What Really Happened at United Bank of India?

Archana Bhargava, became the chairperson of UBI despite a patchy record but why did she suddenly leave UBI? Was she keen to report exaggerated bad loans and sanction dubious ones that alerted the RBI to act?

UBI, United Bank of India, Archana Bhargava, bad loans, RBI, Reserve Bank of India.The sudden exit of Archana Bhargava, Chairman & Managing Director of United Bank of India (UBI) with her voluntary retirement application being accepted in 24 hours, has set the banking industry buzzing. One view was that she had been made a scapegoat for daring to bring out the rot in the UBI. That UBI had seen such a precipitous decline was significant, because this is the bank, which, along with United Commercial Bank had its net worth completely eroded in the 1990s before being revived with big capital infusion from the exchequer at the taxpayers’ cost.

 

Another view is that Ms Bhargava’s powerful political connections, which got her the top job at UBI, despite a patchy track record, also ensured that the got a swift exit, when Reserve Bank governor, Raghuram Rajan asked for her to be sacked and the board superseded. Moneylife examines some of the charges and counter charges.

 

While UBI’s bad loans trebled to Rs8,546 crore at the end of December 2013 from Rs2,964 crore last March, things really came to a head when Mrs Bhargava wrote to the RBI to say that neither the external auditor of the bank nor the RBI inspection has brought out the real mess in the bank and the non-performing assets that were not detected.  This letter prompted RBI to appoint Deloitte as the forensic auditor, while RBI itself initiated a fresh credit audit, which also covered the loans sanctioned by her. The latter probably happened because, as The Economic Times has reported, that 10 UBI general managers wrote to the RBI that she had chosen to override the board and sanction Rs100 crore loan to a realty developer.

 

In fact, the RBI curtailed her loan sanctioning powers to under Rs10 crore to a single entity while the audits were on. But that was not all. Ms Bhargava, blamed the Infosys software Finacle for failing to detect NPA below Rs10 lakhs. However, it turns out that this did not mean that NPAs remained undetected, but were monitored using regular credit monitoring systems that pre-date core banking. In fact, UBI sources insist that the bank’s NPAs below Rs10 lakh loan portfolio were exaggerated by the former chairperson for reasons  known to her. In several other areas, the bank has made provisions that are even higher than those of State Bank of India.  It is believed that a sober look at the bad loan books will allow the bank to write back some of these provisions in the coming months.
 

Why did Dr Raghuram Rajan seek the removal of Mrs Bhargava along with superseding the UBI board? A universal view is that poor people management and friction with the board of directors as well as top executives of the bank. 

 

Sources say that Mrs Bhargava has been at loggerheads with the board and several government appointees from the very beginning. What is however curious is her  “rush” to declare massive NPAs in order to “show the bank in bad light”.  The other version, that she was trying to prevent government nominees on the board from lobbying for politically motivated loans or brokering deals for big business seem much less plausible, now that the finance ministry has given her a smooth exit from the bank. Also, Mrs Bhargava herself is supposed to be extremely well connected with the leaders of the Congress party.

 

The question is, if Mrs Bhargava has such poor people skills, how did she bag a coveted bank chairmanship? Was it based on an impeccable service record? On the contrary, bankers confirm that she has had run-ins with corporate houses and faced charges of strange deals in all her previous assignments. However, most of these charges, including a serious allegation by a company called Rajesh Exports, have not been substantiated following an RBI investigation. Such charges would have affected the careers of many bankers and prevented them from bagging a coveted chairmanship at a nationalised bank. In Ms Bhargava’s case, her contemporaries insist that powerful political support from the ruling Congress government and the ability to have people of influence on her side all through her career, especially at Punjab National Bank.
 

UBI, United Bank of India, Archana Bhargava, bad loans, RBI, Reserve Bank of India.


So how bad are UBI’s finances? Was UBI, whose networth was fully eroded in the 1990s, hiding another precipitous slide through dubious and reckless lending? Or, was it, as UBI’s senior bankers allege (on condition of anonymity), CMD Bhargava was in a tearing hurry to show the bank in bad shape by declaring ever escalating NPAs ever quarter. This was apparently the biggest source of acrimony on the bank’s board and led to severely strained relationships with senior management at UBI.  Ms Bhargava may have had a point about the work culture at the bank — this is a complaint that one has heard from everybody posted in West Bengal or specifically in Kolkata.

