HEADLINES:
June 19 2019
The rise and fall of Chanda Kochhar
05 October 2018

Her tenure at ICICI Bank saw controversies of higher magnitude towards the end

Chanda Kochhar, a favourite of K.V. Kamath — the banker who changed the face of ICICI Bank to a retail lending institution, was appointed managing director and chief executive officer in 2009.

The appointment of Ms. Kochhar, now 56, as the chief executive, was amid stiff competition as the bank had to choose from an extremely talented pool of candidates — Shikha Sharma, Renuka Ramnath, V. Vaidyanathan and Kalpana Morparia — to name a few. All of them were equally strong contenders for the corner office and went on to head the organisations they joined after moving on from ICICI Bank.

Retail loans — home, car, credit card, personal loan — was spearheaded in the country by ICICI Bank under Mr. Kamath, who is widely credited with bringing in the EMI (equated monthly instalment) culture among Indian youth.

However, ICICI Bank burnt its fingers in retail loans as non-performing assets from these loans zoomed following the global financial crisis of 2008.

So, Ms. Kochhar had to cut down on her mentor’s favourite — retail loans — especially the unsecured ones, after she took charge as CEO. Within a year of taking charge, she reduced ICICI Bank’s exposure to unsecured lending from 8% to 5% (March 31, 2010) of the total loan book.

Rather, she focussed on infrastructure loans as there was huge demand for those, then. Project finance was considered to be her forte — she had headed infrastructure finance and corporate banking business at the bank.

However, by 2014-15 it was clear that all was not good with corporate loans. A combination of factors, including economic slowdown and poor underwriting standards of banks, led to a huge surge in bad loans, mostly from the corporate sector.

Brewing crisis

Life came a full circle for Ms. Kochhar earlier this year as ICICI Bank once again brought the focus back on retail loans and tightened norms for corporate loans.

At the same time, a crisis was brewing — both for the bank and personally for Ms. Kochhar.

It first started in 2016 when a whistle blower had sought an inquiry into the transactions between ICICI Bank, Videocon Group and NuPower Renewables — a company promoted by Ms. Kochhar’s husband Deepak Kochhar in 2010.

The allegations resurfaced with a much higher intensity in early 2018. It was alleged that a company related to Videocon Group chairman Venugopal Dhoot invested ₹64 crore in NuPower in 2010 and later the proprietorship of the company was transferred to a trust owned by Mr. Deepak Kochhar for ₹9 lakh after Videocon Group received a loan of ₹3,250 crore from ICICI Bank in 2012.

Initially, the bank management was defiant and the board jumped the gun by giving Ms. Kochhar a clean chit in April. But increased pressure from the media as well as the government forced the board to appoint a panel headed by retired Supreme Court Judge B.N. Srikrishna to probe the allegations.

Ms. Kochhar decided to go on leave till the probe was completed and the board decided to appoint Sandeep Bakhshi as the chief operating officer to run the show. The writing was on the wall.

Now, before the Srikrishna panel could submit its findings, Ms. Kochhar has decided to call it quits.

 

 

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