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The fragmented state of the banking industry and, arguably, the relatively conservative policies of the Indian banking regulator Reserve Bank of India, have kept the assets of Indian banks somewhat subdued compared to their global peers. Not surprisingly, league tables of the global banking industry that use asset as the benchmark to carry out their ranking, have traditionally been bereft of an Indian bank.

Barring FORTUNE 500 and State Bank of India, that is.

Since it spans multiple industries, the FORTUNE magazine uses revenues – not assets – to measure a company’s size. On this basis, the latest FORTUNE GLOBAL 500 list published on 23 July 2012* ranks India’s #1 bank SBI as the 285th largest corporation in the world. My industry analysis – more on that in a bit – shows that SBI is placed at the 33rd spot among 48 banks that feature on this fabled list of the world’s 500 biggest corporations. Debuting at the 498th rank in 2006 with US$ 13.755B in revenues, SBI has nearly trebled in size to US$ 36.95B to reach its current position where it’s bigger than Goldman Sachs (US$ 36.793B), Commerzbank (US$ 29.235B), Standard Chartered Bank (US$ 24.488B) and many other better known banking giants.

However, reckoned by assets, SBI’s US$ 360B place it well below China Merchant’s Bank, the smallest bank on this list (US$ 22.093B in revenues, US$ 445B in assets).

Therefore, SBI’s relatively high rank by revenues despite a lower asset base suggests that it turns over its assets at a greater rate than many other banks. To verify this, I searched the whole magazine and FORTUNE’s website for the banking industry list. Since I couldn’t find it, I developed one myself , which can be downloaded here.

Turns out that my guess was right. SBI ranks #7 on the Revenues / Assets metric as against #33 on revenues and # 45 on assets. While I’m no financial analyst, SBI’s superior Revenue:Asset performance can be explained by the relatively high Net Interest Margins (350 to 500 bps) enjoyed by banks – local and multinational alike – in India compared to many other countries. For the uninitiated, Net Interest Margin (NIM) is “a measure of the difference between the interest income generated by banks (from loans given to borrowers) … and the amount of interest paid out to their lenders (on deposits received from depositors), relative to the amount of their (interest-earning) assets”.

During SBI’s five year reign as a FORTUNE 500 company, no other Indian bank has entered the FORTUNE GLOBAL 500 list. A comparison of the revenues of India’s second largest bank, ICICI BANK, (US$ 13.812B) with that of the last company in the list (MANPOWER @ US$ 22.006B), might suggest that SBI’s solitary presence in the GLOBAL 500 list could continue well into the future. However, given the relative buoyancy of the Indian economy, there’s no ruling out the possibility that some other bank could become a FORTUNE 500 company sooner rather than later, especially if the industry’s high NIM levels hold up in the coming years. Let’s see…

Full Disclosure: Apart from my present or past banking relationships with some of the banks mentioned in this blog post, I have no interest in them.

* For those of you looking up this list online, here’s a word of caution: Although it’s called RANK 2011 in the print version of the magazine, the corresponding online version of this list shows up by selecting 2012 – not 2011 – from the dropdown menu on the website

Ketharaman Swaminathan On July - 21 - 2013

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