Usha Ananthasubramanian, the latest newsmaker in one of the biggest banking frauds in India, has probably seen the most ups and downs in the latter part of her 36-year old banking career. She has been named by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in the charge sheet relating to the Rs 13,000 crore-plus fraud at PNB unearthed in mid-February.
Set for superannuation on September 30, 2018, the former chief executive officer of Punjab National Bank (PNB) and current managing director of Allahabad Bank, could be on her way out much earlier.
After the charge sheet, the finance ministry has directed both Allahabad Bank and PNB’s boards to “divest” the powers and responsibilities of those named in it.
Allahabad Bank has called for a board meeting to decide on the fate of its top serving executive after her name appeared in the CBI charge sheet. The allegation against Ananthasubramanian is that she failed to comply with the Reserve Bank of India's (RBI) circulars issued by the Society for Worldwide Inter-bank Financial Telecommunications (SWIFT) control system in 2016. SWIFT was allegedly used by PNB officials to fraudulently issue Letters of Undertaking (LoUs), which were used by Modi to seek loans from foreign bank branches.
Usha was recently also grilled by the CBI on February 27 in connection with the case.
Apart from Ananthasubramanian, the CBI has also filed charges against two current PNB executive directors KV Brahmaji Rao and Sanjiv Sharan and other officials of the bank.
Usha Ananthasubramanian’s banking career
Ananthasubramanian (57), was at the helm of PNB from August 2015 to May 2017 after serving as an Executive Director at PNB from July 2011 to November 2013.
She took charge of PNB at a time when the bank was struggling under a heap of bad loans while being under the RBI’s scrutiny for deterioration in asset quality.
At that time, Ananthasubramanian took an aggressive stance on PNB’s non-performing assets (NPAs) and wilful defaulters. She also refused to take a haircut on loans to the notorious Vijay Mallya’s Kingfisher Airlines.
Last year, she initiated an NPA-recovery style called "Gandhi-giri", inspired from the famous Bollywood movie series Munnabhai, by naming and shaming defaulters, greeting the loan defaulters with flowers and in a peaceful protest in front of the offices of multiple borrowers, saying ‘Get Well Soon Financially'. PNB continues its recovery efforts under this mechanism and despite managing to get recoveries through it, NPAs still remain a concern for the bank.
However, soon she was moved to lead Bharatiya Mahila Bank, India’s first and only government-owned women’s bank, which got merged with State Bank of India in April 2017.
After that, in May she was moved to Allahabad Bank as the MD and CEO and completed a year at the state-owned bank on May 5.
She holds two Master’s degrees --- one in Statistics from the University of Madras and the other in Ancient Indian Culture from University of Mumbai.
The statistics degree helped her get her first job as a specialist – an actuarial assistant – in the country’s largest insurer Life Insurance Corporation of India (LIC).
Ananthasubramanian started her banking career in 1982 with Bank of Baroda as a Specialist Officer and was closely associated with a transformation project of the bank including rebranding and innovative HR initiatives.
Early this year, Ananthasubramanian became the first woman to be elected as the chairman of the Indian Banks' Association, the 71-year old industry body for banks.
In 2016, she had also been ranked 19th most powerful women in business by Fortune India.
At this juncture, Ananthasubramanian is at the most critical phase of her career which may lead to more questions relating to corporate governance and less on the bank’s performance that she may have to answer.