sense, but do not get opportunities. They have never been encouraged or had the right kind of money to invest. There are a lot of captive customers available. As a concept it is really good because it will touch the lives of so many women.
WSJ: How does a banking career differ for men and women?
Ms. Ananthasubramanian: Banking is all about a trust relationship and women by nature have genes tuned to build relationships. Given the Indian social structure, women generally grow to a level and then give up the aspirations of the career progression. Generally mobility is seen as a barrier and so is family nurturance.
WSJ: What qualities do women bring to banking which men lack?
Mrs. Ananthasubramanian: Women’s strength in fostering relationships and emotional sensitivity greatly help in developing customer relationships. Banking is a business of taking risks and women have been seen as more practical and moderate risk takers. Women have the attribute to place themselves in the shoes of the customers and understand where the shoe pinches and remedy it. Normally men try to dominate, whereas women orchestrate.
WSJ: What constraints do women bankers face given the pressures in banking?
Ms. Ananthasubramanian: I would not see them as constraints but as an adaptation challenge to the quick and demanding changes that happen around us. For example, the metamorphosis that has been taking place in the banking sector from being just a bank to a financial services provider, to financial solutions provider, requires multi-tasking and multi-skilled employees. Banks are into another transition of becoming sales and service organizations. At senior level, one needs to cope with the dynamic and real time changes happening in the system and react to it.
WSJ: What challenges have you faced in making to the top?
Ms. Ananthasubramanian: I don’t think I had any special challenges in this regard. By temperament, I am a learner and highly committed to whatever I get assigned. I have also looked at innovations and put freshness into what I need to accomplish.
WSJ: Why do you think there have been few women bank chiefs in India?
Ms. Ananthasubramanian: In the Indian context, women bankers want to be career women, good homemakers and also fulfill their interests at the same time. This results in split-commitment challenge that women face as they climb the ladder. Mobility and travelling have been seen as impediments. International studies reveal that women have been found not as aggressive while asking for rewards such as promotions, incentives, or taking credit for work done. Women bankers should come with the right attitude and need to prioritize commitment, decide what needs to be sacrificed, and should be open to opportunities.
WSJ: What’s been the best experience in your career to date?
Ms. Ananthasubramanian: I was working as branch head of Cuffe Parade branch of Bank of Baroda in Mumbai and that is a place for the affluent segment of the society. One fine day, a man in his late twenties walked into my cabin. He was a fisherman who had just finished his day’s fishing and had sold his catch and made his way to the branch with his pants wet, stinking with fish smell. For a moment, I was puzzled and thought what made him walk into my branch when there are two other bank branches on the ground floor. When I began my conversation with him, I understood that he wanted a small sum as a loan. It made me realize, working in the public sector space gave me an opportunity to serve the real two faces of India, the poor as well as the affluent.