 

Interestingly, having given Ms Bhargava a quiet exit through voluntary retirement, it is not clear why the finance ministry is delaying the decision to supersede the board of directors and to appoint a new chairperson.  Mr Rajiv Takru, Secretary financial services told the Financial Express that the ministry is waiting for an inquiry report. Since Governor Raghuram Rajan has only written to the government after a forensic audit by Deloitte and another audit, including multiple inquiries into complaints against the former chairman from companies such as Rajesh Export, it is not clear what the government is waiting for.

 

It is also unclear how the government can permit a VRS when there are serious charges about loans of Rs800 crore being disbursed with a Rs300 crore collateral or that she overruled the board to extend a loan of Rs100 crore to a developer. This only underscores the view that crony capitalism and political string-pulling is the reason for the massive rise in bad loans in the past few years despite a powerful SARFESI Act having been enacted, a decade ago that strongly armed bankers with powers to recover loans.

Comments
K G Krupal
9 years ago
One of the reason for the present NPA level in majority of the banks is overlapping or professional encroachment. Banks should focus on banking & merchant banking activities. Instead forcing them to do Insurance, broking etc., will dilute the quality of services and provides an excuse for the failure.
RENUKA SHREEKUMAR THAMPY
9 years ago
Incidentally, the empowerment of banks by SARFESI is a figment of political imagination. Bank borrowers are treated as "not liable" until they are proven to be "liable" (as in criminal law). The RBI might like to review its strengths and effectiveness.
k k sharma
9 years ago
It appears that the person(s) who got the concerned person appointed as CMD also ensured a safe exit. It seems its not merit alone but connections that some time secure top positions. In the process, its the institution that suffers considerable collateral damage.
ABHA CHAWLA MOHANTY
Replied to k k sharma comment 9 years ago
MR K.K SHARMA THE INSTITUTION ARE TOTALLY EXPOSED TO VENAL CULTURE ,..BY ,
.IN COMPETENT,CAPRICIOUS,SELFIES IN GARB OF CHIEF EXECUTIVE,..SEE,ACTION TAKEN EVEN IF FOUND ,GUILTY OF MISUSE OF OFFICE,..AND , MINISTRY , IS ON,MUTE MODE??,,WITHOUTPREJUDICE
Shashikant Eklare
9 years ago
Its horrible. An inquiry by an independent agency is a must for such complaints. It is high time the Government or the RBI should inspect for such deals in all other PSU BANKS before anything sort of this comes in light in any of the PSU banks.
Suresh C Ashawa
9 years ago
You can't expect from congress government any thing right
Shashikant Eklare
Replied to Suresh C Ashawa comment 9 years ago
I agree with Mr Suresh with some correction. YOU cant expect any thing right from any of the political parties rather. Agree Mr Suresh?
Gopalakrishnan T V
9 years ago
All banks indulge in window dressing of balance sheets and NPAs are shown at some reasonable level to avoid attention of the Share holders,RBI and the government. If The Chairman has very high Contacts,more would be the loan disbursals and more would be the NPAs. This is an open secret known to all in banking. In UBI, the Chairman has oversteeped and gone beyond even the permissible limits to generate NPAs and get rid of the bank to her convenience. Unfortunately it got boomeranged and she had to compulsorily quit. Hope she would be made accountable as per the laws of the land.
Laxman rao K
9 years ago
I understand her relations in Canara Bank with her CMD are also not good and she is a tyrant. Tyrants always have inglorious fall. I feel her relations with ruling party ( which is known for flouting all established norms and parliamentarian practices, as seen while conducting business in recent Lok/Rajya Sabha while bifurcating the AP state) allowed her to sty afloat till now. Thanks to Mr.Rajan, she has been shown her place, but she has to be investigated for her wrong doings both in Canara and United Banks, lest others also will get scot free and become fearless.
rajivahuja
9 years ago
Now, we know the real facade of Ms B' resignation .
S K Nataraj
9 years ago
If systems are okay, will NPAs be under- declared and will even auditors, - statutory and RBI- dare to cross the line and fudge books, is my question? The real truth is most banks play with provisioning of assets and do not declare the full picture about boad loans, which in any case, will show itself up in the subsequent quarter/s. The Government nominees on the Boards of Directors of Banks are unfit , in most cases , to decide on matters of lending and governance, as they are mostly, persons from the political class , owing their allegiance to the party in power , to get hold of and occupy such posts. The independent Directors of Boards are also hand- picked by the CMD and the practice of their elections through what is known as proxy- management is all too well known in Banking circles.
What is needed is for good, clean, systems of risk management and for the strictest enforcement of rules relating to NPA classification and provisioning. Very stringent penalties should be laid down for those not adhering to the Rules, and post- Sathyam, statutory. Auditors should face debarment and internal auditors who are Chartered accountants should also be made accountable. Unless the rules are strictly enforced, this problem of under- declaration of NPAs is going to remain a continuous problem for all Banks. How will the public and more importantly stakeholders , get to know whether the Balance Sheet indeed represents a True And Fair position of the books of the Bank.? If we are to make the transition to globally accepted accounting practices, we must very rigidly , without exception, follow the laid- down rules in this regard and also look to tighten them , wherever required.
