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This Pune bank is run entirely by women!

Anju Maskeri visits Bhagini Nivedita Sahakari Bank, the country's only cooperative bank run entirely by women, in Pune

At 9.30 am on a Monday, the employees of Bhagini Nivedita Sahakari Bank (BNSB) in the quaint Narayan Peth area of Pune begin their work routine. A motley bunch of customers saunter in to deposit cash, people mill around to get their queries answered, the recovery team leaves for outdoor duty —on the face of it, this looks like any other cooperative bank. Take a closer look, and BNSB stands apart as it is entirely run and managed by women.

This 41- year-old bank in Narayan Peth area of Pune has a strength of 282 women
This 41- year-old bank in Narayan Peth area of Pune has a strength of 282 women 

Open for all
Established in 1974 by founders Vivek and Meenakshi Dadhe, the bank's primary objective is to cater to people from the lower economic strata and offer relief from the clutches of moneylenders. The 41-year-old bank, which has a strength of 282 people, however, is not registered as a mahila (women) bank.

"It was a conscious decision to not register as we do not wish take the advantages that come with it. We want to provide services to both women and men. Although run by women, our bank is all- inclusive," reveals Smita Deshpande, the chief executive officer of the bank who has been associated with it since the past 26 years.

The deposit section at the bank. Pics/Shadab Khan
The deposit section at the bank. Pics/Shadab Khan 

The bank does encourage women entrepreneurs by offering loans on concession for businesses. It also provides educational loans at a concessional rate of interest for a girl child. Apart from the staff, almost 80 per cent of the shareholders and all the 13 members of the board of directors are women.

"Women by nature are patient, hardworking and cautious and that is reflected in our bank's overall performance," says Deshpande with pride. The bank has registered a gross profit of R22.18 crore for the year ending March 2015.

No muscle power
The performance of any bank depends largely on the recovery of loans. The recovery team at BNSB has achieved what would be the envy of large banks, public, private or cooperative — gross NPA (Non Performing Assets) of 0.61 per cent and a net NPA of 0 per cent for the past 13 years. Savita Thatte, the recovery manager at BNSB shares the technique of handling defaulters.

Smita Deshpande, the CEO
Smita Deshpande, the CEO 

"We first try to ascertain the cause of the delay and then do the recovery. If the problem is known, it is possible to sort it out. Very often, it is because the person has lost his/her job or due to an illness that a person becomes a defaulter. We encourage them to repay in installments and it works," says Thatte.

The bank has a foolproof system of verification where the staff member visits the home and office of the person to make enquiries before sanctioning a loan. "We have a thorough verification system that ensures we don't have a problem with defaulters," says Himani Nande, the manager who has been working with the bank since the past 20 years.

The recovery department busy at work
The recovery department busy at work 

Nande is not alone. On an average, most employees have completed almost 10 years or more in the bank. "The work culture is healthy and our colleagues are understanding, so I never felt the need to move to another organisation," says Nande.

Work-life balance
On a regular day, the bank shuts at 6.30 pm but there are days when the staff has to clock in late hours, in case of an IT-related or financial year-end issues. "Nobody has any qualms about that. They manage on their own. But the bank does provide a car facility in emergencies," says Deshpande. She also points out the flipside of working in an all-women's team.

"As women we are expected to juggle both family and home. If a child falls sick, the mother is expected to stay back home and take care. So, women are bound to take more days of leave. We normally need more staff than a regular bank to tackle work when an employee goes on maternity leave. The problem is gender-related, but never operational," she explains.

While the bank is entirely managed by women, the sole male employee in the organisation is the security guard. Do they plan to hire a female security guard? "Why not? We are open to the idea," Deshpande signs off.

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