By Anita Bhoir & Atmadip Ray | ET Bureau | 10 Jun, 2015, 04.22AM IST | Economic Times
When Reliance Industries with its triple-A rating goes to a bank for a loan it is sure to get the best terms possible. A company rated many ranks below may end up paying 5 to 6 percentage points more than Reliance. That reflects the difference between good credit and bad credit.
But when it comes to retail individual borrowers, banks do not provide the same benefit on cost of borrowing even if the applicants have a top credit score. More than 15 years after the credit information bureau, CIBIL, was born, neither are individual borrowers benefiting from good behaviour and sound financials, nor are banks treating retail customers the way they do companies, which are charged based on their financials.
Credit bureaus have helped banks in reducing their bad loans from the retail portfolio, and CIBIL assigns scores ranging from 300 to 900 based on the ability to repay with historical financial behaviour. Still, retail borrowers have continued to pay almost similar interest rates whether their score is 600, 890 or even 900.
All that CIBIL, the biggest credit information bureau, says is, “Higher your credit score, higher your chances of loan approval.” Almost four-fifths of bank loans to retailers are for those with a score of more than 750. This is akin to lending only to companies with triple-A to single-A, and not to those with lower ratings.
“Credit score helps retail customers in getting a loan,” says SBI’s Arundhati Bhattacharya. “We don’t give a loan unless a customer has good credit score. At present, we don’t offer an interest rate benefit to retail borrowers for a good credit score.”
Interest rates on home loans, car loans, or loans against property for investments or starting businesses are almost fixed at banks’ discretion. Home loans are charged between 10% and 13%, but within the bank, there is hardly any difference in interest rates between an individual with a credit score of 600 and the one with 890, or even 900.
In developed countries such as the US, credit information bureaus rank customers as prime, sub-prime and Alt A. Banks charge interest rates based on their rating, and do not just use that as a tool to decide on giving a loan.
“In advanced economies customers that are highly rated demand finer interest rates,” says Romesh Sobti, managing director and CEO, IndusInd Bank. “In India, banks run on the basis of portfolio pricing. Credit score has evolved, but it is being used to decide loan eligibility of an individual.” That retail borrowers are not deriving the benefits for good behaviour is partly attributed to the fact that consumer activism is not prevalent unlike in the West and that the regulator has not been pushing the case for banks to end the discriminatory stance between corporates and individual borrowers.
Furthermore, Indian banks, which are saddled with huge bad loans from lending to companies, partly offset their losses by charging more from retail customers. “Retail customers are paying for corporate clients,” says Ashvin Parekh, managing partner of Ashvin Parekh Advisory Services.
Economic slowdown and bad lending decisions on the part of banks has left them saddled with defaults. While the recovery is a long and difficult process, banks tend to offset their losses by charging other customers.
The banking sector has taken a loss of over Rs 50,000 crore as loans given to companies have turned bad at the end of March 2015. The economic slowdown and volatile recovery has taken a toll on corporate balance sheet.
Banks have restructured debt to the tune of Rs 2,86,405 crore at the end of March 2015 which is up 18.22% from Rs 2,42,259 crore last year. Loan defaulters include Bharati Shipyard, ABG Shipyard, GTL, Essar Steel, Sterling Oil Resources, KS Oil, Deccan Chronicle and Kingfisher Airlines among others, and their debt runs into thousands of crores.
Bad credit calls on the part of banks besides postponing the problem of bad loans will ultimately hurt good borrowers, for whom the cost will go up, Reserve Bank of India governor Raghuram Rajan has said.
“I am not worried as much about losses stemming from business risk as I am about the sharing of those losses — because, ultimately, one consequence of skewed and unfair sharing is to make credit costlier and less available.” Rajan said.
These huge bad loans are one of the reasons banks are reluctant to lower their lending rates even after the Reserve Bank of India reduced its policy rates. Indeed, the RBI governor had to publicly criticise banks for not doing so, after which banks reluctantly reduced the rates.
Although big lenders to retail customers such as SBI, ICICI and HDFC Bank may not be deciding on lending rates based on individuals’ credit score but rather, lend on the fixed-ticket rate, smaller banks such as Federal Bank do so to gain market share and boost their presence.
“We use the Cibil TransUnion Score to give retail customers a finer interest rate on loans,” says R Babu, consumer banking head at Federal Bank. “Credit score of 580 onwards get an interest rate advantage which could be around 200 basis points.”
Lenders like Federal may be few and far between to make a meaningful impact on the lives of retail borrowers in the next few years. But the transformation to credit score-related lending rates like in the West may be possible in the distant future.
“Using credit score to give customers an interest rate advantage is work in progress in India,” says Mohan Jayaraman managing director, Experian Indian Credit. “Very few banks are using this as a tool for rate differentiation. Globally, credit scores are used as an interest rate differentiation tool. This would be the natural progression in India as well but it will take time.”