Resorting to measures such as replacing the Bank's CMD , or having the Bank merged with another stronger Bank or having a forensic audit conducted are in my opinion, of no use. They only expose the sheer weaknesses in the system which need to be looked into and plugged. The depositors should have complete faith that systems are totally in place and the books are fully true. If not , we will soon see repeats of bank failures like those of Global Trust Bank, Bank of Karad, etc. The erosion of public confidence will do great damage to entire Banking system and economy, it must be always remembered. Therefore, measures for strong risk management are a must, and more important than anything else, no laxity should be shown to anyone breaching rules, howsoever high- placed he/ she may be.
Dayananda Kamath k
Replied to S K Nataraj comment 9 years ago
i have raised the issue of fudging of accounts in 5 annual genral meeting of shareholders of corporation bank. chairmans never bothered to reply in the meeting matter brought to the notice of sebi, rbi, institute of chartered accountnats of india, cvc, ministry of corporate affairs, ministry of finance, primeministers office, presidents office but none bothered. and many of their executives are promoted and leading many a nationalised banks. this largess to executives of corporation bank started after my complaints. may be govt and regulators recognise their ability to manipulate and promote them to continue with their manipulations.
sathyacumaran
Replied to Dayananda Kamath k comment 9 years ago
sathyacumaran
This fudging of accounts not only in banks but it happens in all companies when as an shareholder if we question in the AGM of the meeting either we are threatened by the company staff in this scam the govt of india RBI sebi nse bse and minsitry of finance and Ministry of corporate affairs and insitute of Chartered Accountants of India and institute of Company secretaries of India are involved unless with collaboration the accounts and balancesheet of Group A Listed company hook up the accounts so the geuniess of indian comapnies solvency is million dollar question as an citizen and shareholder we are threatened by the companies legal department the main purpose companies legal department is to use threaten the person who point out the mistakes of the companies for which the companies legal department would have EX IPS officers in top post so through their influence they threaten their shareholder when question raised that is the pathetic stage of indian industry that is reason why they find diffcult in competing with international trade is my surmise as such all the accounts of major companies in india are fudged and manipulated and they would continue to do that is the present culture of indian industry where the tradtions of honesty integrity and accountability everything is lost because of corrupt politicians and corrupt govt officials
S.S.A.Zaidi
Replied to S K Nataraj comment 9 years ago
I dont think the article is
slanderous. The
Authorr has put together all that was being talked about and posed a question where things went wrong
sathyacumaran
Replied to S.S.A.Zaidi comment 9 years ago
SATHYACUMARAN
because of the political appointment of chairmans to banks and other various institutions such as sebi nse bse and RBI we have to think about their credibility because normally any chairman if they have link with politician then we are sure that from them we cannot expect any honesty integrity and accountability and as such then all the depositer money is under stake but likely we have all banks under the full control RBI so depositers money would not be lost but accountability and honesty and integrity is lost this which our country had been lost for past 10 years after the advant of Shri Manmohan singh as PM this sorry state of affairs of our country only God can save from the clutches because these blackmail and unaccounted and looted money would be ploughed back to election inorder to lure the electorates which is harmful for an country
TIHARwale
9 years ago
Article is nothing but slander. Did ML try to contact Archana Bhargava before publishing this article because nothing is supported by fact other than RBI got forensic audit done and Archana Bhargava quit in the middle. Has anywhere the United Bank given in writing that Finacle the Core Banking Software is inadequate because Finacle is running in more than half of Public Sector Banks and also in leading Pvt Sector Banks in India
Sucheta Dalal
Replied to TIHARwale comment 9 years ago
Yes repeatedly. she did not respond.
Also my sources are impeccable … its okay to have an opinion
Dayananda Kamath k
Replied to Sucheta Dalal comment 9 years ago
i have sent to you copies of many of my complaints and issues happening in corporation bank.but you have not responded so far. does moneylife also wakes up only after fire brakesout.
MDT
Replied to Dayananda Kamath k comment 9 years ago
Dear Mr Kamath
