ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Financial Inclusion and Digital India: A Critical Assessment

Financial inclusion is one of the cornerstones of a developing economy. Launched in 2015, Digital India has been regarded as a significant intervention to bring the unbanked population, who had been kept out of the mainstream economy, into the formal financial net. While there has been an improvement in digital transactions across the country, issues still remain of last-mile connectivity of banks and other financial institutions, dormant accounts, among others.

Can Payments Banks Succeed?

Recently, the Reserve Bank of India has begun licensing a new kind of retail bank, called payments banks, for the hitherto financially excluded. The regulator’s argument that technological innovation will allow payments banks to achieve a seemingly impossible trilemma of financial inclusion while still being competitive and profitable is examined. The article concludes that amelioration of this trilemma will require the regulatory orientation to fundamentally change, and for the state to provide a kind of public good to all payments banks.

The Namesake: Human Costs of Digital Identities

This article presents a case study from Jharkhand documenting a particularly distressing case of two women of the same name who have a bank account in the same branch.

Financial Inclusion of Female Sex Workers

The clandestine nature of sex work and the stigma surrounding it restricts access to and utilisation of financial services by female sex workers, and makes it more difficult for policymakers to design appropriate programmes for their empowerment. An examination of the factors that contribute to the utilisation of financial services focused on FSWs reveals that there is an urgent need to strengthen linkages with formal banking institutions for the financial inclusion and empowerment of FSWs.

How Did Central Bank Independence Become the Norm?

Priests of Prosperity: How Central Bankers Transformed the Postcommunist World by Juliet Johnson, New Delhi: Speaking Tiger, 2016; pp xv+292, ₹995.

Can Jan Dhan Yojana Achieve Financial Inclusion?

While there has been a tremendous increase in the number of bank accounts opened, the data show that the average balance in these accounts is low and a significant proportion of the accounts are inoperative. Although there was a rise in the average deposits during demonetisation, they later settled at a lower level. Further, financial inclusion means not just the opening of bank accounts but, more importantly, access to credit from formal sources. The limited data available in this regard show that after the Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana was launched there has not been any increase in the credit–deposit ratio and the share of small loans has continued to decline. Very few people have benefited from the overdraft facility that is supposed to be provided by the accounts under the scheme. Issues of access to banking in rural areas remain.

Deciphering Financial Literacy in India

Utilising a nationally representative data set, an index of financial literacy consisting of financial knowledge, behaviour, and attitude is constructed. The findings suggest significant variation in financial literacy across states with an over 60 percentage point difference between the state with the highest financial literacy and that with the lowest. Multivariate regressions show that there exist large and statistically significant gender-, location-, employment-, education-, technology-, and debt-driven differences in financial literacy. Much of the observed regional divergence persists even after we control for cohort effects.

Dynamics of Competition in the Indian Banking Sector

Competition is supposed to make banks more efficient and stimulate financial innovation by opening up of new markets. Given the dynamic changes within the Indian banking system in the last two decades, the effect of the developments in the market on the competitive behaviour of Indian commercial banks is assessed. The empirical analysis suggests monopolistic competition. This feature of the Indian banking market is consistent with other emerging-market economies and developing countries. We also find a decrease in competition across the two time-periods, before and after 2007. This may be attributed to the consolidation of the sector, with major banks acquiring smaller banks to gain economies of scale, market share and transaction volume.

The Banking Conundrum

Neo-liberal banking reform was launched in the early 1990s to address the low profitability of the public banking system and the large presence of non-performing assets. It set itself the objectives of cleaning out NPAs, recapitalising the banks and modifying banking practices to restore profitability and drastically reduce NPA volumes. This did initially have some effect. However, while the NPA ratio fell between the early 1990s and the mid-2000s, it has risen sharply since then. Moreover, while earlier priority and non-priority loans contributed equally to total NPAs, more recently, large non-priority loans to the corporate sector account for the bulk of NPAs. An analysis of these features reveals that these trends are indicative of the failure of neo-liberal banking reform in India.

Can Central Banks Reduce Inflation?

To explore the empirical validity of the proposition that a rise in the interest rate would necessarily lead to a lower rate of inflation, empirical evidence from 158 countries, during 1981 to 2013, is used to critically evaluate this widely accepted idea. Based on the findings, it is argued that from a policy perspective, the so-called “inflation targeting” should be revisited.

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