The State Bank of India (SBI) and telecom provider Bharti Airtel have launched a joint venture in order to promote financial inclusion across India. The companies seek to leverage Airtel’s retail network by enabling customers to open bank accounts at Airtel’s outlets. Having already opened bank branches in more than 100,000 ‘unbanked villages,’ the new JV will help SBI extend its products and services to those without adequate access to the banking system. State Bank of India, the country’s largest commercial bank, and Bharti Airtel have entered into a Joint Venture (JV) agreement. The newly formed entity will offer banking products and services to people in unbanked and other areas.

Speaking on the occasion, O. P. Bhatt, Chairman, State Bank of India said, “State Bank of India has always been in the forefront of Financial Inclusion initiatives. More than 67% of its 13,000 branch network is in rural and semi urban areas. In the last four years, the bank has set up more than 15,000 customer service points of business correspondents as well as 13,000 business facilitators, to increase its outreach. The bank has already reached out to more than 1 lakh unbanked villages.”

This joint venture will enable the bank to fulfill its mandate of reaching out to every Indian, leveraging the distribution network of Airtel to provide banking services in a cost effective and secure manner. “With this, we look forward to taking the benefits of banking to the Indian masses and building a more inclusive society thereby carrying forward State Bank’s vision of being the banker to every Indian,” he added.

Commenting on the partnership, Sunil Bharti Mittal, Chairman and Managing Director, Bharti Airtel said, “This historic collaboration between SBI and Airtel brings together two sectors that have made the most impact in addressing inclusive growth. The services offered by the JV will enable financial inclusion and economic empowerment for people across India. This will be a complete game changer, leveraging SBI’s expertise in the banking sector along with Airtel’s 150 million customer base and ecosystem of over 1.5 million retailers and distributors across India. Together, we will create a scalable operation that will address the banking requirements of millions of Indians through the mobile platform.”

The JV as Business Correspondent will engage Airtel’s retailers as Customer Service Points (CSP) all over India in a phased manner. With this, Airtel mobile customers will be able to visit these outlets and open new SBI bank accounts. Additionally, existing SBI customers will also get serviced at these outlets.

The JV incorporation between SBI and Airtel will be concluded by 31st March, 2011.