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May 27, 2011updated 04 Apr 2017 1:07pm

SBI UK unit set for further growth

State Bank of India is ramping up its international expansion plans and is eyeing retail banking growth in countries such as the US and the UK While new entrants to the UK retail banking sector such as Metro Bank, Tesco Bank and Virgin Money may have been grabbing headlines in the consumer and business press in the past year, another new entrant has been growing its UK presence, quietly and very effectively.

By Douglas Blakey

Photograph of SBI branch interior

 

State Bank of India is ramping up its international expansion plans and is eyeing retail banking growth in countries such as the US and the UK. Deepak Ahuja, head of consumer banking and wealth at the bank’s UK operation, discusses the growth opportunities for SBI with Douglas Blakey.

 

Photograph of Deepak Ahuja, State Bank of IndiaWhile new entrants to the UK retail banking sector such as Metro Bank, Tesco Bank and Virgin Money may have been grabbing headlines in the consumer and business press in the past year, another new entrant has been growing its UK presence, quietly and very effectively.

India’s largest lender, State Bank of India (SBI), now operates 10 branches in the UK, with further growth on the cards.

Until now, SBI’s overseas operations have been focused on wholesale banking. That is all set to change with ambitious retail banking plans for the US and the UK in particular.

SBI’s UK initiative is being led by its head of consumer banking and wealth, Deepak Ahuja; formerly the head of the NRI banking of Barclays and an ex-Citigroup and ICICI banker, Ahuja took up his current role in January.

SBI’s UK plans go beyond an increase in its physical network: it is rolling out a new range of branches aimed at prioritising customer service and transparency and expanding its product range.

 

Making customers feel at ease

Ahuja told RBI: “We open in Coventry and Wolverhampton in the third or fourth quarter and have added a branch in East Ham in February. That takes us up to 10 UK branches and will add some more next year; we are looking at possible locations now.

“In the middle of last year, we revamped and relaunched our UK website and already, we have tripled our acquisition in terms of internet savings accounts.”

The focus is however on offering branch-based customer service as opposed to concentrating on growing internet-only customers, with Handelsbanken’s successful branch strategy one which Ahuja acknowledged had been a banking success story.

The new East Ham branch, situated in the East end of London, features floor-to-ceiling windows, a spacious open-plan design, a receptionist and complimentary teas and coffees. Unlike many of the traditional branches in the area operated by UK-headquartered rivals, SBI customers are able to directly approach the manager’s glass-fronted open office, without an appointment.

According to Ahuja, the interior has been designed to make customers feel at ease, with the vast majority of space prioritising customer service over back office activity.

 

“Want to be a bank for everyone”

“Our target market is people of Indian origin. It is easy to get them as they know SBI and the strength of the SBI brand,” he said.

“But we do not limit ourselves to the one million people in the UK of Indian origin. We want to be a bank to everyone where we operate, whatever their country origin.”

As for further product growth, SBI will look at the credit card sector, but not in the short term.

Photograph of SBI East Ham branch“We want to highlight our focus in bringing fair, simple and transparent products to our customers,” Ahuja said. “We intend to provide more tailored solutions for our customers in future, including investment products, residential mortgages and wealth management.

“High-end, high-value wealth products will form the basis of SBI’s focus on growing its share of the mass-affluent sector. Such products are in the pipeline and now at the design stage,” concluded Ahuja.

 

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