Digital banking units dedicated to nation

Source: By Pranav Mukul: The Indian Express

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on 16 October 2022 dedicated 75 digital banking units to the nation, taking forward an announcement that was made in the 2022-23 Union Budget by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman. Speaking virtually at the event, Modi said that the digital banking units will “further financial inclusion” and “significantly improve banking experience for the citizens”.

What was the initial announcement?

In the Budget for 2022-23, the Finance Minister said: “In recent years, digital banking, digital payments and fintech innovations have grown at a rapid pace in the country. The government is continuously encouraging these sectors to ensure that the benefits of digital banking reach every nook and corner of the country in a consumer-friendly manner. Taking forward this agenda, and to mark 75 years of our independence, it is proposed to set up 75 Digital Banking Units (DBUs) in 75 districts of the country by Scheduled Commercial Banks”.

What are these DBUs?

In April this year, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) announced the guidelines for DBUs, following the report of a working group of the Indian Banks Association (IBA). A digital banking unit is a specialised fixed point business unit or hub, housing a certain minimum digital infrastructure for delivering digital banking products and services as well as servicing existing financial products and services digitally in self-service mode at any time.

Who will set up these DBUs?

Commercial banks (other than regional rural banks, payment banks and local area banks) with past digital banking experience are permitted to open DBUs in tier 1 to tier 6 centres, unless otherwise specifically restricted, without having the need to take permission from the RBI in each case.

What services will be provided by these units?

As per the RBI, each DBU must offer certain minimum digital banking products and services. Such products should be on both liabilities and assets side of the balance sheet of the digital banking segment. Digitally value-added services to conventional products would also qualify as such.

The services include saving bank accounts under various schemes, current accounts, fixed deposit and recurring deposit accounts, digital kits for customers, mobile banking, Internet banking, debit cards, credit cards, and mass transit system cardss, digital kits for merchants, UPI QR codes, BHIM Aadhaar and point of sale (PoS).

Other services include making applications for and onboarding customers for identified retail, MSME or schematic loans. This may also include end-to-end digital processing of such loans, starting from online application to disbursal and identified government-sponsored schemes that are covered under the national portal.

How will these DBUs compete with fintechs?

Currently, fintechs operating as neobanks offer digital banking services but they do so in partnership with non-banking financial companies (NBFCs). Some of the neobanks offering services in India are Jupiter, Fi Money, Niyo, Razorpay X.

Compared to conventional banks with online and mobile banking facilities, neobanks or digital banks excel at product innovation and offer far better digital solutions. However, given the arrangement they have currently with NBFCs or scheduled banks to conduct the actual banking part, some in the industry have pegged these digital banks as “glorified digital distribution companies”.