Punjab Nation Bank - Nirav Modi Scam explained

SOUTHie

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What actually happened in PNB scam?
Let's start with the concept and how things work.

Some importer, let's call him Nirav Modi or NM, wants to import pearls or diamonds and then sell them. The purchase requires money, so NM approaches a bank say Punjab National Bank (PNB). PNB says 'look we'll give you a loan but it will be at 10% int'. NM thinks hard and says, 'no, that's too much' and thinks "why don't I take foreign currency loan instead, after all, I'm buying in the dollar? Much lower interest rates no? I can get at LIBOR+2% and LIBOR is like 1.5% so I'll have the money at 3.5%"

But who will give NM a foreign currency loan? A bank abroad? They don't know NM. They don't have any history of NM, so why will they give him money? So NM goes to PNB and says "Hey, you're a banker, so please help me to make some foreign bank give me a loan to buy diamonds. Say that you will guarantee my loan by giving me a Letter of Undertaking (LOU)".

PNB now should be saying "Look, if you want me to give Rs.100 cr guarantee, you give me stuff worth Rs. 110cr. at least as collateral" But PNB, for some strange reason, didn't ask for collateral. More on that later.

So, now the foreign bank is ready to lend NM the money. Because PNB will guarantee it and the foreign bank trusts PNB. Why does it trust PNB? Because on SWIFT - the banking message service, that PNB guarantees Rs.100 crore of money for 180 days for Mr. NM at an interest rate of LIBOR+2%. It's like a message, written in stone, effectively, that says PNB will pay if NM doesn't pay. In fact, the foreign banks trust only PNB. So it gives the money to PNBs account with it, called by PNB as a "Nostros" - The account that PNB maintains with banks abroad, where the other bank will send money meant for PNM customers. PNB's Nostro account gets the money.
PNB then gives NM the money from the Nostro account, usually paid off to whoever NM is buying diamonds from. This payment is to someone outside India usually, to fund a purchase of diamonds or whatever.

Note this carefully: The other bank gives money to PNB's Nostro account. Not to NM. They don't care about NM. They only know that PNB has given a guarantee on the SWIFT channel. The other bank is nowadays mostly the foreign branches of Indian banks. Because the foreign banks have realized something sinister - that PNB's guarantee is a strange beast that isn't backed with much, but we'll come to that.

The foreign banks couldn't care less about whether NM was buying diamonds or bitcoin - to them, PNB would pay back even if NM's bitcoin wallet got stolen. Why does PNB give a guarantee? The answer is Fees. Each year, a bank may charge up to 2% to give the LoU. So what happens when it's time to pay back? NM has to get the pearls in India, sell them, receive the money and pay PNB on the due date written on the LoU. Then PNB will pay back the foreign bank saying "Okay, we got the customers so we're giving it back to you. With interest etc."

That's what supposed to happen. But in reality, things went a little berserk, it seems.


The reality: A bit of a Ponzi
NM might not pay back at all. NM might use the money to speculate the markets. Or do something else. What if NM in the above example simply didn't have the money to pay back? Instead, he asks PNB official to open ANOTHER LoU for the amount owed plus interest. So if we had the first LoU at $10 million the second one is $11 million to cover the interest on the first. The money from the second LoU is used to repay the first. It's just rolling over of credit. Over and over. Standard definition of a ponzi scheme. This can balloon into a larger amount, so large that it's too much. In effect, many such arrangements have turned into semi-Ponzi schemes, with one LoU being opened to repay another and so on.

Nirav Modi took loans from foreign branches of Indian banks through an LoU issued by PNB. This was done through a SWIFT based LoU issued through a rogue employee (or many of them) at PNB. The orders never showed up in the core banking system for monitoring. LoU's were rolled over all the way since 2011 and possibly increased over time too. The rogue official retired in 2017 and the replacement refused to roll over the LoU which came due in Jan 2018 because he couldn't find the past transactions in the system. No rollover means a default, since there was no money to pay. So PNB quickly files an FIR saying "We have lost Rs280 crore on Jan LoU's"

Then PNB looks for more of these no-in-system LoU's and sees a staggering Rs. 11400 crores. ($ 1.76 billion), Everyone in the bank panics.

