Back in the Saddle

The 47-year-old Vishakha Mulye, who started as a corporate banker at the erstwhile financial institution ICICI Ltd, recently completed two productive stints at the group's subsidiaries - ICICI Lombard General Insurance and ICICI Venture.

By Anand Adhikari  
Thursday, September 29, 2016

She is back in familiar territory after a hiatus of close to a decade. The 47-year-old Vishakha Mulye, who started as a corporate banker at the erstwhile financial institution ICICI Ltd, recently completed two productive stints at the group's subsidiaries - ICICI Lombard General Insurance and ICICI Venture. "ICICI Lombard completed my experience on the retail side," smiles Mulye. She was later dispatched to the group's private equity arm, ICICI Venture, where there was a leadership crisis as Renuka Ramnath, the woman who built the venture business, abruptly exited the group along with a few others.

In early 2009, the global financial meltdown was creating ripples. Mulye not only managed to stabilise the business by creating a leadership pipeline but also built the foundation for future growth. "The venture business is all about raising money, nurturing the investee companies and divesting profitably," says Mulye, who helped the company grow its assets under management by about $1.5 billion between 2009 and 2015. "The venture experience gave me a different perspective, especially of the equity market," says Mulye, who is now back with parent ICICI Bank as Executive Director since January.

The last job she handled at the bank was of Group CFO before she was sent to ICICI Lombard. At Rs 2,52,811 crore, the size of the bank's wholesale banking is the largest among private sector banks. The clients alone are in excess of 6,100. It didn't take Mulye long to settle down at the job. "My focus clearly would be to concentrate on the quality of growth in the portfolio and also improve the quality of earnings," she says. Mulye plans to achieve this by focusing on better-rated clients and acquiring the greater proportion of business from these corporates. "After the sudden exit of Zarin Daruwala, ICICI needed an experienced corporate hand to fill the vacancy. Vishakha now has to prove herself," says a former ICICI banker.

Mulye also wants to focus on non-credit income by using non-capital-consuming sources. The idea is to increase the wallet share from existing clients through non-fund-based activities. She is identifying business opportunities in non-core areas like advisory for various investment banking transactions, services sector, including e-commerce, and exploiting syndication opportunities. "We would also like to leverage technology to make corporate banking products available on tablets, mobiles and the Internet," says Mulye.

This mother of two is closely looking at the macro parameters for green shoots in the economy. "There are good opportunities in the roads sector. We are also seeing refinancing opportunities. There is also good potential in services, consumers and financial sector," says Mulye. In fact, capital is not a constraint as the bank has a comfortable capital adequacy ratio of 16.22 per cent. Mulye was actually part of the team when ICICI Bank under K.V. Kamath mobilised $7 billion through equity offering and another $12 billion from the international market. Being an ICICI banker for decades, Mulye has a good rapport with CEOs. She is known for her skills in strategy building, treasury operations, debt market and structured debt solutions. In fact, her ICICI Venture experience gave her a good exposure of equity or the understanding of issues as a shareholder or stakeholder in a company.

There are challenges, too, for Mulye. She was out from the bank for a long time. Her comeback has come at a time when the operating environment is challenging with high corporate leverage, lower capacity utilisation and deteriorating asset quality across industry. There is much greater engagement required with companies, especially in advising and supporting them at these tough times. "Corporates are focusing on improving their efficiencies and also willing to divest their businesses to deleverage," says Mulye. "They are working on both sides (improving operating efficiency and also divesting). It's a good change we have seen."

Asset quality is yet another challenge facing the banking industry. The bank reported a gross NPA of 5.82 per cent at the end of March 2016, as against 3.78 per cent a year ago. The bank has set up a dedicated group for enhancing its ability to detect early warning signals. This would help in proactive monitoring of the portfolio. "We are using analytics, early warning signals and taking corrective action," says Mulye, who initially had two brief foreign banking stints at ANZ Grindlays and Deutsche Bank.

She says the overall macro situation is looking good. "But we have to keep a watch on exchange rate and commodity prices," says Mulye, whose new stint depends a lot on the revival of the credit offtake in corporate banking.

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