BharatPe, a third-party Unified Payments Interface player, has thrown its hat into the race to acquire the Punjab and Maharashtra Cooperative (PMC) Bank, and has joined forces with the Centrum Group for it, the Times of India reported. While the company has struggled to get a lending license from the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), if the offer is accepted it will leap frog BharatPe’s journey from a payments app to a bank overnight.
In September 2019, it was revealed that PMC Bank had a ₹6,500 crore hole in its balance sheet, around 73% of its loan book. While the RBI swooped in to introduce restrictions on withdrawals and supersede the banks’ board by appointing an administrator, for the last two years the banks’ depositors have been struggling to move on due to the regulatory restrictions.
According to an RBI release last week, the banks’ administrator has received four expressions of interest (EoI) from interested parties. “These proposals will be examined by the bank with regard to their viability and feasibility taking into account the best interest of the depositors. To undertake this process, the bank would need some more time,” it said.
While BharatPe has joined hands with the Centrum Group to bid for the bank, the report also says that the United Kingdom-based Liberty Group has also sought to acquire the beleaguered bank. The names of remaining applicants was not revealed.
According to the PMC Bank’s EoI document, the acquiring company and investors can look to convert the bank into a small finance bank post-acquisition, and eventually convert it to a universal bank over time. This would catapult BharatPe not only towards becoming a bank, with access to deposits, liquidity and a lower cost of funds, but would propel its operations beyond that of Paytm, which has a payments bank license. Recently, an internal working group of the RBI recommended allowing payments banks to convert to small finance banks after three years or operations instead of five as per current regulations.
BharatPe’s was recently valued at $500 million and has a user base of over 5 million merchants. It has a lending platform, which has grown significantly over the past year, from disbursing around ₹10-12 crores a month in January to ₹100 crores in October.
As of March 2020, PMC Bank had deposits worth ₹10,727 crore, total advances of ₹4,473 crore, and gross non-performing assets (NPA) worth ₹3,519 crore. The bank registered a loss of ₹6,835 crore in FY20 and its net worth stood at negative ₹5,850 crore.