Why couldn't Nirav Modi just pay it back? He must have the original money, no? Because if it was ever intended to be paid back, the rollovers wouldn't have been required. At some point, things got so out of hand that rollovers were required in order to stay current. Typically this would not be a problem if PNB had done things right, they would have had collateral worth the amount of guarantee, and they would have sold that collateral and paid the foreign bank.

Here's the real issue, PNB didn't have any collateral. Why did PNB give a guarantee without collateral? If we go for a loan to a bank, they'll ask us for income proof, and collateral. Only small tiny personal loans and credit card loans come backed without collateral. For something of the order of Rs. 11000 cr, you would think they would ask for collateral. Especially after the scene with Malya where loans for Kingfisher were given on nearly no collateral (though even there they had a house and some promoter shares pledged).

Why did PNB give this guarantee then?It's typical - banks give guarantees for more the amount you give as collateral. Because of business relationship etc. And then because nearly every bank is doing it. The loan was not a 'fund based limit'. In a fund based limit like a term loan, the pays out money. In non-fund-based limits, the bank will only pay if someone else defaults or an event happens like a bank guarantee or an LC or a LoU. Meaning PNB assumed that the foreign bank was giving a loan directly to NM and that PNB needed to pay only in case NM defaulted. So in the eyes of PNB, it was always a 'non-fund based' loan.

But this is how a significant part of import financing works. They all rollover credit, and they all use LoUs for much higher than they can offer as collateral. From what I heard, the scale is huge, it is for every Rs. 100 that a bank has collateral, they will easily provide LoUs for up to 6X the amount. This is a real problem that most public sector banks do not keep much collateral against non-fund based limits given to importing customers. So even if a bank has collateral it's nowhere near enough. And then, such unfunded liabilities are not even reported to RBI!

Besel reporting : PNB has unfunded exposure of 11000 cr, they say. But they don't even reveal it in their latest Besel III disclosure. The funded exposure to 'gems and jewelry' is shown at 1860 cr. Unfunded to the same sector Rs. 842 cr. This doesn't even add up. So, in effect, PNB didn't reveal that it was funding massive quantities of "unfunded, contingent exposure". They will, of course, pretend that they didn't know because the transactions weren't in the core banking system. Did Employees hide it? Was PNB responsible or was it a fraud? Can employees be responsible? Could they have hidden the credit and the rolling over of LoUs? But honestly, how does a 11,000 cr. credit pass muster without top management realizing it?

Think of it – your nostro account with these other banks keeps getting big credits that add up to 11,000 cr. Will you not reconcile it with the accounting? The “why is this money even here?” question should have been asked by someone who audits accounts, one thinks? And the SWIFT messages. It’s a specific kind of message. Why wouldn’t PNB audit the SWIFT trail? Reconcile it with the core banking system? How many will more such skeletons tumble if they do?

Their excuses are

Data wasn’t entered into the core banking system. (Of course, otherwise you would have had to report it) LOUs weren’t authorized. (Hard to believe, because the amounts are very large. Surely someone on the top would know?) The SWIFT system was illegally used. (Again, hard to believe that a bank like PNB would not audit its SWIFT messages regularly. Or its auditors. Or RBI.) On the face of it, it looks like the ex-employee is being used as a scapegoat. It’s likely that a lot of people were in on this thing. And that it generated massive, fat fees for PNB all these years.

Fees wise: Imagine 11,000 cr. worth LoUs being renewed each year – that’s upto Rs. 200 cr. in fees that was all hitting PNB’s top line. You could bribe an employee to maybe give you a small increase – say 10-20 cr. but when you hit numbers like 11,000 cr. this is surely something the top management would know. What’s the Scale of this scam? While PNB reported it as a 11,000 cr. scam, they filed an FIR with the CBI for only Rs. 280 cr. This has probably expanded since then but even if the total outstanding is as much as that, there’s a good chance that the actual loss amount will be lesser.

All of it will be borne by PNB right now. Whether someone abused their SWIFT usage is not relevant, if PNB’s SWIFT message said they will pay, they have to pay if there is a default. But think about the fallout. The problem was that some liabilities were not in the system. There could be more such LoUs. From the same branch or others. Other banks could have such LoUs too. It’s trivial to start looking – and we know that Nirav Modi will not be an isolated case.

