Private-equity backed Ujjivan Financial Services Pvt Ltd and Janalakshmi Financial Services Pvt Ltd were among the 10 granted approval to seek one of the niche small finance bank licences. Most of the others were microfinance companies that already make small loans to businesses and farmers.
Nearly half the population of India, Asia's third-largest economy, did not have a bank account before a government programme led to millions of new accounts this year.
More than 100 million people in the country work at small businesses but only about 4 per cent of small businesses have access to institutional finance.
Setting up small banks will enable microfinance firms to increase their loan ticket size although they must ensure that half of their loan book constitutes loans of not more than Rs 25 lakh ($37,700).
Existing non-bank finance companies, local area banks and micro-finance institutions were eligible to apply for the permits and 72 submitted applications.
The winners will in future be able to become fully fledged banks depending on their performance and if they comply with rules for banks, the RBI has said, although the transition will not be automatic.
Janalakshmi's investors include Morgan Stanley Private Equity Asia and TPG, while Sequoia Capital and the World Bank arm IFC are investors in Ujjivan.
The other institutions selected for small bank permits included Au Financiers (India) Ltd, Capital Local Area Bank Ltd and Disha Microfin Pvt Ltd.
In a separate process, last month, the RBI had named 11 companies to set up payments banks that can take deposits and remittances but cannot lend. Big telecom carriers and Reliance Industries, controlled by India's richest man, were among those selected for the payments bank permits.
($1 = Rs 66.3234)
© Thomson Reuters 2015