AT THE HELM - Ashok Vaswani: MD & CEO,Kotak Mahindra Bank

It was an appointment and an approval that stunned many in banking circles. Late October, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) approved the appointment of veteran banker Ashok Vaswani as MD and CEO of Kotak Mahindra Bank. It was surprising that Kotak Mahindra Bank looked for someone outside its own ranks and sought to appoint Mr Vaswani, who has had stints with global banks for over three decades and a half. It was equally surprising that the RBI gave its nod to an outsider, who has had no experience with Indian banks. 

Mr Vaswani, who is currently president of Pagaya Technologies, a US-Israeli AI fintech, will take over his new role in January. He will be occupying the position held by Kotak Bank founder and top banker Uday Kotak, who retired from his post in August. Dipak Gupta, the joint managing director of the Mumbai-headquartered private bank, has also been officiating as the bank’s MD and CEO until the end of December.

Mr Vaswani has impeccable academic qualifications. A graduate in commerce, economics and accountancy from Mumbai’s Sydenham College, he is a chartered accountant from the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India and a company secretary from the Institute of Company Secretaries of India. He has also completed an executive programme from Stanford University Graduate School of Business.

Announcing his appointment, Mr Kotak had earlier described the 63-year-old banker as a “global Indian who has had top stints with Citi and Barclays”. Mr Vaswani was CEO of Citigroup Asia Pacific and member of the Citigroup Global Operating and Management Committees between 2004 and 2007.

The longest period of Mr Vaswani’s career so far has been with the UK’s Barclays Bank. Beginning with the British bank’s Cards Europe as its CEO in 2010, he went on to head Barclays Africa between 2011 and 2012. Moving on to London in 2016, he became CEO of Barclays UK’s cards and wealth verticals as well as its retail and business banking operations. Later, he went on to head the British bank’s global consumer, private, corporate and payments business and became a member of the bank’s group executive committee.  

At both Citi and Barclays, Mr Vaswani leveraged forward-leaning technologies with a vision to deliver strong bottom-line growth for the banks. He also built and grew businesses at scale, groomed result-oriented teams and established transformational partnerships. His deft executional experience – combined with a high degree of compliance and ease of operating across both corporate and consumer businesses – has enabled Mr Vaswani to deliver on the targets efficiently.   

As Mr Vaswani assumes his new responsibilities, he will have to tackle a few challenges thrown up by Kotak Mahindra Bank. According to industry circles, there is some discontent within the bank’s top management over having an outsider to head its operations. The new Kotak chief will have to ensure that the bank’s top brass sticks together and prevent any possible exit of talent. Mr Vaswani will also have to take new initiatives in building scale in commercial banking, maintaining margins and growing the balance sheet of the country’s fourth-largest private bank. Mr Vaswani may perhaps have thought through a set of strategies to address these very issues. 

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