Also, the issue was that the limits had no collateral behind them. If all banks are told to verify their non-fund-based limits and demand collateral against them (say at least 25%) then the scale would be absolutely massive. It’s not like this is happening only with Nirav Modi or Choksi. A very large number of importers of commodities have been doing this, and rotating credit. A change in regulation here can change the game dramatically for every other bank (and import account) in the system.

The simple point: this particular transaction will result in a lower loss than 11,000 cr. for PNB. Because of recoveries and such. But if RBI asks all banks to pull up collateral on such lending and stop such practices, the scale is many times larger. What about the PNB stock?

It’s fallen 17%. But note that it already has 60,000 cr. of gross NPAs. Another 11,000 cr. will hurt it but not kill it. It won’t die – the government will take it over. Shareholders might suffer, but come on as a shareholder of a public sector bank you’re used to suffering. The problem really is: There is never just one cockroach. When you go deeper, you are likely to find more dirty, dark secrets, and none of them will be any good. PNB is gonna hurt for a while, but so are others who will find their books similarly tarnished once they investigate.

Will This Bring The Market Down? Nothing will ever bring the market down, nowadays. But the one thing that does bring markets down is the outflow of liquidity. What if so much of the “Ponzi” credit – essentially money that was rolled over every month – is being invested directly, or indirectly, into stocks? If RBI tightens up, liquidity will pull money out of stocks, and that will hurt.

Of course, this hurts the fiscal deficit since PNB has to be rescued. So bond yields are up to 7.6% and therefore we’d avoid any long-term funds or bonds. Short term it will have to be. But overall, we wouldn’t worry too much. Just react, don’t predict. What would you do if stocks fell? Better to answer that than to say they will, or they will not.
(And no, not buying PNB)

This is the Indian public sector banking system. Fix it.

How can you have transactions on SWIFT outside CBS? Fix it.

Why would you not reconcile the Nostro accounts? Suspend the auditors. Fire top management. Fix it.

Closing the door behind Modi, who’s already left the country, is probably useless. If you find fraud, invoke their personal guarantees, and file cases to attach their personal properties. After that, file in NCLT to make these companies insolvent. Take the hit, and try to recover.

Find out more such instances where the collateral cover is too low. Find out if the LoUs or LCs are just getting rolled over or is the customer actually paying back to the Indian current account. And if not, demand more collateral to avoid further spread of the Ponzi.

But this is quite unlikely to happen because the banking system is going to take massive hits now, and we’re going to have to deal with the fallout of really horrible systems. It’s amazing that our banks have been this lax, but they have been allowed to; with no bankers being investigated, the rot inside the banks has been ignored and instead, industrialists have been the target of outrage. It’s time to look at banks as malicious players too and to fix that rot.
@jbgt90 @Nilgiri @Joe Shearer
 

jbgt90

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It goes a lot deeper then this @SOUTHie , I hate to say this but in the coming weeks more will be brought out .
 

SOUTHie

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It goes a lot deeper then this @SOUTHie , I hate to say this but in the coming weeks more will be brought out .
Please don't tell me our Banking system is going to take a massive hit. I'm in no position to cash the stocks.
 

jbgt90

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Please don't tell me our Banking system is going to take a massive hit. I'm in no position to cash the stocks.
If i tell you something mate i would be in violation of the official secret act. but dont worry the RBI is now wading through the rubbish of this scam, no bank will be allowed to collapse. Its political suicide!!!
 

Khafee

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What actually happened in PNB scam?
Let's start with the concept and how things work.

Some importer, let's call him Nirav Modi or NM, wants to import pearls or diamonds and then sell them. The purchase requires money, so NM approaches a bank say Punjab National Bank (PNB). PNB says 'look we'll give you a loan but it will be at 10% int'. NM thinks hard and says, 'no, that's too much' and thinks "why don't I take foreign currency loan instead, after all, I'm buying in the dollar? Much lower interest rates no? I can get at LIBOR+2% and LIBOR is like 1.5% so I'll have the money at 3.5%"

But who will give NM a foreign currency loan? A bank abroad? They don't know NM. They don't have any history of NM, so why will they give him money? So NM goes to PNB and says "Hey, you're a banker, so please help me to make some foreign bank give me a loan to buy diamonds. Say that you will guarantee my loan by giving me a Letter of Undertaking (LOU)".

