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Telco Bharti Airtel to apply for payment bank licence

Top mobile operator Bharti Airtel on Thursday said it will apply for a payment bank licence, while private sector lender Kotak Mahindra Bank will have a 19.9 per cent stake in the proposed banking venture.

Airtel said it will apply to RBI for the licence, final norms for which were issued by the central bank in November 2014 and applications have been invited till February 2.

Airtel’s proposed tie-up with Kotak is the first formal partnership announced by an existing lender and a non-bank entity aspiring to get into the space.

Earlier, Axis Bank had said it intends to tie-up with a new applicant and was talking to a few interested entities.

The payments banks are aimed to encourage savings and help with the remittances, although RBI has put a a cap on the stake which can be held by commercial banks in such entities. Existing non-bank lenders, prepaid payment instrument issuers, corporate business correspondents, mobile telephone companies and super market chains have been allowed by the RBI to set up payment banks, which would not be have the entire range of banking services offered by full-fledged banks.

Airtel said its wholly owned subsidiary Airtel M Commerce Services Limited (AMSL) is seeking to convert its existing prepaid payment instrument license into a payments bank license to be issued by the Reserve Bank of India.

Subject to grant of a license to AMSL and all regulatory approvals, Kotak Mahindra Bank Limited (Kotak) will acquire 19.90 per cent stake in AMSL as an investor, it added. AMSL currently offers mobile money services under the brand name ‘Airtel Money’. “The RBI guidelines provide an exciting and challenging opportunity for an entity like us to contribute in a meaningful manner to drive financial inclusion,” Bharti Airtel MD and CEO (India and South Asia) Gopal Vittal said. On the tie-up with Kotak, Vittal added, “Kotak’s banking expertise coupled with Airtel’s strength in telecom will help deliver financial services to millions of unbanked citizens across the country.”

Kotak Mahindra Bank’s Joint MD Dipak Gupta said, “Payment banks have the potential to leapfrog India’s financial inclusion agenda. Basic but critical services such as small savings accounts, remittances, etc will bring a large number of low income households and small businesses under the formal banking network.”

He further said that Bharti Airtel’s technology, physical infrastructure and distribution network, when combined with Kotak’s banking expertise will be a “win-win” for both.

As per RBI norms, those seeking to set up payment banks would need minimum Rs 100 crore of capital and fulfil the necessary ‘fit and proper’ criteria, among other conditions.

The payment banks will initially be restricted to holding a maximum balance of Rs 1 lakh per individual customer.
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