Banksathis are the Bank's front line worker. They come from the same communities as the customers and live alongside them in the same neighborhoods. They typically also pursue the same trades as the women while working in conjunction with the Bank. A banksathi is usually someone who has experience at maintaining a bank account; is a local leader with good credibility; is strong, energetic, and alert; is active within SEWA; and can preferably read and write. Banksathis have fixed deposits of 15,000 rupees in SEWA Bank – the amount that is taken as a “security deposit,” a safeguard against any misappropriation. (Recently, the Reserve Bank of India has suggested raising the amount.) She may borrow from the bank and deposit the amount in her fixed – deposit account. A capable banksathi can serve around 400 borrowers of the bank. A bank staff in-charge monitors the banksathi.
Although the women do want to build up some savings, this is difficult for several reasons. A common complaint is, of course, “I have no money, how can I save?” One banksathi's response to this argument was, “Try this! Every time you knead dough to make roti, take two small fistfuls of flour and put it aside. If you do it for six days in a row, on the seventh day you will have enough flour to cook a day's roti without reaching for new flour! Saving is the same thing!"
The loan procedure is relatively simple. The banksathi first assesses the applicant. Before coming to a decision, she takes notes on several points: irregularity of income, unpaid debt installments, number of dependents in the family, number of children working at home, regularity in savings, absence of a steel these factors does not disqualify a candidate – such mitigating circumstances are, after all, a part of the women's lives. The banksathi's role is to note potential areas of trouble, but also to note areas where supplementary help can be provided to the women – access to crèche, to legal services, or to medical attention. Assessing the creditworthiness of a woman whose husband drinks or who is a window without family support, for example, requires taking into consideration a lot of other factors and making certain allowances.
A bank facilitator then follows up on the banksathi's recommendation and probes deeper into an applicant's business activities. She notes the level of competition in the business, the family's finances and their productive assets, the woman's entrepreneurial skills, and her overall participation in the Bank's savings programs.
The facilitator then asks the banksathi to explain the loan application process, the repayment rules, and the implications of overdue payments to the potential member. Only after there is no doubt that the woman has thoroughly understood the process will the banksathi sign the form recommending the woman. The application is then presented to the Loan Committee, which meets every third day and makes its sanctions. If approved, the loan is disbursed through the main office of the Bank within a week to ten days. The banksathi then informs the woman whether her loan has been accepted or rejected. The banksathi earns approximately 1 percent on savings and 3 percent of loans over the total business she has transacted.