PNB now should be saying "Look, if you want me to give Rs.100 cr guarantee, you give me stuff worth Rs. 110cr. at least as collateral" But PNB, for some strange reason, didn't ask for collateral. More on that later.

So, now the foreign bank is ready to lend NM the money. Because PNB will guarantee it and the foreign bank trusts PNB. Why does it trust PNB? Because on SWIFT - the banking message service, that PNB guarantees Rs.100 crore of money for 180 days for Mr. NM at an interest rate of LIBOR+2%. It's like a message, written in stone, effectively, that says PNB will pay if NM doesn't pay. In fact, the foreign banks trust only PNB. So it gives the money to PNBs account with it, called by PNB as a "Nostros" - The account that PNB maintains with banks abroad, where the other bank will send money meant for PNM customers. PNB's Nostro account gets the money.
PNB then gives NM the money from the Nostro account, usually paid off to whoever NM is buying diamonds from. This payment is to someone outside India usually, to fund a purchase of diamonds or whatever.

Note this carefully: The other bank gives money to PNB's Nostro account. Not to NM. They don't care about NM. They only know that PNB has given a guarantee on the SWIFT channel. The other bank is nowadays mostly the foreign branches of Indian banks. Because the foreign banks have realized something sinister - that PNB's guarantee is a strange beast that isn't backed with much, but we'll come to that.

The foreign banks couldn't care less about whether NM was buying diamonds or bitcoin - to them, PNB would pay back even if NM's bitcoin wallet got stolen. Why does PNB give a guarantee? The answer is Fees. Each year, a bank may charge up to 2% to give the LoU. So what happens when it's time to pay back? NM has to get the pearls in India, sell them, receive the money and pay PNB on the due date written on the LoU. Then PNB will pay back the foreign bank saying "Okay, we got the customers so we're giving it back to you. With interest etc."

That's what supposed to happen. But in reality, things went a little berserk, it seems.


The reality: A bit of a Ponzi
NM might not pay back at all. NM might use the money to speculate the markets. Or do something else. What if NM in the above example simply didn't have the money to pay back? Instead, he asks PNB official to open ANOTHER LoU for the amount owed plus interest. So if we had the first LoU at $10 million the second one is $11 million to cover the interest on the first. The money from the second LoU is used to repay the first. It's just rolling over of credit. Over and over. Standard definition of a ponzi scheme. This can balloon into a larger amount, so large that it's too much. In effect, many such arrangements have turned into semi-Ponzi schemes, with one LoU being opened to repay another and so on.

Nirav Modi took loans from foreign branches of Indian banks through an LoU issued by PNB. This was done through a SWIFT based LoU issued through a rogue employee (or many of them) at PNB. The orders never showed up in the core banking system for monitoring. LoU's were rolled over all the way since 2011 and possibly increased over time too. The rogue official retired in 2017 and the replacement refused to roll over the LoU which came due in Jan 2018 because he couldn't find the past transactions in the system. No rollover means a default, since there was no money to pay. So PNB quickly files an FIR saying "We have lost Rs280 crore on Jan LoU's"

Then PNB looks for more of these no-in-system LoU's and sees a staggering Rs. 11400 crores. ($ 1.76 billion), Everyone in the bank panics.

Why couldn't Nirav Modi just pay it back? He must have the original money, no? Because if it was ever intended to be paid back, the rollovers wouldn't have been required. At some point, things got so out of hand that rollovers were required in order to stay current. Typically this would not be a problem if PNB had done things right, they would have had collateral worth the amount of guarantee, and they would have sold that collateral and paid the foreign bank.

Here's the real issue, PNB didn't have any collateral. Why did PNB give a guarantee without collateral? If we go for a loan to a bank, they'll ask us for income proof, and collateral. Only small tiny personal loans and credit card loans come backed without collateral. For something of the order of Rs. 11000 cr, you would think they would ask for collateral. Especially after the scene with Malya where loans for Kingfisher were given on nearly no collateral (though even there they had a house and some promoter shares pledged).

