NPA-nomics: How Indian banks beat the bad loans menace


NPA-nomics: How Indian banks beat the bad loans menace

January 03, 2024
NPA-nomics: How Indian banks beat the bad loans menace

Every once in a while, we come across a headline that says the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has imposed lending restrictions on a particular bank or non-banking financial company (NBFC) or on the entire sector.

The idea behind such restrictions is always one: to prevent the rise of non-performing assets, or NPAs, which are nothing but loans that have been given out but payments on which have been delayed for a while (the RBI classifies a loan as an NPA if a principal or interest payment is more than 90 days past due).

NPAs are not just a reflection of financial health but also a crucial indicator of the economic climate.

What causes NPAs to rise?

The causes of NPAs are many. An economic slowdown often leads to reduced earnings and financial stress for borrowers, resulting in defaults. Corporate governance issues, such as mismanagement or fraud, also play a significant role.

Additionally, policy-related matters, including changes in government policies or regulatory frameworks, can adversely affect loan repayment. The culmination of these factors leads to a rise in bad loans and stressed assets.

The current NPA picture

The chart of gross non-performing assets (GNPAs) shows an interesting trend. The ratio of GNPA-to-assets tended to be quite low till 2014.

However, after that the government and the RBI decided to tighten rules that allowed banks to “evergreen loans” – a procedure through which a bank could extend a loan to a potential defaulter so as to enable them to not default.

This resulted in a sharp rise in GNPAs, which rose from a low of 3.8% in 2014 to a high 11.18% in 2018, according to CEIC data. As of the most recent quarter, GNPAs hit a low of 3.2%.

How the government and RBI brought down NPAs

To tackle the menace of NPAs, the government and the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) implemented various policies. These include tightening of norms, restructuring frameworks, and the introduction of the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC).

The IBC, in particular, was a game-changer, streamlining the process of dealing with insolvency and bankruptcy.

Banks, on their part, adopted diverse debt management strategies. Debt restructuring mechanisms provided temporary relief to borrowers, allowing them to get back on their feet.

Meanwhile, debt recovery processes were streamlined to improve the efficiency of asset recovery. Numerous examples highlight successful debt management strategies, where banks have managed to turn around NPAs into performing assets.

NPAs: The way forward

The impact of NPAs on banking institutions cannot be overstated. High levels of NPAs drain the financial health of banks, reducing their ability to lend and creating a ripple effect on the broader economy. It impacts the liquidity and profitability of banks, challenging their stability and sustainability.

In this digital age, technology and innovation are playing a pivotal role. Banks are increasingly using technology and data analytics for early detection and management of NPAs. Digital solutions in debt recovery and risk assessment are becoming more sophisticated, allowing banks to pre-emptively identify and mitigate risks.

Government interventions and support have also been crucial in addressing the NPA crisis. Measures like recapitalization of banks and the establishment of Asset Reconstruction Companies (ARCs) have helped in resolving NPAs. ARCs, in particular, have been instrumental in cleaning up banks' balance sheets by taking over bad loans.

In conclusion, effective debt management is the linchpin for the stability and health of the Indian banking sector. It's a delicate balancing act – managing NPAs while fostering growth and maintaining financial stability.

As the sector continues to evolve, the management of NPAs will remain a central theme, necessitating continuous innovation and robust regulatory frameworks.

R. Kalyanaraman
by R. Kalyanaraman

Chief Executive Officer

I am a sales guy at heart with utmost willingness to listen to people – customers, employees, competitors et al. Nothing gets me a bigger adrenaline rush than an interesting conversation with my customer!