MUMBAI // India has launched its first state-owned bank for women, as it aims to improve female financial empowerment in a country where almost three-quarters of women do not have a bank account.
The first branch of the new lender, Bharatiya Mahila Bank, was inaugurated by Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh in Mumbai on Tuesday.
“Only 26 per cent of women in India admit to having a bank account,” said P Chidambaram, India’s finance minister, who also attended the inauguration.
“Since fewer women than men have bank accounts, fewer women are able to get loans.”
Mr Chidambaram added that per capita credit for women was 80 per cent lower than for men, which merits a bank that mainly serves women.
Although the new bank will be mainly run by women and has an all-female board of directors, it will employ men.
And it will offer deposit accounts to men, but other services such as loans will be predominantly available to women.
Earlier this year, New Delhi said it would set up the bank and provide an initial capital of 10 billion rupees (Dh587.6 million).
The bank is starting operations with branches in seven cities, including Chennai and Kolkata. It will expand its network to 25 branches by March, and has targeted having 500 branches by 2017. The lender also has ambitions to expand abroad.
Mr Singh said access to finance and banking would not only help empower women, but also broadens the social base of development and foster equitable growth.
“This is an area in which India lags far behind. Our women have minimal access to finance and financial products. We need to change this state of affairs to enable our women to contribute to the growth processes of the mainstream economy,” he said.
Mr Singh also expressed confidence that the new bank would enable the financial inclusion of women and provide them with equal and easy access to such services.
“I am also sure that it will particularly benefit women from the less privileged sections of our society,” he said.