DBS faces potential culture clash as it scoops up distressed Indian lender

REUTERS/Edgar Su/File Photo

DBS Group’s move to take over troubled Lakshmi Vilas Bank will give Southeast Asia’s largest lender the boost in India it has long desired, but aligning the two banks’ business cultures could prove tricky.

LVB, facing mounting bad loans and governance issues and a failure to secure capital, is set to be folded into DBS’s Indian subsidiary under a plan proposed by India’s central bank, which took control of the 94-year old Chennai-based lender on Tuesday, citing a “serious deterioration” in its finances.

The plan will accelerate Singapore-based DBS’s expansion ambitions in India and potentially transform it from a largely digital bank in the country to one with hundreds of branches.

DBS currently has just over 30 branches in India, while LVB has more than 550, and 900-plus ATMs. DBS, which has a market value of about $47 billion, will inject 25 billion rupees ($337 million) into its India subsidiary for the proposed merger.

“The branches are the crown jewels and offer a readymade network at a very affordable price,” said Willie Tanoto, an analyst at Fitch Ratings in Singapore.

But turning around and integrating LVB, which employs more than 4,000 staff, will pose challenges for DBS, even though the Singapore bank has been in India since 1994 and in 2019 converted its Indian operations from a branch to a wholly-owned subsidiary.

India’s banking union has already expressed reservations about the potential DBS deal.

The All India Bank Employees’ Association (AIBEA), which represents about half a million bank employees, protested against the proposed amalgamation and has demanded a merger with a public sector lender instead.

“Government must preserve the essence of an Indian bank and give it to a national lender instead of handing it over to a foreign bank,” said C.H. Venkatachalam, AIBEA general secretary.

LVB did not immediately respond to a Reuters’ email seeking comment on the proposed merger, while DBS declined to comment.

In terms of culture, there are differences between the two banks, with DBS staff trained in digital skills and strong underwriting processes at a multinational bank, while LVB has a more traditional client-focused approach.

Their branches also differ in look and feel. LVB’s branches have steel benches for waiting customers and numerous notices on walls and windows, contrasting with a more minimalist style often seen in branches at multinational banks.

“Prima facie, there will be challenges in terms of cultural integration as well as process-orientation of people who’ve not worked in a new-age bank,” said Venkat Iyer, partner at recruitment firm Aventus Partners.

Macquarie analyst Suresh Ganapathy said beyond any cultural differences, there are other issues at play.

“DBS employees will have far better capability in terms of digital banking, credit appraisals and underwriting,” Ganapathy said.

Some analysts highlighted that DBS has a strong track record in acquisitions, such as its takeover of a failed Taiwanese bank in 2008 and the acquisition of ANZ’s wealth management and retail businesses in five Asian markets, completed in 2018.

One fund manager said the deal was a strategic fit but he also pointed to a potential culture clash.

“The key unknown at this stage is execution especially for a turnaround acquisition like this where Lakshmi Vilas Bank, which appears to have been operating under a different risk appetite and intensity of internal controls, will need to be aligned with DBS’s prudent and conservative culture,” said Xin-Yao Ng, Asian equities investment manager at Aberdeen Standard Investments, which holds DBS shares.

Reuters

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In Singapore, we are looking to double our reporting team by this year-end to comprehensively cover the fast-moving world of funded startups and VC, PE & M&A deals. We want reporters who can tell our readers what is really happening in these sectors and why it matters to markets, companies and consumers. The ability to write precisely and urgently is crucial for these roles. Ideal candidates must have to ability to work in a collaborative, dynamic, and fast-changing environment. We want our new hires to be digitally savvy and ready to experiment with new forms of storytelling. Most importantly, we are looking for hard-hitting reporters who work well in a team. Collaboration and collegiality are a must.

Following vacancies can be applied for (only in Singapore).

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  • A reporter to track companies/startups that have raised private capital, and have the potential to become unicorns. SEA currently has over 40 companies with a valuation of over $100 million and under $1 billion.
  • A reporter who can get behind the scenes and reveal how funding rounds are put together, or why they’ve failed to materialise. She/he in this role will largely focus on long-format stories. 
  • A journalist to track special situations funds, distressed debt and private credit (from the PE angle) across Asia.