Since his appointment last year, Raghuram Rajan has been making the headlines for all the right reasons. But beyond his interventions in currency markets and the macroeconomy, a steady stream of pronouncements from the RBI Governor on potential priority sector reforms should give the SME sector in India much to cheer about.
In his inaugural address, Rajan specifically highlighted the importance of SME finance in spurring growth across the broader economy:
As the central bank of a developing country, we have additional tools to generate growth – we can accelerate financial development and inclusion. Rural areas, especially our villages, as well as small and medium industries across the country, have been important engines of growth even as large company growth has slowed…
He went on to endorse receivables financing as a key policy tool to unlock timely credit to SMEs and address the massive working capital gap in the sector today:
For small and medium firms, we intend to facilitate Electronic Bill Factoring Exchanges, whereby MSME bills against large companies can be accepted electronically and auctioned so that MSMEs are paid promptly. This was a proposal in the report of my Committee on Financial Sector reforms in 2008, and I intend to see it carried out.
On a cautionary note, it is worth noting that this is not the first formal RBI pronouncement in recent times advocating factoring or receivables-based financing as a financial inclusion tool for the SME sector. In fact, the RBI has signaled a steady commitment in recent times to SME credit growth, but its policy directives have frequently not translated into real priorities for public and private sector banks operating on the ground.
In 2013, IFMR reported that 16 out of 26 public sector banks had failed to meet their priority-sector lending (PSL) targets. Half the private sector banks also did not reach their targets, bringing the total shortfall in priority-sector lending in 2013 to USD 28 billion.
Despite these hiccups, Mr. Rajan’s strong words and visible proactivity since coming into office suggest that the RBI may embarking on a fresh chapter of promoting innovation to further financial inclusion for priority sectors. If recent sentiment across capital markets is any indication to go by, the consensus is that this Governor means business. This is good news for innovators trying to bring new and disruptive business models to sectors that have traditionally been starved for credit. But for entrepreneurs in these sectors, it could mean something more transformative – unprecedented access to an entirely new set of institutions, tools, and financial products more finely attuned to serving their business requirements and financing needs.
(Image credit: Business Today Aug 12, 2013)