RBI issues guidelines for setting up Digital Banking Units

09 Apr 2022


Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has prepared guidelines for setting up Digital Banking Units (DBUs) by commercial banks on the basis of recommendations of a Working Group, which included representatives of banks and Indian Banks' Association (IBA).

These guidelines are applicable to all domestic scheduled commercial banks (excluding regional rural banks, payments banks and local area banks), and will come into effect from the date of issue of the circular, RBI stated in a release on Thursday (7 April 2022).
Digital Banking refers to present and future electronic banking services provided by a licensed bank for the execution of financial, banking and other transactions and/or orders/instruments through electronic devices / equipment over web sites (ie, online banking), mobile phones (ie, mobile banking) or other digital channels as determined by the bank, which involve significant level of process automation and cross-institutional service capabilities running under enhanced technical architecture and differentiated business model / strategy.
For the purpose of disclosure under Accounting Standard 17 (AS-17), RBI has defined Digital Banking Segment as a sub-segment of the existing ‘Retail Banking’ segment, which will now be sub-divided in to (i) Digital Banking and (ii) Other Retail Banking. The business involving digital banking products acquired by DBUs or existing digital banking products would qualify to be clubbed under this segment.
Digital banking products and services would generally mean those financial products/services whose designs and fulfilments have nearly end-to-end digital life cycle with the initial customer acquisition / product delivery necessarily taking place digitally through self-service or assisted self-service.
A specialised fixed point business unit / hub housing certain minimum digital infrastructure for delivering digital banking products and services as well as servicing existing financial products and services digitally, in both self-service and assisted mode, to enable customers to have cost effective/ convenient access and enhanced digital experience to/ of such products and services in an efficient, paperless, secured and connected environment with most services being available in self-service mode at any time, all year round.
Scheduled commercial banks (other than RRBs, PBs and LABs) with past digital banking experience are permitted to open DBUs in Tier 1 to Tier 6 centres, unless otherwise specifically restricted, without having the need to take permission from Reserve Bank of India in each case.
The DBUs of the banks will be treated as Banking Outlets (BOs) as defined in RBI circular dated 18 May 2017 on “Rationalisation of Branch Authorisation Policy- Revision of Guidelines”. For the purpose of compliance with regulatory requirements on opening of BOs during a financial year, the DBUs will be treated as opened in a centre from where the significant parts of its new business are proposed to be sourced, regardless of its physical location.
Each DBU shall be housed distinctly, with the separate entry and exit provisions. They will be separate from an existing Banking Outlet with formats and designs most appropriate for digital banking users.
For front-end or distribution layer of digital banking, each bank would choose suitable smart equipment, such as Interactive Teller Machines, Interactive Bankers, Service Terminals, Teller and Cash Recyclers, Interactive Digital Walls, Document uploading, self -service card issuance devices, Video KYC Apparatus, secured and connected environment for use of own device for digital banking, Video Call / Conferencing facilities, to set up an DBU. These facilities can be insourced or outsourced while complying with relevant regulatory guidelines.
The back-end, including the Core Banking System and other back office related information systems for the digital banking products and services, can be shared with that of the incumbent systems with logical separation. Alternatively, banks can adopt more core-independent digital-native technologies offering better scalability, flexibility in creating new / reusable digital environments through continuous development / software deployment and interconnectivity specifically for this business segment, based on their digital strategy.
If the digital banking segment of a bank uses an API layer (integration layer) to connect with external third-party application providers, the same should be tested in an isolated/ test environment before being integrated to bank’s core systems backed by comprehensive risk evaluation and adequate documentation.
Banks are free to adopt an in-sourced or out-sourced model for operations of the digital banking segment including DBUs. The outsourced model should specifically comply with the relevant regulatory guidelines on outsourcing.
As the purpose of DBUs is to optimally blend digital infrastructure with ‘human touch’, remote or in situ assisted mode arrangements in right proportion should be planned and put in place by the banks.
The establishment of DBUs should be part of the digital banking strategy of the bank. The operational governance and administrative structure of the DBUs will be aligned with that of the Digital Banking Segment of the bank. However, in order to accelerate digital banking initiatives, each DBU will be headed by a sufficiently senior and experienced executive of the bank, preferably Scale III or above for PSBs or equivalent grades for other banks who can be designated as the Chief Operating Officer (COO) of the DBU.
In addition to ensuring physical security of the infrastructure of the DBU, adequate safeguards for cyber security of the DBUs will have to be ensured by the banks.
Each DBU must offer certain minimum digital banking products and services. Such products should be on both liabilities and assets side of the balance sheet of the digital banking segment. Digitally value-added services to conventional products would also qualify as such. The DBUs are expected to migrate to more structured and custom made products, from standard offerings by use of its hybrid and high quality interactive capabilities.
Banks have the freedom to offer any digital product or service in addition to the minimum bouquet to cater to the specific needs of the service area. Any product or service that can be provided digitally through internet banking or mobile banking can be provided in the DBU. Any product or service which a bank is not permitted to offer as per the provisions of Banking Regulation Act 1949, as amended from time to time, shall not be offered by the DBU.
Banks will have the options to engage digital business facilitator / business correspondents in conformance with relevant regulations to expand the virtual footprint of DBUs.
There should be adequate digital mechanism to offer real time assistance and redress customer grievances arising from business and services offered by the DBUs directly or through Business Facilitators / Correspondents.

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