Former EY partner Charanjit Attra joins SBI as CFO

27 October 2020
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A banking sector veteran, Charanjit Surinder Singh Attra has been an EY partner for the last five years, and will now take over as chief financial officer at India’s largest creditor – State Bank of India (SBI).

Attra has two decades of experience in India’s banking sector, including a tenure as Director of India’s third largest bank – ICICI. Between 2012 and 2015, Attra was also the global executive director at 3i Infotech – a Mumbai-based IT company that offers dedicated digital solutions for banking, insurance, capital markets and asset & wealth management.

With a spell at Big Four accounting and advisory firm EY under his belt, Attra will now leverage his years of financial experience – coupled with knowledge of the digital financial services sphere – to lead financial operations at a bank that has assets under management of nearly $600 billion.

Former EY partner Charanjit Attra joins SBI as CFO

Reporting to Deputy Managing Director of SBI's finance department J Swaminathan, Attra takes over a number of new mandates as CFO. Included are all of SBI's statutory audit functions, as well as audit-focused coordination with regulators such as the National Financial Reporting Authority (NFRA). Attra takes the reins from Prashant Kumar – who was picked up by private sector player Yes Bank earlier this year to drive a turnaround at the struggling bank.

Winds of change

Attra will now be part of a sector in flux. Among the signs of change is that he will receive up to Rs. 10 million per year in compensation for his efforts – significantly higher than the SBI Chairman or any other senior leader at a public sector bank. His appointment and substantial compensation comes amid broader efforts to promote “lateral hiring” – where experienced talent is lifted from another organisation with the aim of filling a specific role.

For public sector banks, lateral hiring will involve matching the compensation packages offered at private bodies. The goal of lateral hiring is to bring much-needed talent to India’s public banking arena – a push that has been endorsed by former SBI chairperson Arundhati Bhattacharya.

Lateral hiring also makes up a central part of India's comprehensive banking reforms. In April this year, the finance ministry moved to merge ten public sector banks into four consolidated entities. At the time, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman combined the consolidation drive with the mandatory lateral hiring of a chief risk officer from the private sector. 

Attra’s appointment will likely be a welcome move against this precedent. Part of the consolidation drive was the merger of Punjab National Bank, Oriental Bank of Commerce and United Bank of India to form the country’s second largest bank after SBI. EY was called in at the time to manage the merger – efforts that no doubt involved Attra’s expertise.

And these are just the structural changes underway at SBI. Attra's involvement at the cutting edge of the private sector, and prior experience with digital banking, will come in handy as SBI tries to modernise its operations. Amid transformation efforts, the bank is looking to digitalise, attract talent and shore itself up against contemporary risks such as pandemics and climate change.