SBI gears up to celebrate its 200 years

Himalayan News Service

New Delhi, June 2:

Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh travels to Mumbai on Saturday to kick off year-long celebrations to mark 200 years of the country’s largest commercial bank, the State Bank of India (SBI). The prime minister will also inaugurate an exhibition tracing the history of the bank that goes back to the first decade of the 19th century with the setting up of the Bank of Calcutta on June 2, 1806, in Kolkata. Finance minister P Chidambaram, who leaves for Mumbai a day earlier to meet with chief executives of state-run commercial banks, is also taking part in the celebrations, SBI officials said. The Mumbai-headquartered bank, that has a presence in 31 countries through 52 offices, is now focussing on becoming one of Asia’s top five banks by 2008 with major overseas expansion by way of acquisitions. “We are looking at small or medium-sized banks, covering areas where we have no or low presence,” SBI chairman A K Purwar said.

The bank, which is 59 per cent owned by the Reserve Bank of India and has in its group seven associate banks, wants to take its presence to 36 countries with 70 offices. In its original form, the Bank of Calcutta was the first joint stock banking firm set up by the British and sponsored by the then government of Bengal. Three years later, it was renamed the Bank of Bengal on Jan 2, 1809. Together with the Bank of Bombay and the Bank of Madras, set up respectively on April 15, 1840, and July 1, 1843, the Bank of Bengal was at the forefront of banking operations in India till their amalgamation as the Imperial Bank of India on Jan 27, 1921.

During its three-and-a-half decades of existence, the Imperial Bank recorded an impressive growth in terms of branches, reserves, deposits, investments and advances - the increases in some cases amounting to more than six-fold. When India attained freedom in 1947, the Imperial Bank had a capital base of Rs 118.5 million, advances of Rs 2.75 billion, a network of 172 branches and over 200 sub-offices spread across the country. On July 1, 1955, an act of parliament created the State Bank of India and more than a quarter of the resources of the Indian banking system, including those of the Imperial Bank, were passed on under its direct control. Five years later the State Bank of India to take over eight former state-associated banks as its subsidiaries. Currently, the State Bank group, with seven associates, commands about a fourth of the market in India and operates more than 13,000 branches in the country. The bank’s profits alone amounted to around $1 billion in 2004-05. The SBI recently rewarded

shareholders to mark two centuries of operations and profitability.