By Subhojit Panda
On a bright sunny Tuesday afternoon, the Bhubaneswar Regional office of Kolkata-headquartered bank United Bank of India (UBI) was festooned with flowers and balloons. The bank which usually remains abuzz with customers throughout the year gave a pleasant look to anyone walking into the office. The occasion was special too. Ashok Kumar Pradhan, the first from Odisha to take charge as MD and CEO of the bank was to visit the office to interact with branch managers and customers. Prior to assuming charge, Pradhan served as the Executive Director in the Bank since February 18, 2017. As Pradhan entered the office premises, he was greeted by smiling senior officials, employees and staffs of UBI. At first, he held discussions with branch managers. This was followed by an interactive session with the customers on various aspects of banking. As promised earlier, we sat for a small conversation with Pradhan to know about his strategy and plans for UBI.
Pradhan took over as MD and CEO of UBI on October 1, 2018. Exuding confidence over the new responsibility, Pradhan said, “It is definitely fulfilling. The best part is that I am well acquainted with the work culture and employees at UBI. So it won’t be difficult enough to lead from the front. I am determined to take the bank to new heights in the coming days.” Pradhan sprang into action from the day he assumed the charge. He held elaborate discussions with the senior officials of the bank to chalk out future strategies for UBI.
Talking about his plans, Pradhan said he will implement the ‘4CN’ strategy- capital conservation, cost rationalization, controls and compliances, comfort of technology and NPA management. “First, we are watchful on our credit flow to other sectors that will depend on the company ratings. We are targeting to do business with the same amount of capital to earn good operating profit. Second, we are focusing on overhead cost reduction and rationalizing the existing manpower to reduce unnecessary expenses. Keeping in line with this, we have pruned the recruitment process till next financial year. Third, we are eyeing to improve the delivery time and enhancing the efficiency by sticking to well-defined SOPs that will uniformly benefit officials, employees and staffs at UBI. Fourth, we are investing heavily on technology for better flow of information from branch to head offices and vice versa. As far as NPA management is concerned, a stressed asset management vertical and special team for recovery (of bad loans) have been formed. Special powers have been given to the branches for one-time settlement (OTS). Also, our legal team has been sensitized so that large stressed assets cases are resolved amicably,” he stressed.
Pradhan hopes to bring down the total amount of non-performing assets (NPAs) of UBI significantly by the end of this fiscal. Some structural changes within the system through specialized set-ups have also been made to improve the overall efficiency of all centres across the country. That said, UBI is now focusing on expanding credit to agriculture, retail and MSME (micro, small & medium enterprises) sectors. The bank, Pradhan said, is working towards providing more loans to self-help groups besides extending personalized loans like car or housing loans to the customers. He says, “Our target is to bring down gross NPA ratio. Our main focus is on recovery. I am looking for a recovery of about Rs 3000 crore from the National Company Law Tribunal and another Rs 2000 crore through regular efforts like one-time settlement, asset sale and technical write-ups by end of the financial year. There is a need for fresh capital infusion and we have requested the Government of India in this regard.”
Pradhan is confident that the bank will emerge as a key player in Odisha. He feels the state has good potential when it comes to banking. Though the bank is restricted to branch out under RBI’s Prompt Correction Action (PCA) framework, Pradhan expects UBI to increase its market share in the future.
Notably, Pradhan was always inclined towards the banking sector during his student days. Though his father was a government servant, he felt that carving a career in banking or insurance sector best suited him. The enormous opportunities in banking in 80s lured him to start a career in this sector. Pradhan started his banking career with State Bank of Bikaner & Jaipur as Probationary Officer in July 1985 in Calcutta. Since then, he has worked in almost all verticals of banking across three other former SBI associate banks namely State Bank of Hyderabad, State Bank of Mysore and State Bank of Travancore. It was in February 2017 when Pradhan forayed into the field of public sector banks after he assumed the charge of Executive Director in United Bank of India.
Pradhan, born at Patkura in Kendrapada district, confesses that he is a workaholic. To him, work is worship. “For me, nothing is bigger than work. Work is meditation. Work is divine. Hence, giving your best and staying focused on goals is the only guiding principle of my life,” he said.
Pradhan is hopeful that by March 2019, the bank will be out of the PCA framework. “I believe with proper action plan and vision in place, nothing is impossible to achieve. I am sure UBI will rise to the occasion in the future and the tables will turn in our favour,” he concluded.