For any corporate banker, the most difficult task is faster resolution of stressed assets. Vishakha Mulye, 48, has been successful in some of the biggest resolutions in India's corporate history. UltraTech's acquisition of Jaiprakash Group's cement assets and Russian oil major Rosneft's purchase of Essar Oil have sharply reduced stress on the country's largest private sector bank. The credit for this goes to Mulye, who became the head of wholesale banking 18 months ago. "You need to be focused on the deal and just be persistent," says Mulye.
Insiders say a large deal always involves ups and downs due to complex regulations, multiplicity of stakeholders and jurisdiction issues. "Our resolution strategy has been to monetise assets and restructure debt to make it more sustainable in the long run," says Mulye. The size of ICICI Bank's wholesale banking group is Rs 2.5 lakh crore, bigger than many mid-sized Indian banks. In fact, few private banks run large lending books, as most focus on working capital loans. Mulye, however, is scouting for opportunities in lending to companies. In a challenging environment where companies are overleveraged, Mulye is focusing on building a quality loan portfolio by targeting highly-rated corporate clients. "Our incremental disbursement, almost 80 per cent and more, is to top-rated corporates," she says. The incremental demand is coming from new capital build-up, working capital needs and corporate actions, especially M&As.
Mulye is actively going after refinancing by underwriting the loan as well as helping companies raise money from bonds. This is because falling interest rates bring refinancing opportunities as companies shift to banks offering the best rates. One reason PSU banks are struggling is drastic reduction in interest rates and existing clients insisting lower rates. Here, Mulye is stepping in with syndication facility. The offering ranges from loan to placing commercial papers and bonds. "Syndication is now the core part of our strategy," says Mulye. Syndication brings risk-free fee business without consuming capital. "Our strategy is to increase the wallet share," she says.
Mulye is also paying a lot of attention to non-credit income such as collection, payments, current accounts, forex services, etc, which is paying rich dividend. As a result, the share of non-credit income in wholesale banking has risen substantially in the last one year.
Going forward, experts are predicting competition from the four-five large merged PSU banks. "SBI was already there. I think more competition will be good for the industry," says Mulye. She says the bank will continue to focus on its strengths - large capital base, ability to underwrite big loans and relationship with top-rated corporate clients. And whenever the economy picks up pace, Mulye's bank is ready to scale up lending. "Green shoots are already visible. The first phase of growth will be led by PSU banks and government spending. The private sector momentum should follow," she says.