IDBI Bank Privatisation: Much-needed Move, but at What Price?
Nearly 17 months after the Cabinet committee on economic affairs granted an in-principle approval, the government has finally invited potential bidders to submit expressions of interest, by end of December, to acquire a majority stake in IDBI Bank. We have already paid too high a price to keep the Bank afloat with repeated bailouts by the exchequer and later the Life Insurance Corporation of India Ltd (LIC). It is time to stop.
It is clear that the government is determined to divest IDBI Bank early next year, but will it get a suitable price? As managing director of the International Monetary Fund, Kristalina Georgieva said recently, India remains ‘a bright spot’ in an otherwise dark horizon for countries around the world. So the adequately cleaned-up IDBI Bank, with its network of 1,884 domestic branches and over 3,400 ATMs, should attract investor interest, since bank licences will continue to be scarce. The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has announced ‘on tap’ licensing for universal banks and small banks; but notice how it has found six of the 11 applications ‘not suitable’ and the remaining five are still ‘under examination’. So the big question about the IDBI Bank divestment is: At what price will it be offered and what other concessions and assurances will be demanded by potential investors, who are not industry houses?
LIC, which obediently came to IDBI Bank’s rescue with repeated infusion of funds after RBI placed it under prompt corrective action in 2017, is a key player here, but won’t be the decision-maker. LIC invested Rs21,600 crore for its 51% holding at Rs61 per share by 2018. In 2019, it pumped in another Rs4,793 crore to help write off bad loans. This was in addition Rs21,157 crore injected since 2015, as mentioned by finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman to a news agency just after an additional Rs4,557 crore had been pumped into the Bank. After raising a further Rs1,435 crore through qualified institutional placement (QIP), IDBI Bank was finally pulled out of PCA, making it suitable for privatisation. The cost of doing this adds up to a stupendous Rs49,000 crore, without taking into account the sale of valuable legacy investments by the Bank. But more about that later.
Privatisation is essential for IDBI Bank so that it stops being a burden on LIC if its financial performance begins to slide again. Given the Bank’s history over nearly two decades, this is a likely scenario. Moreover, LIC, which went public in May 2020 by offering shares at Rs949, has already disappointed investors. The stock listed below the issue price and has continued to decline to Rs609 (19th October). LIC’s investment in IDBI Bank at Rs61 is also in the red and currently trading at around Rs43.45, despite the touted turnaround. A bank union has asserted that any sale below LIC’s investment price and potential dividend over the past two years (no dividend has been declared) would be unfair to policyholders who were actively wooed to subscribe to the issue. Privatisation of IDBI Bank will clearly get the albatross off LIC’s neck and boost investor sentiment for the insurance major. The question is: At what price?
Divestment Plans
LIC holds 49.24% and the government 45.48% (total 94%) and would jointly divest 60.72% stake. The public holds the balance 5.28%. Despite the predominantly public sector ownership, IDBI Bank was declared a private bank in 2019 when it became a subsidiary of LIC. In reality, the journey since its transformation from a powerful apex development finance institution (DFI) to a bank has been nothing short of disastrous.
It was in 2004 that the IDBI Act was repealed and a new company called IDBI Ltd incorporated. The original DFI was merged into it and immediately thereafter, IDBI Bank, a wholly-owned subsidiary, was merged with IDBI Ltd. The merged entity was renamed IDBI Bank in May 2008. This was the relatively easy part. Even before it could find its feet, IDBI Bank chose to acquire the loss-making United Western Bank (UWB) which had been placed under a moratorium by RBI. This added to the bad loans and led to serious integration issues, instead of providing benefits of organic growth.
Over the next decade, IDBI Bank racked up more bad loans and losses but was kept afloat through bailouts from the exchequer with no improvement in accountability. In February 2016, G Manthran, a banker, wrote in Moneylife that “the rot has spread faster in IDBI Bank due to too much easy money from the government for too long without any heads rolling.”