Why did PNB give this guarantee then?It's typical - banks give guarantees for more the amount you give as collateral. Because of business relationship etc. And then because nearly every bank is doing it. The loan was not a 'fund based limit'. In a fund based limit like a term loan, the pays out money. In non-fund-based limits, the bank will only pay if someone else defaults or an event happens like a bank guarantee or an LC or a LoU. Meaning PNB assumed that the foreign bank was giving a loan directly to NM and that PNB needed to pay only in case NM defaulted. So in the eyes of PNB, it was always a 'non-fund based' loan.

But this is how a significant part of import financing works. They all rollover credit, and they all use LoUs for much higher than they can offer as collateral. From what I heard, the scale is huge, it is for every Rs. 100 that a bank has collateral, they will easily provide LoUs for up to 6X the amount. This is a real problem that most public sector banks do not keep much collateral against non-fund based limits given to importing customers. So even if a bank has collateral it's nowhere near enough. And then, such unfunded liabilities are not even reported to RBI!

Besel reporting : PNB has unfunded exposure of 11000 cr, they say. But they don't even reveal it in their latest Besel III disclosure. The funded exposure to 'gems and jewelry' is shown at 1860 cr. Unfunded to the same sector Rs. 842 cr. This doesn't even add up. So, in effect, PNB didn't reveal that it was funding massive quantities of "unfunded, contingent exposure". They will, of course, pretend that they didn't know because the transactions weren't in the core banking system. Did Employees hide it? Was PNB responsible or was it a fraud? Can employees be responsible? Could they have hidden the credit and the rolling over of LoUs? But honestly, how does a 11,000 cr. credit pass muster without top management realizing it?

Think of it – your nostro account with these other banks keeps getting big credits that add up to 11,000 cr. Will you not reconcile it with the accounting? The “why is this money even here?” question should have been asked by someone who audits accounts, one thinks? And the SWIFT messages. It’s a specific kind of message. Why wouldn’t PNB audit the SWIFT trail? Reconcile it with the core banking system? How many will more such skeletons tumble if they do?

Their excuses are

Data wasn’t entered into the core banking system. (Of course, otherwise you would have had to report it) LOUs weren’t authorized. (Hard to believe, because the amounts are very large. Surely someone on the top would know?) The SWIFT system was illegally used. (Again, hard to believe that a bank like PNB would not audit its SWIFT messages regularly. Or its auditors. Or RBI.) On the face of it, it looks like the ex-employee is being used as a scapegoat. It’s likely that a lot of people were in on this thing. And that it generated massive, fat fees for PNB all these years.

Fees wise: Imagine 11,000 cr. worth LoUs being renewed each year – that’s upto Rs. 200 cr. in fees that was all hitting PNB’s top line. You could bribe an employee to maybe give you a small increase – say 10-20 cr. but when you hit numbers like 11,000 cr. this is surely something the top management would know. What’s the Scale of this scam? While PNB reported it as a 11,000 cr. scam, they filed an FIR with the CBI for only Rs. 280 cr. This has probably expanded since then but even if the total outstanding is as much as that, there’s a good chance that the actual loss amount will be lesser.

All of it will be borne by PNB right now. Whether someone abused their SWIFT usage is not relevant, if PNB’s SWIFT message said they will pay, they have to pay if there is a default. But think about the fallout. The problem was that some liabilities were not in the system. There could be more such LoUs. From the same branch or others. Other banks could have such LoUs too. It’s trivial to start looking – and we know that Nirav Modi will not be an isolated case.

Also, the issue was that the limits had no collateral behind them. If all banks are told to verify their non-fund-based limits and demand collateral against them (say at least 25%) then the scale would be absolutely massive. It’s not like this is happening only with Nirav Modi or Choksi. A very large number of importers of commodities have been doing this, and rotating credit. A change in regulation here can change the game dramatically for every other bank (and import account) in the system.

The simple point: this particular transaction will result in a lower loss than 11,000 cr. for PNB. Because of recoveries and such. But if RBI asks all banks to pull up collateral on such lending and stop such practices, the scale is many times larger. What about the PNB stock?

It’s fallen 17%. But note that it already has 60,000 cr. of gross NPAs. Another 11,000 cr. will hurt it but not kill it. It won’t die – the government will take it over. Shareholders might suffer, but come on as a shareholder of a public sector bank you’re used to suffering. The problem really is: There is never just one cockroach. When you go deeper, you are likely to find more dirty, dark secrets, and none of them will be any good. PNB is gonna hurt for a while, but so are others who will find their books similarly tarnished once they investigate.

