Cash is nice. And large dollops of it are nicer. Its been a fact in semi-urban and rural India for some time. One that public sector banks are waking up to, though a little late in the day. Tired of pushing the inflexible contours of the plastic money market in the metros and other big cities to expand business, banks are now speed-installing automated teller machines (ATMs) in mini metros and smaller cities.
One of the late entrants is the giant State Bank of India (SBI). The bank has only about 200 ATMs in place across the country. Until last year, the SBI had failed to realise in time the tremendous potential of anytime money in the Indian market. The same thing had happened to the bank in the case of credit cards-deliberations continued with American Express for long before Amex was replaced with GE Caps and the SBI card launched last year. In the case of ATMs, however, the bank moved faster. Because it was hamstrung by a deal it had entered into with its trade unions. The deal limited the banks expansion of ATMs beyond a certain number. It was a self-inflicted wound for a bank which has the widest reach in the country-9,000 branches and a 20-million customer base.