This article is part of the series 30 Years After: Review and Renew the Reforms Agenda.
At the heart of the complex web of bits and bytes that is the modern financial system is the ability to exchange and transfer capital (money) between various participants in an economy. Borrowers, lenders, investors and entrepreneurs form the four corners of this very busy square. Traffic flow and participants can either be controlled and owned by the government as it was in India till 1991, or it can be regulated by a set of independent regulators appointed by the government, as it is today in 2021.
When we see the hectic activity in the Indian financial system today, we tend to forget what it was like just 30 years ago — in terms of scale, products, efficiency, cost and service. The sole job of a financial system is to trundle money around to find its optimal use in terms of returns at a low-cost and safety of transactions. But the centrally planned Indian economy used the state-owned financial institutions such as banks and insurance companies to gather household savings for its own use, hard coding this into the reserve ratios in banks and investment guidelines in insurance firms.