The new (flawed) investment advisor regulation is a non-starter since SEBI is proposing to regulate through the idea of Self Regulatory Organisation. SROs have not worked in the past and may fail in this case too
The Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) in a concept paper suggests that a Self Regulatory Organisation (SRO) be set up to regulate investment advisors. The SRO would be registered under the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI). The activity of investment advisors would be regulated by the SRO. However, issues related to the financial products other than securities would come under the jurisdiction of other regulators. Is SRO the right structure to institute so-called investment advisor regulations?
Forming an SRO would just result in a blame-game situation and there would be no accountability. When an issue arises, the regulator would blame the SRO for not being able to supervise one of its advisors. Theoretically, the SRO could penalise the advisor, but will it not lead to a maelstrom of protests and finger-pointing? Who will actually 'run' the SRO? Indians are notorious for not being able to group together for common good and this is supposed to a grouping of sellers for the buyers' good! India's grievance redressal, which is not pro-investor, will just get worse.
In any case, will an SRO be even set up? Is there a precedence of effective SROs? The concept of SROs, mooted by GV Ramakrishna, the second SEBI chairman way back in 1993, has never worked in India. SEBI wanted the investment bankers to form what is called Association of Merchant Bankers of India (AMBI).
Then there is Association of Mutual Funds of India (AMFI). In 2009, the market regulator pushed hard to make AMFI an SRO. AMFI has repeatedly rejected SEBI's offer to transform itself into an SRO. AMFI prefers to be a lobbying organisation for the mutual fund industry rather than an SRO responsible for regulating asset management companies (AMCs).
In practice, only the stock exchanges, which wield substantial powers of their own are SROs of any consequence. This is because the job of exchanges is real time and is of critical importance. They have to have elaborate rules and implement them strictly. But even exchanges are often found wanting when it comes to investor protection. They instead prefer to pass on the buck to the regulator. When asked about price-rigging in illiquid scrips, the Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE) keeps mum. The concept of SRO works only with respect to regulating brokers. The only other example of SRO Registrars Association of India. There are hardly a few registrars, unlike distributors which number in tens of thousands.
What are the chances that SEBI would be able to get them together and persuade them to create an effective SRO? Where would it even start? SEBI can call a meeting of HDFC Bank, Citi Bank, Karvy, etc, to get the idea going but who is it possible that that these totally bottomline-focused organisations would be willing to come together and regulate themselves? And what happens to smaller national distributors and tens of thousands of smaller once spread across the country. Do they get a voice? If they don't get a voice, what happens?
It seems unthinkable that if just 40 well-resourced and large organisations (the AMCs) could not get together and form an SRO, a group of thousands of disparate and heterogeneous businesses (financial products distributors), would be willing and able to come together. Can SEBI, which is often found bungling in basic, ways ensure this? Don't bet on it.
In the fourth part of this series we will look at more hurdles in implenting Sebi's idea of regulating advisors, brought to our attention by some smart and ethical distributors.
Here are some articles we carried in the past on the concept of SROs: