Banks’ risky bet on unsecured loans
Unsecured loans, also known as personal loans or consumer loans, are financial products that do not require borrowers to provide collateral. They have become increasingly popular among Indian consumers for their accessibility and quick approval processes. However, this rapid growth has led to concerns about the credit risk exposure of banks and the overall financial stability of the banking sector.
Indian banks have seen a sharp growth in unsecured loans in recent months, despite the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) cautioning them against such lending. Unsecured loans are those that are not backed by any collateral, making them riskier for banks.
According to a report by the Credit Information Bureau of India (CIBIL), unsecured loans grew by 22% year-on-year in the first quarter of 2023. This is faster than the growth of secured loans, which was 18%. The report also found that the average unsecured loan size has increased by 15% in the past year. This suggests that banks are becoming more comfortable lending larger amounts without collateral.
➢ HDFC Bank, ICICI Bank, and Kotak Mahindra Bank increased their unsecured loan portfolios by up to 30% in the July-September quarter.
➢ They anticipate that growth in the unsecured segment, which includes microfinance, credit cards, personal loans, and some retail loans, will continue.
➢ This growth comes despite concerns flagged by the Reserve Bank of India over the surge in such loans.
➢ HDFC Bank’s personal loan portfolio grew 15.5%, ICICI Bank’s credit card portfolio grew 29.5%, and Kotak Mahindra Bank’s unsecured portfolio grew 49.76%.
➢ IndusInd Bank’s microfinance portfolio grew 16%, credit card business grew 33%, and other retail loans climbed 64%.
➢ RBL Bank’s retail portfolio grew 35%.
The risk of defaults has prompted the RBI to warn banks against making excessive loans that are not secured. The RBI instructed banks to “exercise due caution” when making unsecured loans in a circular that was published in April 2023. Additionally, the RBI requested that banks “make sure the loans are used for productive purposes and that the borrowers have adequate repayment capacity.”
The RBI’s concerns have been shared by analysts. They caution that by making large loans in the unsecured market, banks are taking on excessive risk. They claim that a downturn in the economy could lead to a severe rise in unsecured loan defaults.
Impact of the growth in unsecured lending on the economy:
The growth in unsecured lending has had a mixed impact on the economy. On the one hand, it has boosted consumer spending and helped to drive economic growth. On the other hand, it has increased the risk of a financial crisis if there is a sharp increase in defaults on unsecured loans. The impact of the growth in unsecured lending on the economy will depend on a number of factors, including the overall health of the economy, the interest rate environment, and the creditworthiness of borrowers.
Concerns related to the growth in unsecured lending:
➢ It could lead to a rise in consumer debt levels. This is because unsecured loans are typically easier to obtain than secured loans.
➢ Another concern is that the growth in unsecured lending could lead to a bubble in the credit market. This is because unsecured loans are often used to finance consumption, rather than investment. If there is a sudden decline in consumer confidence, it could lead to a wave of defaults on unsecured loans.
Despite the RBI’s cautionary steps, unsecured loans have grown significantly in India’s banking industry. While they provide customers with convenient access to borrowing, they also pose hazards to both banks and borrowers. To guarantee the banking sector’s long-term stability, banks must strike a balance between profitability and responsible lending while complying to the RBI’s standards.