Thanks for posting your comment. As you may be aware, we are a tiny team and don't have resources and manpower to go through the stuff that you bombard us with. If you have any specifics, you are welcome to write. But request you to understand that it is not possible to check and verify each and every mail sent by you.
Hope you understand.
Thanks again,
Moneylife Digital Team
sathyacumaran
Replied to MDT comment 9 years ago
sathyacumaran
Respected kamath
the money life would take those cases where they get importance for others or even for fellow media personality they would not take their house they wanted name and fame rather solving the problem is surmise because i have posted my case with regard IIFL but till date no reply from ML
ritesh Manilal Poladia
Replied to TIHARwale comment 9 years ago
yes sir,
UBI has released press release saying it s all because of Finacle.
rajivahuja
Replied to TIHARwale comment 9 years ago
ML must have contacted Archana Bhargava before this article got published. I seriously don't think Mr. Basu / Ms Dalal would have duly verfied the facts. .
rajivahuja
Replied to rajivahuja comment 9 years ago
P.S- I have written wrongly. Imeant to write Mr. Basu / Ms Dalal would have duly verfied the facts .
rajivahuja
Replied to rajivahuja comment 9 years ago
P.S- I have written wrongly. Imeant to write Mr. Basu / Ms Dalal would have duly verfied the facts .
Sucheta Dalal
Replied to rajivahuja comment 9 years ago
Yes contacted Ms Bhargava repeatedly. She did not respond. Many thanks for the confidence.
Gopalakrishnan T V
Replied to Sucheta Dalal comment 9 years ago
Sucheta Dalal cannot be wrong in such reports and what ever she writes on Banking and Finance is 100% right and perhaps it is only the tip of the iceberg. If an investigation is held more irregularities would come to light.Mr Rajivahuja should have more information about Sucheta Dalal before he made his observation.
sathyacumaran
Replied to Gopalakrishnan T V comment 9 years ago
sathya cumaran
thanks for the maiden effort of sucheta dalal and we as an citizen of india wanted to know where it went wrong and what the punishment do the Bhargva going to get and what is actual loss of UBi should be brought to media lime light whicvh we expect from sucheta dalal finding fault is easy but what is the outcome of the fault and how the customers of UBI are benefitted should be highlighted any how thanks for sucheta dalal
sathyacumaran
9 years ago
sathyacumaran
this common in all banks and the chairman and other political leaders in conveyance with RBI employees loot the bank as how it happened to Global trust bank where the promoter was previous Vysya bank chairman and in was banker by profession and as such the bank was bankrupt and this bank was taken by oriental bank of commerce on what grounds what is benefit for OCB nobody knew and RBI was also silent and as such for all these foul play the RBI and Finance ministry are party to it and as such the dependcy and geunity of balance sheets NPA of banks should need proper scrutiny for which neither the RBI nor Finance Ministry is prepared for this audit this shows the credibility and honesty and integrity and accountability of indians which was safeguarded long time but after the advent of this 10 years of UPA govt everything is shattered now we the citizen of india cannot have the confidence in our own fellow citizen that amount of corruption had taken place we need old india where honesty and integrity and accountability was there should be restored
Gopalakrishnan T V
9 years ago
This only shows that neither the Government the owner of the Bank, nor the RBI the regulator of the bank cared to run the bank efficiently. They have have knowingly allowied the bank to face almost a run.The Management ie the Board of Directors and top management have taken full advantage to accommodate the borrowers they wanted and allowed free loot as if it is a permissible acrtivity in terms of BR ACT, 1949. The only way to have a demonstrative punishment is to penalise the entire Board and make accountable the Government and RBI for the lapses in the Appointment of Chairman,grant of loans trowing into winds the basic principles of lending, violating RBI directives and regulatory prescriptions etc. Such irregulaties should never be repeated in future is what the RBI, Government and tax payers have to ensure. Depositors and share holders forum also have to fight for their losses because of total mismanagement of the Bank by the Chairman and the Directors. The Chairman cannot be allowed to go scot free as it seems she has solid political and bureacratic backing to save her.
Sudipt Dutta
9 years ago
Is there a strong connection between the abysmal lending portfolio of the state coop banks? UBI as lead state banker would have a role. How much of this is also Trinamul vs Congress politics?
S.S.A.Zaidi
9 years ago
sucheta ji
Valid points raised-
However the situation is so nebulous that one can not with certainty say what went wrong and what was the tearing hurry to allow her to take VRS
zaidi
R S Murthy
9 years ago
Why blame PSU banks and their CEOs. What is happening in Sahara or what happened to Satyam Computers is a public secret. Present system do not allow sincere people to perform.
Dayananda Kamath k
Replied to R S Murthy comment 9 years ago
but there are secretaries and ministers in ministry of corporate affairs. who interprate a complaint 'a satyam in nationalised bank' as claim from investor education fund.
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