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Shikha Sharma, Axis Bank managing director and chief executive officer (MD & CEO), has decided to step down. She was to start her fourth three-year term on June 1.
The move comes in the wake of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) asking the private sector lender’s board to reconsider its decision to reappoint Sharma for a three-year term starting June.
Sharma, after being at the helm of the bank for about nine years, has offered to stay on till December to ensure a smooth transition of the new leadership and lend support to her successor.
She had requested the bank’s board to reconsider the period of her reappointment and revise the term from June 1 to December 31. The board has accepted her request, subject to approval of the RBI, the bank informed the stock exchanges.
“This gives Axis Bank enough time (seven months) for an orderly transition. A sudden exit would have put their back to the wall,” said Amit Tandon, MD and founder, Institutional Investor Advisory Services.
Sources said the banking regulator had asked Axis Bank’s board to reconsider Sharma’s reappointment amid concerns over rising bad loans.
The bank and its board had faced flak from investors over a range of issues, including manipulation by some bank employees after the government had announced demonetisation in November 2016.
“This raises a lot of issues. For one, if the board appointed her (Sharma) for three years based on her performance, why was there a need to overturn (reduce) that to six months. If I was a board member, there would be many questions that needed to be raised. Either your original decision was wrong or the current one is. The board is to be blamed for this issue,” said J N Gupta, MD at Stakeholders Empowerment Services.
Gupta added that the RBI always held the power to do what it wanted with scheduled commercial banks but this was the first time it was exercising its powers.
He said the RBI took the decision as it knew there was something wrong with Axis Bank.
The news comes at a time when the banking sector is likely to see a surge in provisions and bad loans due to the RBI’s new rules to restructure stressed loans.
The immediate task before the board is to commence the search for Sharma's successor. A head of a consultancy firm said these were tough times but the board had the benefit of tapping into internal talent besides casting a wide net to choose an external candidate.
A senior management level rejig is likely in the aftermath of Sharma's exit and appointment of a new chief.
Names doing the rounds as Sharma's successor include Deputy MD V Srinavasan and Executive Director Rajiv Anand.