We cannot have a healthy economy without a sound and effective banking system. The banking system should be hassle free and able to meet the new challenges posed by technology and other factors, both internal and external.

In the past three decades, India's banking system has earned several outstanding achievements to its credit. The most striking is its extensive reach. It is no longer confined to metropolises or cities in India. In fact, Indian banking system has reached even to the remote corners of the country. This is one of the main aspects of India's growth story.

The government's regulation policy for banks has paid rich dividends with the nationalization of 14 major private banks in 1969. Banking today has become convenient and instant, with the account holder not having to wait for hours at the bank counter for getting a draft or for withdrawing money from his account.

History of Banking in India

The first bank in India, though conservative, was established in 1786. From 1786 till today, the journey of Indian Banking System can be segregated into three distinct phases:

Phase 1 (1786 to 1969)

The first bank in India, the General Bank of India, was set up in 1786. Bank of Hindustan and Bengal Bank followed. The East India Company established Bank of Bengal (1809), Bank of Bombay (1840), and Bank of Madras (1843) as independent units and called them Presidency banks. These three banks were amalgamated in 1920 and the Imperial Bank of India, a bank of private shareholders, mostly Europeans, was established. Allahabad Bank was established, exclusively by Indians, in 1865. Punjab National Bank was set up in 1894 with headquarters in Lahore. Between 1906 and 1913, Bank of India, Central Bank of India, Bank of Baroda, Canara Bank, Indian Bank, and Bank of Mysore were set up. The Reserve Bank of India came in 1935.

During the first phase, the growth was very slow and banks also experienced periodic failures between 1913 and 1948. There were approximately 1,100 banks, mostly small. To streamline the functioning and activities of commercial banks, the Government of India came up with the Banking Companies Act, 1949, which was later changed to the Banking Regulation Act, 1949 as per amending Act of 1965 (Act No. 23 of 1965). The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) was vested with extensive powers for the supervision of banking in India as the Central banking authority. During those days, the general public had lesser confidence in banks. As an aftermath, deposit mobilization was slow. Moreover, the savings bank facility provided by the Postal department was comparatively safer, and funds were largely given to traders.

Phase 2 (1969 to 1991)

The government took major initiatives in banking sector reforms after Independence. In 1955, it nationalized the Imperial Bank of India and started offering extensive banking facilities, especially in rural and semi-urban areas. The government constituted the State Bank of India to act as the principal agent of the RBI and to handle banking transactions of the Union government and state governments all over the country. Seven banks owned by the Princely states were nationalized in 1959 and they became subsidiaries of the State Bank of India. In 1969, 14 commercial banks in the country were nationalized. In the second phase of banking sector reforms, seven more banks were nationalized in 1980. With this, 80 percent of the banking sector in India came under the government ownership.

Phase 3 (1991 onwards)

This phase has introduced many more products and facilities in the banking sector as part of the reforms process. In 1991, under the chairmanship of M Narasimham, a committee was set up, which worked for the liberalization of banking practices. Now, the country is flooded with foreign banks and their ATM stations. Efforts are being put to give a satisfactory service to customers. Phone banking and net banking are introduced. The entire system became more convenient and swift. Time is given importance in all money transactions.

The financial system of India has shown a great deal of resilience. It is sheltered from crises triggered by external macroeconomic shocks, which other East Asian countries often suffered. This is all due to a flexible exchange rate regime, the high foreign exchange reserve, the not-yet fully convertible capital account, and the limited foreign exchange exposure of banks and their customers.