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RBI reduces staff by half in 20 years thanks to technology

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In a span of 20 years, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has reduced its employee base by more than half to 15,461 people as on December 2016.

This headcount stood at 33,084 in December 1997.

"The total staff strength of the Reserve Bank as on December 31, 2016 was 15,461 as compared to 15,854 a year ago," RBI said in its annual report. This number was even higher at 16,794 in December 2014.

According to RBI, during 2016 (January-December), the Reserve Bank recruited 666 employees. The number of full-time employees in the Reserve Bank stood at 15,693 as on June 30, 2016. Of these, 6,932 were in Class I, 4,119 in Class III and 4,642 in Class IV categories.

The regulator has been steadily reducing its full-time employee base over the years and looking at more contractual and of late some more lateral hiring.

Former RBI Deputy Governor R Gandhi, who once handled the human resources department among other functions, said, "This is because of technology. RBI has some 42,000 people in the late 80s and early 90s. That is when a conscious decision was taken to reduce the unproductive staff and positions. We should rely more on ordinary day-to-day operations and get rid of redundant manual work."

In the 1970s and 80s, a lot of recruitment took place during the RBI’s expansion phase. However, the RBI recruited in smaller numbers and focused on quality of people employed.

It gradually purged away from class 3 and 4 officers and assistants, which did more of manual work that is now largely handled by technology.

In its annual report last year, RBI said, "The changes introduced in the recruitment process have led to a reduction in the recruitment cycle for Grade ‘B’ (Direct Recruit) officers from more than 14 months in 2012-13 to about 6 months in 2015-16."

The RBI is strengthening its information technology (IT) and cyber security cell and is hiring specialists to handle cyber security, systems audit, research & innovation, project management and administration.

For the first time in RBI’s 79-year history, under the leadership of former Governor Raghuram Rajan, the institution also made its first lateral recruitment in November 2014 with Prachi Mishra as a "special advisor".

Mishra, a Columbia University-trained economist who spent nearly 10 years working for the IMF, had joined the central bank’s economic and policy research department and left the institution early this year.

During Rajan’s tenure, the idea that new talent must be hired from outside was firmly solidified and the banking regulator became open to tapping talent from outside of RBI.

Shortly after Rajan’s appointment at the helm, RBI board floated the idea of creating an additional post of Chief operating officer. However, it was immediately rejected by the finance ministry, with the government asking for 'more consensus' to build around the idea.

This year, the RBI has also set out a new position of Chief Financial Officer, to the ranks of executive director, to entrust the responsibility of communicating RBI’s expected and actual financial performance and overseeing its budget processes.

At a recent public event, Viral Acharya, an outsider who took charge as the Deputy Governor in January this year, said, "We (RBI staff) are burning midnight oil, not just at higher positions but those doing research, currency management and bank supervision. People do not pack their bags and leave at 5 pm like other places."

He added, "We have been shrinking in size overtime. At its peak, it was 42,000 and we are now down to under 15,000 in terms of full-time employees at RBI. I think the sincerity and dedication to the job is tremendous and RBI is the most professional institution I have worked with."

Acharya might have made the right move by applying to the RBI for the post, but at other levels, given the dwindling of recruitment in RBI staff, a lot of aspirants may remain disappointed.