The financial health of Vodafone Idea Ltd. is a concern for lenders, although the government is expected to find a solution to prevent the collapse of the loss-making Indian telecommunications company, said Axis Bank Chief Executive Officer Amitabh Chaudhry.
“If this company survives, and I think the government will try very hard for that, they will continue to make those spectrum payments and our guarantees will not be called upon,” Chaudhry said in an interview with Bloomberg TV. “But it’s something to worry about. We have a plan in place.”
Axis, the country’s third-largest private bank, is one of the lenders who have provided guarantees to Vodafone Idea, whose survival is threatened by the government’s claim on past due contributions. The joint venture between Vodafone Group Plc and Indian billionaire Kumar Mangalam Birla’s conglomerate recently suffered a setback when the country’s highest court rejected petitions from telecom operators to reassess how much they owe.
“I am sure that when it comes to the crisis, the government will try to find ways and means to ensure that this company stays for the long term,” Chaudhry said.
Separately, Chaudhry – who took charge of Axis Bank in January 2019 – wants the lender to achieve an 18% return on equity. While that’s currently much higher than 7.6%, Chaudhry hopes to reach that goal with “transformation projects” the bank has undertaken. Axis Bank achieved an ROE of 15-16% in the March quarter, which fell as a result of the most recent coronavirus wave.
“I’m the first to admit it’s an ambitious target, but how do we become distinctive without those ambitions?” he said. “We want to set those ambitions, we want to share them with the market and we want to be held to those ambitions over a certain period of time.”
The bank, which raised 100 billion rupees ($1.3 billion) in equity last year, wants to strike a balance between increasing lending and alerting to alarms about asset quality.
“We are like a crouching tiger. We will take advantage of opportunities that come our way, but at the same time we will prepare for any risk that comes on our horizon,” Chaudhry said.
–With the help of Haslinda Amin, Yvonne Man, Anand Menon and Kurien Abraham.