K V Kamath: The Banking visionary calls it a day
Kamath's focus on application of technology and retail expansion is the driving force
behind ICICI Bank's competitiveness
Life begins after 60. So it seems for Kundapur Vaman Kamath, who starts his next stint as
mentor, or non-executive chairman of ICICI Bank, in May next
Kamath joined ICICI in 1971 and worked till 1988 when he left for a stint at the Asian Development Bank till 1996. When Kamath took over as MD & CEO in 1997, ICICI was wilting under the burden of bad loans and asset-liability mismatches. The expansion under him over the last decade has been
impressive. From a project finance company to a universal bank\ with around 1,400 domestic branches, 3,500 ATMs, 35,000 employees in around 20 countries and over 25 million customers.
In percentage terms, retail assets now account for 55 per cent% of the bank's total assets. The
bank, of course, had to take a pause on its retail growth plans following the economic
downturn, and his critics say Kamath has been over-aggressive. Kamath's focus on performance has largely revolved around the "90-day rule", a phrase he picked up from a dotcom seminar in New York. The start-ups there were taking products from concept to market in 90 days because if they didn't, somebody else would. Kamath has always made sure that the time gap between an idea and its execution is less than 90 days. In the process, he changed the face of Indian banking.
The strategic thinker part was visible early enough when Kamath turned ICICI, a staid lender
that was much smaller in size than IDBI, into a dynamic bank. He took the unconventional
path of turning an industrial lender into a retail bank by scripting a reverse merger in 2001.
From a 359-branch institution in 2001, ICICI Bank ramped up its network to nearly 1,400
branches by 2008.
Kamath also saw tomorrow far before any other banker did.
Example: He was the first to marry technology with retail banking in India. At a time when
there were fewer than 100 ATMs in the entire country, ICICI Bank said it would roll out
1,000 ATMs in the very first year. The innovation has yielded rich results. Kamath was
instrumental in setting up new businesses in leasing, venture capital as well as credit rating.
He has transformed ICICI from a lumbering development financial institution into India's
largest private sector bank.