RBL Bank slumps 20% after CEO goes on leave

RBL Bank slumps 20% after CEO goes on leave
RBL BankEconomic Times
  • RBL Bank announced that its long-term CEO Vishwavir Ahuja has gone on leave, with Rajeev Ahuja taking up the lead in the interim.
  • Apart from this, the Reserve Bank of India also intervened by appointing an additional director on the bank’s board.
  • Now, reports suggest that Rakesh Jhunjhunwala and DMart’s Radhakishan Damani want to pick up a 10% stake in the bank.
RBL Bank is in a mini crisis of sorts, with its long-term MD and CEO Vishwavir Ahuja going on a leave and the Reserve Bank of India appointing an additional director on the bank’s board. The stock tanked 20% on Monday (December 27), the first trading day after the decision was made public.

RBL Bank slumps 20% after CEO goes on leave
RBL Bank share price since November, 2021BSE / Business Insider India / Flourish

The twist doesn’t end there, either – ace investors Rakesh Jhunjhunwala and DMart’s Radhakishan Damani have reportedly approached RBI to pick up a 10% stake in RBL Bank, likely to cash in on the opportunity on the horizon.

On Friday, RBL Bank’s shares ended the day lower by nearly 3%. In 2021 so far, the company has lost a fourth of its value even as the Bank Nifty index gained over 11%.

Why is the RBI intervening in the affairs of RBL Bank?

While both RBI and RBL Bank have been tight-lipped about the trigger behind the central banker’s intervention, reports suggest that there’s likely more going on between the lines.

One of the issues that has been repeated elsewhere is concerns about the asset quality of the bank – the gross non-performing assets (Gross NPA) ratio rose to 5.4% in the September quarter from 3.34% in the year before.

Unpaid loans surged in the September quarter, as the moratorium on payments came to an end, particularly in the microfinance segment, which makes for 9% of RBL Bank’s total loan book.

RBL Bank slumps 20% after CEO goes on leave
RBL Bank microfinance segment GNPAB&K Research / Business Insider India / Flourish

However, the rise in bad loans may not be reason enough for the RBI to step in.

Earlier this year, RBI had approved Vishwavir Ahuja’s extension as the bank’s CEO till June, 2022. Ahuja going on leave mid-way through his term also signals that there are deeper issues at the bank which have not been disclosed to the public yet.

“The sequence of events leading to the sudden exit of Mr. Vishwavir Ahuja along with the induction of Dayal from the RBI on the Board as additional member indicates that everything is not ok with the bank,” noted a letter by All India Bank Employees Association (AIBEA) to Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman.

If Jhunjhunwala and Damani are interested, there may be some things working at the bank

Billionaire investors Rakesh Jhunjhunwala and Radhakishan Damani reportedly want to pick up a 10% stake in RBL. The two are yet to comment on the matter and investors must take these unconfirmed reports with a handful of salt. As the following meme on social media reminds us:

RBL Bank slumps 20% after CEO goes on leave

According to RBL Bank’s new interim CEO Rajeev Ahuja, the bank’s financials remain strong. “These developments are not on account of any concern on advances, asset quality and deposits level of the bank. The bank has the full support of the RBI,” he said.

In the September quarter, RBL posted a net profit of ₹30 crore as against a loss of ₹459 crore in the quarter before. This, the bank says, was due to an increase in provisions for the June quarter.

Beyond the profits, RBL Bank’s fundamentals remain strong. Its liquidity coverage ratio stood at 155%, as against the 100% mandated by RBI. This means that in the short-term, the bank has enough cash to meet its obligations.

RBL Bank’s credit card business – which constitutes 22% of the company’s total loan portfolio – has been a fast growing segment for the company. In fact, one broking firm, B&K Research, recently argued that RBL’s credit card business is performing better than SBI Card, the country’s second largest credit card issuer.

However, investors should keep in mind that it is still a small player with a 4% market share in the number of cards issued ⁠— even though it has grown from a mere 1% in 2017 ⁠— is trailing far behind SBI Card’s 19% market share.

How can the RBI appoint directors on a private bank’s board?

RBI has in the past appointed additional directors on the boards of banks like Yes Bank, Dhanlaxmi Bank, Ujjivan Small Finance Bank among others.

According to Section 36AB of the Banking Regulation Act, 1949, RBI can appoint additional directors to protect the interests of the bank, its depositors, the banking regulations or the overall public interest.

Update: Rakesh Jhunjhunwala has now denied reports of acquiring a stake in RBL Bank.


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