The Preferred Banker

The Preferred Banker

Kaku Nakhate has made India the most profitable market in the Asia-Pacific for BoAML.

Kaku Nakhate, 50, President & Country Head, Bank of America Merrill Lynch (Photo: Rachit Goswami) Kaku Nakhate, 50, President & Country Head, Bank of America Merrill Lynch (Photo: Rachit Goswami)

After being housed for over three decades in Express Towers at Mumbai's Nariman Point, Bank of America Merill Lynch (BoAML) shifted its India headquarters to Bandra Kurla Complex in June. The swankier office for Kaku Nakhate and her team will cost the bank substantially more. "BoAML could have put any figure and the lease at Express Tower could have been renewed. But they opted for BKC where they are paying double the rent," says a senior industry official on condition of anonymity.

The global bosses of BoAML, the corporate and investment banking division of Bank of America, wouldn't mind. After all, 2015 has been a record year for the bank in India, with the country emerging as the most profitable market in the Asia-Pacific region for it. All credit goes to Nakhate, President & Country Head at BoAML, who has made her comeback into the list of Business Today's Most Powerful Women. "Despite the global downturn, it was really a good year for us. In fact, the past five years have been a very pleasant journey with every year better than the previous one. I would say the tough times are over," says Nakhate, who has been with the bank for the past six years.

A no-nonsense boss and a tough task master who puts in 16 to 18 hours of work daily, she is known to be a micro manager. "My role today is to bring people together, fire fight, solve problems. My job is more of assisting."

Nakhate's friends and colleagues believe she has evolved as a person as well as a manager over the years. "Many feel having a hands-on approach to everything she does is a negative trait, but given her nature, she likes to get to the root of the issue. In this process, she connects with every person from the top to the very bottom of the pyramid. Personal connect has been her greatest strength," says Avinash Gupta, a friend and ex-employee of BoAML who has been associated with Nakhate for over two decades.

When she took over, Nakhate was quick to change the way business was done at BoAML. At the same time the global transaction service (GTS) business was also revived at BoAML. In the past five years, GTS - including cash management, trade finance and treasury solutions - is the largest and fastest growing business of the bank and accounts for one-fourth of revenues. "When the going is good, investment banking is good, but it's also bad when the going is bad. Therefore, to have a strong fixed income and strong transaction business is necessary as they are business-cycle neutral. Cash management and trade finance is something that companies would need irrespective of cycles," says Nakhate

The focus for Nakhate has been on improving the profitability of BoAML in India. "India is not a fee paying country and for us focus has been on fees and for that you have to add value so that the client will pay the fees. Therefore, whatever deals we have done, we have taken the highest share in the fee," she says. BoAML has been involved in most of the large marquee M&A and capital markets transactions in 2015. In the process, she has deliberately given up deals that did not meet her fee threshold limit. In 2015, BoAML reported a high double-digit growth both in revenues and profit. "In 2015, we also registered highest ever profit-margin growth," says Nakhate.

The other focus area for Nakhate is to proactively sell the India story to global investors and communicate how the country is better placed than other emerging markets. She has already made several trips to the US. As a result, the bank has attracted several mid-sized US companies to India, according to Nakhate. "My goal and vision for the bank is to grow consistently and be in the universal banking space," says Nakhate. "We are not going into retail in the forseeable near future. We may miss out something but that's a global call and whenever we want to, we can always acquire."

Nakhate knows how to unwind - from watching saas-bahu serials on television to playing video games like Candy Crush and Angry Birds. "You should sleep properly. Tension will always be there in your life. Switching off from the job you are doing is tough, but you really have to unwind," she says.

Be it games or cracking financial deals, Nakhate doesn't like losing out. Her ability to learn from and avoid past mistakes has made her the preferred banker to many and one of the most powerful business women.