Monday was a historic day for the country’s largest lender State Bank of India (SBI) that boasts a 207-year history. For, Arundhati Bhattacharya (right), 57, its CFO and the youngest of the bank’s four MDs, took charge as the first-ever woman chairperson.
She succeeds Pratip Chaudhuri who retired on September 30. The three other SBI MDs who were interviewed for the chairman’s position were Hemant G Contractor, A Krishnakumar and S Viswanathan.
Unlike other public sector banks (PSBs) that have a combined post of CMD, SBI has a chairman/chairperson and four MDs. With Bhattacharya now becoming the chairperson, SBI will likely soon have a new CFO and a new MD.
Bhattacharya joins a select club of woman bankers at the helm of leading banks in India. Among the PSBs (see box below), Allahabad Bank is chaired by Shubhalakshmi Panse, Bank of India by Vijayalakshmi R Iyer and United Bank of India by Archana Bhargava.
Among private sector banks, ICICI Bank is led by Chanda Kochhar and Axis Bank by Shikha Sharma. Among foreign banks in India, HSBC India is chaired by Naina Lal Kidwai, JP Morgan India by Kalpana Morparia and RBS India by Meera Sanyal.
Bhattacharya joined SBI as a probationary officer way back in 1977. During her 36-year career, she has had stints in areas such as retail, treasury and corporate finance, and performed in a range of roles like deputy MD, corporate development officer, CGM, head of external audit and correspondent relations, CFO and MD. She also headed SBI’s merchant banking arm SBI Caps.
Besides, Bhattacharya played a key role in launching SBI’s forays into general insurance, custody services and infrastructure fund subsidiaries.
Her appointment deepens the trend of women rising to the banking fore in India, and precedes launch of Bhartiya Mahila Bank, the country’s first bank dedicated for women. The government has also been trying to set up all-women bank branches.
SBI and its five subsidiaries control over one-fifth of the nation’s banking assets and is the 66th largest bank in the world.