Joining Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Digital India programme, top lender ICICI Bank has launched its own 'digital village' project while adopting an entire village in Gujarat to provide services ranging from cashless banking to digitised school teaching.
The project was announced on Friday to coincide with the 60-year-celebration of the ICICI group's existence since the erstwhile ICICI was set up in 1955.
The Industrial Credit and Investment Corporation of India (ICICI) was originally set up as an Indian financial institution at the initiative of the World Bank, the Government of India and representatives of Indian industry to provide project financing to Indian businesses. It later got merged with ICICI Bank, which was set up in 1994.
The new 'digital village' project was announced in Modi's presence at a function held at the bank's headquarters here.
Speaking on the new initiative, ICICI Bank's MD and CEO Chanda Kochhar said the bank's activities in this digital village is not limited to providing cashless banking through digital platforms, but was focussed on use of technology in all aspects of every resident there.
This village, named Akodara, in Sabarkantha district of Gujarat incidentally happens to be the same place where Modi started Gujarat's first animal hostel in 2011 when he was the Chief Minister of the state.
The animal hostel, a concept conceived by Modi was envisaged as a place where the cattle of the village are kept and maintained together and have all necessary infrastructure facilities to take care of them.
"Through this Digital Village initiative, we are trying to set an example on how technology can change the lives of people," said Kochhar, who began her career with erstwhile ICICI in 1984 as a management trainee and has been instrumental in shaping the retail banking sector in India.
"One of the key points is providing cash-less banking services to every villager. But it is not only about making sure that the commercial life of a person goes ahead without cash, but we want to ensure that technology is there in every sphere of life.
"On banking we have digitised all our offerings - from opening an account to sale of goods to purchase of products including milk from the vendor or kirana stores. At the same time, we have digitised the school records, the Gujarat syllabus and even teaching methods and tools.
"This way, we are ensuring that the teaching can be much more effective and can be done without physical books or any other physical items in a school," she said.
Kochhar further said that ICICI is ensuring that all villagers have access to all the required data and information in a digital format.
"The villagers are very excited about the entire project and it is not only the residents of this particular village, but even those from adjoining areas are coming to us and sharing their excitement. The villagers are getting SMSs in Gujarati for their transactions and other digital services," she added.
Besides ATMs and other digital banking services, the bank has set up e-health, e-milk producer group, wi-fi connectivity and schools with digital black boards in the village, along with a host of other digital facilities.
Kochhar said the digital village has three themes - cashless, comprehensive and connected. The bank has opened 2 crore financial inclusion accounts in the past four years and would keep contributing to the nation's development.
"We will continue to bring new products and services, we have disbursed Rs 2.75 lakh crore of home loans in last fifteen years," Kochhar said.
Later, Modi dedicated the 'ICICI Digital Village' to the nation in presence of Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, Maharashtra Governor C Vidyasagar Rao and state Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, among others.
The bank said that the village will allow everyone there to use technology in various aspects of life including banking, payments, education and healthcare among others.
Here, financial transactions are cashless, text books are paperless, children read books on LED monitors and Tabs, patients can avail the facility of telemedicine and wi-fi connectivity is available across the village," it added.
"Our objective has been to show that technology can be used to eliminate barriers that separate rural and urban India. We hope that it will catalyse similar initiatives across the country and recreate rural India," Kochhar said.
She said that the bank accounts have been opened in the village without submitting physical documents and they are being serviced by a dedicated branch and an ATM.
"All adults in the village now have saving accounts," she said, while adding that the bank has also made the APMC mandi at Himmatnagar, the district headquarters, the first cashless mandi in Gujarat.
The village also has high speed broadband connectivity via wi-fi and farmers can access the latest information on prices of agricultural commodities on NCDEX. Besides, a website is being created for the village.
"The last 60 years have seen many changes in India and the Indian economy. ICICI as an institution has not only mirrored these changes, but has always sought to be a catalyst for positive change that gives more strength to our country and our fellow citizens," Kochhar said.
ICICI Group will complete 60 years on January 5, 2015.
Today, ICICI Bank is the largest private sector bank with consolidated total assets of $124.76 billion as on March 31, 2014.
Its subsidiaries include country's leading private sector insurance companies and among its largest securities brokerage firms, mutual funds and private equity firms.
It is present across 18 countries, including India.