He spoke to Sidhartha about his stint at the bank and the way he looks at the new assignment that he is slated to take up on May 1. Excerpts:
How do you look at your appointment?
It is great. It's more responsibility. It's a large space. Nothing can be more exciting than that.
Insurance companies did not have a great 2008-09 and you are moving in at a time when the whole team will be new. Does it make your task more challenging since you will have to rebuild the company in certain ways?
See the market is very under-penetrated, it has to expand. Just like savings, investment or loans, insurance is right up there as a need for people. With more players, products and rising consciousness about the need for insurance, the market has to grow. As for the team, the existing management team continues (at ICICI Prudential) to be there. The team has built a solid business, an excellent brand. The systems are in place, so it is a good stepping stone.
ICICI Prudential may be among the first few insurance companies to hit the market with an IPO. Is that something that you are looking forward to?
Depends on the markets and our need for capital. We will keep an eye on it.
What would be your strategy under this assignment?
It is too early (to say), but I would like to expand the market more than anything else.
What was the experience of the last few years?
Managing the change; it's great even changing the strategy. We made branches as our focal point, sharply reduced expenses and reoriented resources to the new growth area. That's what I remember last.
After years of rapid growth on the retail side, you left at a time when ICICI Bank had substantially scaled down its business. Any regrets?
The key focus of the bank has been to book loans of good quality, even if it means reduced disbursals. That's what you are seeing on the lending side. The consumer market itself slowed down last year because of the economic situation. Also, the bank is still growing strongly on the liabilities and branch side. It's grown from 750 last year to 1,400 this year, and we are planning to grow it to 2,000 next year. During March (2009) alone, we mobilised around Rs 6,000 crore (Rs 60 billion) by way of retail deposits.
The slowdown of book is only on the lending side, but that is part of a conscious strategy. Handling this transition is a great experience in itself. In any case, lending growth will resume soon. There are no regrets whatsoever. You can't get a better platform than ICICI Bank in banking.
Was it the right strategy to grow the retail book so fast?
Look, it was right for the time, that is when rates were coming down. We changed it quite quickly when interest rates started going up in 2006-07.
You were one of the candidates for ICICI Bank's managing director and CEO's job. Any regrets at having missed out?
Are you kidding? Chanda Kochhar belongs there. I was not even in the picture. I am happy to be there where I am.