It's a major face lift for co-operative banks in Gujarat. In a bid to keep pace with the evolving banking industry, they are sprucing up their act with a slew of customer benefits and a panoply of facilities.
From starting automated teller machines and offering softer housing loans to cash collection at doorsteps and personal loans, co-operative banks are striving to clone what their private and public sector counterparts have done.
Bhuj Mercantile Co-operative Bank is the country's first co-operative bank to introduce ATMs. Nutan Nagarik Co-operative Bank was the first to offer customers the facility to deposit or withdraw money from any of its 15 branches.
The Co-operative Bank of Rajkot recently set up an ATM and plans to introduce more. The Kalupur Commercial Co-operative Bank has been offering a host of loans, including personal loans for buying refrigerators and the like. The list goes on.
"It is but natural that co-operative banks have to keep pace with the changing face of banking in the country. We have attempted to be as customer friendly as possible, even introducing deposit and withdrawal facilities at any of the 15 branches," says Parthiv Adhyaru, chairman of Nutan Nagarik Bank.
He, however, claims that since co-operative banks are smaller than other banks, they are not in a position to adopt more capital-intensive measures like tele-banking and personalised cheque books.
The Ahmedabad branch at the Mithakhali area of Bhuj Mercantile Co-operative Bank is indeed unique. For it, service is 24x7. Its other branches too work all year long and are open till 8 pm, in a bid to ensure customer convenience.
Cooperative banks are not allowed to tie up with state-owned banks; otherwise, their task would have been easier. At the moment, most of their action is on the ATM front. Bhuj Mercantile has two ATMs in Ahmedabad and Bhuj.
The Co-operative Bank of Rajkot (Raj Bank) has three ATMs at Rajkot, Jetpur and Junagadh, and is planning to open its fourth ATM at Rajkot by the month end. Golden Nagarik Co-operative Bank and a couple of other banks too have begun the process of setting up ATMs in the state.
Even so, some like Bhuj Mercantile have also tried other channels for banking like net banking since 1999. But owing to the poor response, branch manager Mukesh Anam says that an awareness campaign is underway to popularise the service.
So far, according to general manager, V Sethuraman, the bank has spent Rs 1 crore (Rs 10 million) on net banking and on the inter-connectivity of the branches and the ATMs.
Banking industry sources claim that the Rajkot Bank too has spent a similar sum but others are not forthcoming. Sure, they are trying to play catch up with their commercial peers on the service front. But what about product development and competitive interest rates?
Says R K Dhami, chairman of Rajkot Bank: "Although we cannot have the network that public sector or private banks can afford, we are doing everything possible to make our customers feel comfortable. We have interconnected all our banks in Rajkot and are providing almost the same services at the same rates, although on a much smaller scale than public sector banks."
Adds Kishorebhai Ghiya, managing director of the Rajkot-based Shri Parshwanath Co-operative Bank, the smallest co-operative bank in the state: "Our primary aim to is ensure that our members get loans at the lowest possible rates, as the interest rate is the single largest consideration of the members."
He says that in keeping with co-operative bank norms, it has introduced a scheme whereby an overdraft will be given to members against their car at 12 per cent interest on a reducing balance basis.
He claims that ICICI bank's overdraft scheme comes at 14 per cent interest. Now, whoever said that the state's cooperative banks were not aggressive?