FACELIFT FOR FINANCIAL INCLUSION ON CARDS
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is set to give a big boost to the ongoing financial inclusion drive by unveiling a comprehensive programme, to be announced at the Red Fort in his address to the nation on the Independence Day. The proposed comprehensive financial inclusion programme envisaging insurance and pension cover, apart from a default cover for lenders is likely to envisage opening 15 crore more bank accounts, 12 crore of which will be in rural areas over next four years, according to a note sent to the Indian Banks Association (IBA) by financial services Secretary G S Sandhu. According to the note, Modi's new comprehensive financial inclusion programme has three major shifts from the one pursued by the previous government. First, the earlier efforts at financial inclusion had villages as the unit for coverage while the present plan focuses on coverage of households. Secondly, only rural areas have been the focus so far while both rural and urban areas have been included now, says the ministry note. Thirdly, the present plan is proposed to be implemented as a 'mission mode' project. It envisages a comprehensive coverage of all excluded households by a six-pillar approach in two phases, according to the note. The first phase of the programme, which begins from August 15 this year and ends August 14, 2015 will provide basic banking accounts with overdraft facility of Rs 5,000 and RuPay debit card with inbuilt accident insurance cover of Rs 1 lakh and creation of credit guarantee fund for coverage of defaults in overdraft accounts, according to the ministry. The second phase, which will begin on August 13, 2015 and conclude by August 14, 2018, will cover micro-insurance and unorganised sector pension schemes like Swavlamban. When contacted, IBA said already state-owned banks, insurers and regulators are working overtime to ensure a smooth kick-start. "We are currently busy chalking out the modalities of implementation of the project, which will be implemented in the entire country after it is declared by the Prime Minister on August 15," IBA Chairman K R Kamath, who is also the Chairman of Punjab National Bank, told PTI. It's a good scheme as it envisages going beyond the geographical boundaries and promises of connecting each and every household, he said, adding more than being commercially viable, it is important to link every household with the banking system."Through this programme, we are looking at providing two savings bank account facility—one each for the husband and the wife—to all those households which not served by the banking system so far. "Of course, these basic banking accounts will come with some in-built overdraft facility and RuPay debit cards with an inbuilt accident cover of Rs 1 lakh. We are awaiting the final announcement of the scheme by the Prime Minister," Kamath explained. Inclusive pension is also one of the pillars of the proposed comprehensive financial inclusion programme. "Pension under 'the mission mode' will lay emphasis on this facility for the lower income segment and the unorganised workers," Pension Fund Regulatory and Development Authority (PFRDA) acting Chairman R V Verma said. "We will seek to achieve and expand the scope of the National Pension Scheme (NPS) to serve the disadvantaged sections of the population through active involvement and participation of all categories of intermediary institutions like banks, NBFCs, MFIs, NGOs, corporates and annuity service providers, Verma added. Though micro-insurance will come in the second phase of the programme, insurers have already started working on it. "While the already existing 4,000 micro offices of the four PSU general insurers would be strengthened, over 2 lakh existing business correspondents will be asked to sell micro insurance products to ensure the last mile connectivity," New India Assurance Chairman and Managing Director G Srinivasan said. "Though micro-insurance will come in the second phase only, we have already started working on it," he added. The premium for the low-cost insurance products, which is to be paid by the beneficiaries or from subsidy under the Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana scheme, will range between Rs 100 and Rs 300 per annum, New India Assurance general manager K Sanath Kumar said. Nabard will provide the initial Rs 1,000 crore to create a credit guarantee fund to cover possible defaults on overdraft accounts under the scheme, a Nabard official said. Several rounds of meetings have already been held by the Department of Financial Services with all the stakeholders of the programme, including state-owned banks, insurance companies and pension regulator PFRDA. The banking sector would be expanding itself to hire an additional 50,000 business correspondents (BCs), launch over 7,000 branches and more than 20,000 new ATMs in the first phase, Sandhu told the IBA, adding that around 50,000 BCs are likely to be appointed in rural areas for the programme alone.