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RBI's Annual Report, 2014-15: Message for GOI

 

by

 

M G Warrier

I concluded my article "Talent Deficit in Banks" published in the special issue of Business Manager with focus on banking sector (BM, December 2012) with the following remarks:

"HRD at the top across sectors should become a national priority, if professionalism is to be restored at lower layers which directly interact with the clientele. Guidance for an overhaul of HR practices in banks should come from GOI and RBI factoring in, among others, the following:

i) A long-term recruitment policy taking into account the skill and aptitude needs for rural, urban and metropolitan services

ii) Job security including social security to ensure that the employees develop a sense of belonging to the institution

iii) An institution-specific wage structure up to junior management levels ensuring 'living wage' and incentives for performance, service in rural areas or tough terrains etc

iv) GOI and IBA should provide overall guidance in HR management, but leave details to individual banks who should be made more responsible for in-house management

v)  Ideally, from middle management level and upwards, easier inter-organizational mobility of staff should be thought of

vi)  An Institute for Financial Sector Management and an Indian Financial Sector Service could take care of further skill development needs at higher levels."

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In July 2010, when Reserve Bank of India came out with the idea of experimenting 'executive interns' in RBI, proposing contract employment of candidates for short periods with a consolidated salary, this writer responded to the report on the subject in a financial newspaper on the following lines:

 "Although on the face of it, the proposal may seem like a normal HR initiative at infusing young blood with expertise and enthusiasm at a lower cost, no in-depth analysis may be needed to find that this is a short-term remedy being tried out for a long term problem.

Sooner than later, the RBI, government and public sector organizations will have to wake up to the reality that their recruitment, training, placement and compensation strategies need thorough overhaul and this they have to do taking their existing employees into confidence. A long-term solution may have to be found for the HR-related problems, including the inability to hire experts at market-related compensation. The Government and public sector organizations may have to consider how best the 'cost-to-company' (C to C) principles can be integrated into their existing recruitment, training, placement and career progression policies. This may involve the following:

  • Taking the existing employees into confidence with an assurance that the changes will only improve the working results of the organization and they will get an opportunity to share the benefits and new job opportunities and so long as they are prepared to learn new things/upgrade their skills, the infusion of 'experts' will not eat into their career progression opportunities.
  • Inter-mobility of executives in all cadres among comparable organizations. For instance, a banking/financial sector service could be evolved for institutions including those in the private sector and regulatory bodies in the financial sector.
  •  A transparent guidance for remuneration package based on paying capacity/need for skills for different sectors. Proposals like the present one by RBI of shifting to C to C to reduce costs will send wrong and unhealthy signals."

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The Reserve bank of India's Annual Report 2014-15 carries some revelations which substantiates the fears and anxieties repeatedly expressed through media by those who kept a watch on the HR issues in the banking sector which are continuously neglected by bank managements and government. It is comforting to see that these issues have attracted attention at the highest level and RBI Governor has articulated them in a document which will be presented before the Parliament.

 The RBI Annual Report, traditionally, is a document respected by bankers and economists world over and its authenticity on facts and figures covering several aspects of Indian economy with focus on banking sector is never doubted. S S Tarapore, renowned economist and former Deputy Governor of RBI in an article published in the Free Press Journal on September 7, 2015 said: "It is to the credit of the RBI staff that year after year the report only gets better than the previous year's report. It is this tireless striving that marks out the RBI as an internationally acclaimed institution. Each chapter reflects the deep bench strength of the RBI."

This year's report carries the personal touch of RBI Governor Dr Raghuram G Rajan, who has included a fairly long chapter "Governor's Overview" which provides the reader with a bird's eye view of Dr Rajan's perception about the work on hand and how he is going to lead the organisation in the coming years. Though his present term ends in September 2016, we expect GOI to take a pragmatic view and wish that Dr Rajan will be offered a longer tenure of 5 years in 2016, so that there is continuity and strength at the highest level at this crucial juncture in the economic history of India.

