Banking: East meets West

India's ICICI Bank finds its Canadian niche online.

When the Canadian subsidiary of India's ICICI Bank first opened shop here in 2004, this magazine marked the occasion with a story that noted the modest ambitions of the venture. The bank would cater largely to the needs of the retail Indian expat market and would begin operations with a capital base of just $25 million.

How things change. Just three and a half years later, the original business plan has been expanded to include the mainstream Canadian domestic market, assets have ballooned to $2.2 billion and the bank now offers a wealth management service for high-net-worth individuals.

Like that other banking import, Amsterdam-based ING, ICICI Bank Canada has found its niche online. “This is key to our acquisitions strategy,” says president and CEO Hari Panday.”Rather than get you into the branches and then push you onto the Net like the Big Banks, we will get you on the Net and then get you into a branch. We've turned the pyramid upside down.” The plan seems to be working. ICICI now has 125,000 customers across the country, even in Nunavut.

But the most lucrative opportunities may still lie ahead. One of the biggest stories of this decade is the astonishing growth of the Indian economy. Panday notes that Indian GD P has been averaging 8%â??9% a year. The economies of some states — Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka — are growing at 11%â??12% annually. “The retail industry in India is on a tear,” says Panday. “Working couples own a car and an apartment now. Big brand names are visible.” Looking to capitalize on that growth, ICICI Bank Canada is building out its crossborder M&A and export financing capacity to allow Canadian and Indian firms access to each other's market. “We're very well positioned to take advantage of that,” says Panday. “No other institution knows both sides as well as we do.” Indeed. Before leading a recent trade mission to India, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty tapped ICICI for contacts.