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Twenty-seven and fresh out of management school, this Bengaluru-based young man could picture what his new job would look like. He’d been hired as a relationship manager at a prominent Indian bank. He imagined managing the assets of high net-worth individuals (HNIs), maybe offering some investment advice to the average bank customer. What he discovered, however, was an entirely different life.

“90% of the job is to just sell insurance,” he tells The Ken. He did not want his name disclosed as he is currently employed there.

Relationship managers (RMs) are the bottom rung of the banking hierarchy. Their role carries the most responsibility because the bank relies entirely on the ability of its RMs to cross-sell its various financial products.

But RMs are also the least likely to be held fully accountable if things go south. They’re expected to play the role of a mass financial advisor to customers, but most don’t stay at their jobs for more than two years. So, it’s not their neck on the line.

The role, like its name, requires that the RM have a long-standing relationship with the customer and service her needs. But it has now morphed into one that leans heavily into sales, where the RM sells what the bank wants her to sell. Just look at job descriptions for RMs from top private banks in India:

Banks have a certain logic for mixing the roles of sales and service. “Good service leads to better sales. So, the stepping stone for an RM to sell better is through good service, because you tend to buy a product from someone you trust,” says Surinder Chawla, head of branch banking at RBL Bank.

Every customer with a balance of at least Rs 1 lakh ($1,336) in a private bank is mapped to an RM. So a bank like HDFC—which has about 60 million customers—would have only about 10% of customers maintaining that kind of balance. Since an RM manages 150 groups of customers on average, a large bank would have about 15,000 RMs, according to banking executives.

An RM servicing a retail client can have a revenue target in the range of Rs 9 lakh ($12,022) to Rs 40 lakh ($53431) a year at a large bank, says a retail branch banking head at a mid-sized bank. And RMs are expected to earn this revenue from a mix of products—helping customers open new accounts, deposits, issuing forex, and helping issue loans.

But there is special emphasis on selling third-party products such as life insurance and systematic investment plans (SIPs) because it’s these products that earn money for banks in the form of fees. About 50% of a bank’s CASA CASA Current Account Saving Account Banks offer CASA to customers to make them keep their money in their banks is managed by RMs, and about 30%-35% of fee income for a private bank is RM-managed, says Chawla.


Arundhati Ramanathan

Arundhati is interested in how people use money in the digital age and how new economies will take shape based on that interaction. She writes the newsletter Ka-Ching! every Monday. She lives in Bengaluru and has spent over 12 years reporting and writing on various subjects.

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