Will This Bring The Market Down? Nothing will ever bring the market down, nowadays. But the one thing that does bring markets down is the outflow of liquidity. What if so much of the “Ponzi” credit – essentially money that was rolled over every month – is being invested directly, or indirectly, into stocks? If RBI tightens up, liquidity will pull money out of stocks, and that will hurt.

Of course, this hurts the fiscal deficit since PNB has to be rescued. So bond yields are up to 7.6% and therefore we’d avoid any long-term funds or bonds. Short term it will have to be. But overall, we wouldn’t worry too much. Just react, don’t predict. What would you do if stocks fell? Better to answer that than to say they will, or they will not.
(And no, not buying PNB)

This is the Indian public sector banking system. Fix it.

How can you have transactions on SWIFT outside CBS? Fix it.

Why would you not reconcile the Nostro accounts? Suspend the auditors. Fire top management. Fix it.

Closing the door behind Modi, who’s already left the country, is probably useless. If you find fraud, invoke their personal guarantees, and file cases to attach their personal properties. After that, file in NCLT to make these companies insolvent. Take the hit, and try to recover.

Find out more such instances where the collateral cover is too low. Find out if the LoUs or LCs are just getting rolled over or is the customer actually paying back to the Indian current account. And if not, demand more collateral to avoid further spread of the Ponzi.

But this is quite unlikely to happen because the banking system is going to take massive hits now, and we’re going to have to deal with the fallout of really horrible systems. It’s amazing that our banks have been this lax, but they have been allowed to; with no bankers being investigated, the rot inside the banks has been ignored and instead, industrialists have been the target of outrage. It’s time to look at banks as malicious players too and to fix that rot.
@jbgt90 @Nilgiri @Joe Shearer
Please always provide a link to OP.

Thanks
 

SOUTHie

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Please always provide a link to OP.

Thanks
err... There is no source. I sourced it on a from many newspapers. Also, from a conversation with my buddy in PNB. And thanks to Grammarly. :)
 

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Whether one bank goes belly up, or 10, I loose nothing, but the plight of the common man, especially those at the bottom of our society bothers me, hurts me, shakes my soul.

We as humans have become slaves to a god we created, "money", and in our lust for it, we will slit the throat of our fellow man, to satisfy our disgusting desires.

One reason for it is because, those who can, turn a blind eye to it. I hope and pray that not only in India, but all over the world, Justice prevails.
 

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err... There is no source. I sourced it on a from many newspapers. Also, from a conversation with my buddy in PNB. And thanks to Grammarly. :)
Excellent work, my friend! Really proud of you today!
 

SOUTHie

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Whether one bank goes belly up, or 10, I loose nothing, but the plight of the common man, especially those at the bottom of our society bothers me, hurts me, shakes my soul.

We as humans have become slaves to a god we created, "money", and in our lust for it, we will slit the throat of our fellow man, to satisfy our disgusting desires.

One reason for it is because, those who can, turn a blind eye to it. I hope and pray that not only in India but all over the world, Justice prevails.
While poor farmers, individuals are denied loans for farming or starting a business. Large industries and businesses are given exemptions. If I fail to pay back my monthly installment, they charge extra. If I don't keep a minimum balance in my account, I'm fined. (Learned this the hard way when I lost Rs. 300 when I withdraw the entire amount). The banks make a profit from these charges levied on customers. As an example, the State Bank of India made Rs. 1700 cr from non-compliance of minimum balance account norm and their quarterly profit was Rs. 1500 cr.
 

jbgt90

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While poor farmers, individuals are denied loans for farming or starting a business. Large industries and businesses are given exemptions. If I fail to pay back my monthly installment, they charge extra. If I don't keep a minimum balance in my account, I'm fined. (Learned this the hard way when I lost Rs. 300 when I withdraw the entire amount). The banks make a profit from these charges levied on customers. As an example, the State Bank of India made Rs. 1700 cr from non-compliance of minimum balance account norm and their quarterly profit was Rs. 1500 cr.
Let me put it another way , if you borrow a loan from the market and refuse to pay the 2-3% the guy demands you can actually file a criminal case against him for extortion, on the other hand credit card companies charge any were from 2.5 to 3% monthly charges and its legal.
 
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