The first branch of Unity Small Finance Bank, the joint venture between Centrum Group and Bharatpe, will be up and running shorty from the city with Rs 1,500 crore growth capital and a Rs 1,300-crore loan book, according to a top official of one of the promoter groups.
On October 12, the Reserve Bank gave the final licence to Unity Small Finance Bank, a consortium floated by Centrum Financial Services and Resilient Innovations, an arm of the digital lending platform Bharatpe, four months after giving it an in-principle nod to establish a small finance bank and then takeover the scam-ridden Punjab and Maharashtra Cooperative (PMC) Bank, which was under direct RBI control since mid 2019.
In June, the Reserve Bank had given the in-principle approval for the 12th small finance bank licence to the consortium provided its takes over PMC, the city-based cooperative lender under restrictions for more than two years after a massive over Rs 7,000-crore fraud.
“Our first branch is ready for formal launch anytime now at the headquarters of Centrum Group in Mumbai. We will lunch our services with an initial capital of Rs 1,500 crore and the operations will begin with Rs 1,300 crore loan book,” Suhail Sameer, chief executive of Bharatpe, which is the equal equity partner in the proposed Unity Finance Bank, along with the Centrum Group, told PTI.
The Rs 1,300-crore loan book will come from the existing credit business of the Centrum Group (MSME and microfinance businesses) which will merge Centrum Capital with the proposed small finance bank. These two verticals have a loan book of Rs 1,300 crore.
Having received the final licence from the RBI last week, the plan over the next 12 months is to get the bank operationalised and start launching payments, lending as well as deposit products, he said.
Asked about the launch date, he said they are working towards a formal launch shortly. It should happen this calendar year itself and the formal opening the branding will happen soon. “We’ll predominantly be a digital bank but definitely will have some branches, too,” he added.
About the top management, Sameer said the JV already has on board former SBI chairman Rajnish Kumar as the chairman of the board. Some of the senior management professionals will come in from Centrum, and a few others have been hired from top banks, leading small finance banks, as well as NBFCs.
Bharatpe was co-founded by Ashneer Grover and Shashvat Nakrani in 2018 to help small merchants get finance easily. In 2018, it launched the first UPI interoperable QR code, the first zero MDR payment acceptance service and in 2020, it launched the only zero MDR card acceptance terminals BharatSwipe.
Currently serving over 70 lakh merchants across 140 cities, Bharatpe is a leader in UPI offline transactions, processing over 11 crore transactions per month with an annualized transaction value of over USD 10 billion.
The grant of banking licence to Unit USFB sets the stage for RBI to place in the public domain a draft scheme of amalgamation of PMC Bank with the new SFB. The last step will be the government’s sanction for the scheme. It is for the first time that two partners are uniting equally to build a bank.
Jaspal Bindra, executive chairman of the Centrum Group had said on the day the RBI gave the final approval, that Unity SFB will be operational in the next few weeks.
While granting the in-principle nod on June 18, the RBI had said the approval was accorded in specific pursuance to Centrum’s February 1 offer expressing interest to take over PMC Bank.
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