HR issues as Dr Rajan sees them

 The Governor, without mincing words, raises the issue of quality of RBI staff and remuneration. In the past, RBI was considered a good paymaster and could attract the best talent. While the RBI still attracts the best talent, the rate of attrition is unusually high. Today's story is very different. While socially minded young professionals are still attracted to the RBI, the attrition rate is a major concern to management.

The Governor also raises an enervating question relating to the long-standing issue of pensions for RBI retirees. Paragraph X.28 of the Annual Report captioned "Superannuation Benefits" quoted hereunder is a tell-tale narrative which prompted S S Tarapore to make the following observation in the article referred to earlier:

"Has one ever heard of a borrower wanting to determine the remuneration of the banker? Prime Minister Narendra Modi should break government's hegemony over the RBI."

 

"Superannuation benefits

In 2003, the Reserve Bank, with the approval of the Central Board, had made some improvements in the monthly pension paid to employees who retired prior to November 1, 1997. However, the government had observed that the improvements in the pension scheme could not be effected without suitably amending Regulation 2(2) of the RBI Pension Regulations, 1990 and requested the Reserve Bank for their withdrawal. In October 2008, these improvements in monthly pension were withdrawn by the Central Board. This was, however, challenged in the High Court of Judicature in Bombay, where the Hon'ble High

Court set aside the Reserve Bank's circular regarding withdrawal of improvements. Since then, there has been persistent demand from all the pensioners/retirees for improvements in pensions. However, the matter remains unresolved till date, though the Reserve Bank and the Government are fully engaged with the issue."

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Governor's Overview

 The concluding paragraphs of Governor's Overview give an idea as to the concerns of a benevolent employer and the constraints in which RBI is working as also the measures initiated to improve the HR management within the existing constraints. Allow me to quote a few paragraphs from the Overview:

"Henceforth, most officers will be recruited through a revamped common entrance exam (starting 2015), given an overall view of the Bank during initial training, and then encouraged to specialise in a couple of clusters in their early years. To encourage specialisation, the Bank will also consider promoting some particularly capable employees in situ. For most employees, however, as they become more senior, skill building will shift from acquiring technical skills to acquiring managerial skills. At very senior levels, these officers will again be posted freely between clusters.

 The Bank intends to make more postings based on the Bank's needs and the staff member's specialisation interests. This also means that we have to help staff assess their own aptitude through an Assessment Centre and help them identify their strengths and weaknesses through a more discriminating Performance Evaluation System. We also must identify the needs of various jobs through careful job profiling. Staff members have to be given the training support, including through scholarships, to build necessary skills as well as to remedy identified gaps. We plan to set up an RBI Academy to offer higher-order skills to

RBI staff and bank officials. And staff members who consistently perform well should also be rewarded with more challenging assignments. All this will require substantial effort in the area of Human Resource Development, but is absolutely necessary.

RBI is an efficient organisation, which has steadily reduced its employee count from 35,500 in 1981 to 16,700 today, even while performing ever increasing quantities of work. The surplus it generated from its activities this year is `659 billion, which has been paid out entirely to the Government. There is, of course, always scope for improvement. For example, to ensure that we meet our commitment to the public, we have put out on our website timelines within which the public can expect responses to applications made to RBI. We will monitor those timelines to ensure our staff delivers as promised.

A key factor in RBI's success has been a satisfied staff. In the past, RBI used to have no problem attracting junior officers, losing only an occasional officer who was successful in the IAS exam. Today, we lose more than we should be comfortable with. This is why a revamp of the professional challenges we offer our staff is very much needed, and we hope the changes outlined earlier will help us become a more attractive employer. In this regard, our review of compensation, as well as the long-pending improvement in pensions for our retirees also assume importance.

Let me end by thanking all my 16,700 colleagues for their work in the past year and challenging them, in the 81st year of this great institution, to do even better so that the Reserve Bank of India continues to help the nation secure prosperity and economic opportunity for all for many years to come".

Let us hope the policy makers in New Delhi give the consideration they deserve to these views coming from  a person who in his own right has positioned in the front line among world economists, who has been chosen to lead India's central bank during the period of the country's transition from a developing nation to a developed country competing for higher positions in the comity of world economic powers.


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