After multiple bailouts, IDBI Bank posted a net profit of Rs1,359 crore in FY20-21 compared to a loss of Rs12,887 crore in the previous year. It has also provided for 96.9% of its bad loans, making it attractive for a new suitor. The business portfolio has also been re-jigged with a focus on growing retail loans and mortgage financing rather than corporate lending; but the real story behind the turnaround is only the massive capital infusion and the steady sale of valuable investments.
The Bank got a windfall return by selling its substantial holding in the National Stock Exchange (NSE). It also divested its investment in NSDL e-Governance Infrastructure, Ageas Federal Life Insurance Company Ltd, Asset Reconstruction Company (India) Ltd, Stock Holding Corporation of India Ltd (SHCIL), as well as real estate assets. The Bank hopes to hive off a further Rs12,000 crore of bad loans to the National Asset Reconstruction Company (NARCL) and reduce its gross bad loans to about 14%. Again, is this enough to get the right price and attract high-quality investors?
Right Decisions
The good news is that the government seems to be doing a few things right. The preliminary information memorandum has also ( ) focused on the quality of investors and has sought legal declarations that they have not been convicted by a court or have adverse orders against them for serious offences. This automatically discourages those who are not ‘fit and proper’ to control public savings deposited in a bank.
In contrast to Yes Bank’s initial bailout,  the finance ministry has held road-shows and engaged with large foreign investors, such as TPG Capital, Carlyle Group and Fairfax Financial Holding, controlled by the Canadian billionaire Prem Watsa. During the Yes Bank discussions, some foreign institutional investors had walked out because they weren’t getting answers to some legitimate queries and concerns—this remains an issue this time as well.
The difference is that RBI and the government appear to be more decisive and practical, having shed some pointless reservations. This is due to the successful turnaround of Yes Bank, led by Prashant Kumar from the State Bank of India, and sale of the bankrupt Lakshmi Vilas Bank to DBS India, a subsidiary of the Development Bank of Singapore (DBS).
While IDBI Bank’s chequered history and long culture of poor accountability will remain a concern, another big worry for potential investors is that the government and LIC will remain substantial shareholders, with a combined stake of 34%, and can block special resolutions. Potential bidders may demand additional support or assurances from RBI, LIC and the government to allay concerns about interference in management; but they need to be addressed effectively.
The bottom-line is that IDBI needs to be privatised. There is no option. The cost of interminable bailouts is just too high and the only beneficiaries are large corporate defaulters who are sponging away the money that is badly needed for public health and education.
6 months ago
lic money is not GOVT money. All the private insurance players want that govt should treat lic as par with private companies. When time come to stabilize financial system india it's only policy holders money of lic is used by government
7 months ago
Very valid questions. If Yes Bank model of bailout succeeded, why not follow the same model? But as you rightly mentioned, this time, the Government made the right first moves. Tax payers' money and investors' money of nearly Rs.49000cr will be down the drain?
7 months ago
with so much money of LIC down the drain , it seems toy of Govt functionary no one will touch at Govt pricing .. Another AIR India 1 0 year plan
7 months ago
Burdenocrats love power without accountability will not release choke-hold over public assets . Modiji has tough job. Modiji i find most to top post holders have feudal mindset want to milk public asset for personal gains
7 months ago
Agreed that LIC rescued IDBI Bank. But then, considering the beating the LIC stock has taken, who's gonna rescue LIC in the near future? With productivity dwindling and the ageing personnel of LIC the situation is truly pathetic. One visit to any LIC Branch is sufficient to note the quality of management, the (in)efficiency of the employees and the 'mujhe kaun poochnewaala' attitude at large; this organisation looks like any State Government Office if not worse. High time all the PSUs are just effaced off the face of the Indian economy. It is then, and ONLY then, we can see the reality of Rs. 5 trillion economy that our FM boasts about.
7 months ago
Aa a Development Financial Institution it issued loans into those segment as per govt directions. IDBI Bank served the purpose of nation building and issued credit to those risky segment required for nation building. It failed as if it was destined to fail because it was never a commercial bank for profit, and neither the political scenario was an enabler.
Replied to ahmed.ayaj.49 comment 7 months ago
Dear ahmed.ayaj.49 when there were DFIs like IDBI, IFCI, & ICICI in the 1980s India was a under developed country. The intentions of the Government was good in promoting such DFIs. However, over a period of time (thanks to our dirty, stinking and corrupt politicians & bureaucrats) these wonderful institutions were made to bleed on the streets. Its not about the institutions per se, its the attitude of the government machinery which ruined the prospects of these institutions. Having commenced my career in the banking industry since 1980 I knew how much these institutions were contributing to the growth of our economy. However, sheer selfishness, politicking, back biting, boot-licking and corruption squandered the wherewithal of these giant institutions. Today they are bleeding head to foot like a victim of a grave accident. Times have changed and so do expectations of the stake holders. So, dont shed crocodile tears. Though I was from a PSU bank, today I will the first one to vote of privatisation considering the decadence in values in the industry.
Replied to ahmed.ayaj.49 comment 7 months ago
You really have no idea about IDBI. In the article there is a link "February 2016". Read it first.
Replied to ahmed.ayaj.49 comment 7 months ago
You need to do some homework on this -- unless you are writing motivated stuff on behalf of digital marketers. I have been writing on the bad loans made by IDBI and ICICI even as development finance institutions since the 1990s--- series of them -- videocon, steel companies. As them what happened to Rajinder steel - the guys just fled the country - among the first of such industrialists! So don't come here to defend what is wrong. As an Indian the bailout figure of Rs49,000 crore ought to create outrage among anyone -- YOU FIND IT WORTH DEFENDING??
Replied to sucheta comment 6 months ago
Today SBI is lending to Adani for acquiring huge assets. What if he fly out of the country with political support case of malaya happened, Will SBI be responsible for that loss? Government has so much control over the PSBs that they use them to fund to the favourites.....and for current BJP govt we all know who is the favourite. We are doing PMswanidhi,kcc and other loss making business of government for a long is chronic that govt gives these loss making targets to IDBI and other psbs. When Govt schemes makes banks weak then why not govt should infuse ?? What's wrong in that. Public gets benefitted by the funding done at PSBs. it's a cycle which goes on. Sitting outside and watching things from outside is different and helping poor and servicing people with full heart is different. Government at this point of time is supporting Adani with SBIs money. Similar happened to IDBI when during consortium loans Government always asked IDBI to be the lead and as a result made losses. Steel sector and cement sector are one of those. It is the responsibility of Government to pay for the losses banks made due to their political interference. Why would us...the PSU bankers who fought huge competition , spent years in preparation for PO posts suffer due to this Government intervention? Ma'am it's of our interest also. What justice is this ? We had good rank in the exam that we would have got any other PSU bank whether canara, pnb etc. Despite being top ranker we chose IDBI because of its legacy as a DFI. It's injustice to IDBI officers while other loss making PSBs like dena vijaya united bank boi cboi weren't privatise but it's IDBI which is suffering alone.
Kamal Garg
Replied to sucheta comment 7 months ago
Figure of Rs. 49,000 crores is definitely outrageous but then the way forward is to sell it, privatise it and hand it over to the private entrepreneurs. Even, in my view, why LIC should retain some 34% stake after sell off. It should sell completely or at least to allow more than 76% private holding so that the new owner can decide what to do, how to do as per the banking regulations act under the overall control of RBI as in case of any other private sector bank.
7 months ago
Dear fellow Indian tax payers ,get ready to pay for the next bail out. Your cooperation is appreciated
7 months ago
burdenocrats will keep on putting alternatives, incentive, rules , regulations, laws and bye laws political consideration to choke the process
7 months ago
Very timely and incisive article. The bank is still a laggard in terms of NIM, and RoE, and the bank so-called turnaround is a joke - a costly joke since the top management has pocketed fat bonus. It is hoped that the government and LIC would understand true value of its equity, not fritter away the chance to sell the stake. G. Manthran's February 2016 issues do not seem to have been addressed even a bit, so far.
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