A slew of changes in the way funds are created and sold, would come about in the next 12-18 months, asserted KN Vaidyanathan, an Executive Director of SEBI, while speaking to Moneylife in an exclusive interview. This is the first story of a series
The Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) is pushing for a series of reforms over the next 12-18 months to streamline further the process of how mutual funds are created and sold. This would mean further changes in the roles of distributors—both national distributors and Independent Financial Advisors (IFAs) who are currently not regulated.
In an exclusive interview to Moneylife editor Debashis Basu, KN Vaidyanathan, an Executive Director of SEBI said, “We will first deal with the banks and national distributors and then handle the IFAs. We have already started doing certain things. We have taken the exam away from the Association of Mutual Funds in India (AMFI). It will be handled by National Institute of Securities Markets. The test will be more current. There will be a demarcation between passing the test and getting the certificate.”
When it was pointed out that with the smaller IFAs pushed to the background, banks have emerged as powerful national distributors leading to a lot of mis-selling, Mr Vaidyanathan replied: “It’s true that banks alone enjoy the trust of investors and some of them have been abusing that trust. Maybe the fund distribution will be done by a different set of banks, provided the fund companies get their product right. Instead of feeding investors 10 different funds, nothing stops a fund company from offering one fund that does asset allocation and ensures low volatility.” Indeed, as Moneylife has pointed out many times, mis-selling often starts with product design itself.
Mr Vaidyanathan is currently talking to the asset management companies as to whether mis-selling can be rooted out through an institutional process. “The key issue on the distribution side is how do you institutionalise the due diligence process. I told the funds, you can take the view that mis-selling is not mis-selling unless I am caught. That to me is low-grade. The issue is how do I build systems in an organisation which makes it institutionally difficult to mis-sell. Banks have such systems in place. When you open a new account, there are calls from the quality control departments asking questions about various service parameters—there is a verification of the on-boarding process in place. Does the mutual fund industry have this? Why not? After all, many of them have been set up by banks. This upsets me because they are making a distinction between banking and mutual funds, depending on what is on (the) balance (sheet) and what is off balance sheet.”
Based on Mr Vaidyanathan’s suggestions, funds are working on creating appropriate internal systems. SEBI is also pushing the fund industry to develop a code of ethics and stick to it.
After suspension orders against various projects in the past, the environment ministry has suspended clearance for Sesa Goa’s iron ore project
The ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) has come down heavily on projects across sectors for violating environment regulations in the recent past.
In its latest move, the ministry has pulled up Sesa Goa, a Vedanta-owned company, for one of its proposed iron ore mines in Goa. In an order sent to Sesa Goa on Monday, the ministry stated that the environment clearance granted to the company in June 2009 had been suspended with immediate effect. The project in consideration is an iron ore mine in north Goa.
The ministry has suspended the clearance order in line with the National Environment Appellate Authority’s order in a hearing between Pirna Naroda Nagrik Kruti Samiti, a local group, and another case filed against the project.
This action is among the many suspension orders released by the ministry over the past few days. Last week, the ministry had ordered construction work at the Maheshwar Hydel power project to be suspended
On 11 May 2010, the ministry had put the construction work of Vedanta’s university on hold. The university was being planned at Puri in Orissa. Earlier, the ministry had also rejected a uranium mining proposal in Meghalaya. The proposal was put forward by the Department of Atomic Energy.
The standing committee under the chairmanship of Jairam Ramesh, minister of environment and forests, has also decided to press the Maharashtra government for the implementation of a report prepared by the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) which also includes an immediate ban on illegal mining & construction of roads.
When top brokerage firms were approached for opening a trading account, we found that there were differences between the views of official spokespersons and what customer service executives tell would-be clients
Market regulator Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) has firm rules regarding the procedure for opening trading accounts for retail investors.
One of the rules is that a customer can have his demat, trading and savings accounts in different banks or financial institutions, and is not bound to have them all with the same bank.
Yet, brokers linked to banks continue to offer such 3-in-1 accounts not as a choice, but as a compulsion. While this is clearly against SEBI regulations, and official spokespersons of these brokerages state that such accounts are optional, their sales and customer service staff tell a different story.
Moneylife decided to do a survey of four brokerage firms associated with banks, all of whom offered online accounts, to see if this was true. The brokerages surveyed were ICICI Direct, Kotak Securities, HDFC Securities and HSBC InvestDirect.
As individuals, we cannot trade shares on a stock exchange, but must do so through brokers. While some old time brokers still follow traditional methods of trading on behalf of customers where you personally tell your broker what shares to buy and sell at what price, many firms, foremost among them banks and online portals, employ high-tech facilities where you trade from online accounts and can observe prices in real time, get access to reports and recommendations, have automatic withdrawals and deposits from bank accounts and much more. While some argue that high-tech brokerage houses are less flexible and lack the all-important human factor, no one can deny that they are faster, more convenient and more easily accessible.
The first few steps for opening a new trading account were common across all the firms, with the customer service executive informing us that we would be called back by a sales representative. While most customer service executives assured us that we would be called back within a few hours, some were more candid and told us to expect the call within a day or two. Upon asking we were also informed that on giving our details to the sales representative, we would be visited at home by a sales executive.
We were then told that we had to provide certain documents such as proof of identity, proof of address, a PAN card and photographs, standard documents outlined in the SEBI guidelines.
When it came to opening the account, whether it was ICICI, HSBC, HDFC or Kotak, all extolled the virtues of opening a 3-in-1 account, essentially involving opening a savings account, demat account and trading account, all within the same bank. The banks claim that as these accounts are with the same bank, trading would be simplified and hassle free.
When we informed them that we already had savings and demat accounts, and just wanted to open a trading account, we were told that opening a 3-in-1 account was mandatory, though their official spokespersons had a different opinion.
While a Kotak customer service executive told us that the bank had a tie-up with certain other banks (all private and foreign banks) when we informed her that we had a savings account with SBI, India’s largest bank, she politely told us that they couldn’t link it.
The others just refused outright.
When contacted, a spokesperson from ICICI Direct said, “We have designed our products within the regulatory framework as well as keeping in mind our customers’ needs. Hence we offer both 3-in-1 accounts as well as trading accounts through an Active Trader Service account.”
This is a complete contradiction to what their customer service executives told Moneylife.
At the time of writing this article, officials of the other companies were not immediately available for comments.
The most disturbing thing about this whole process is that opening a 3-in-1 account means you have to pay opening and annual maintenance fees for the savings and demat accounts in addition to the fees you pay for the trading account. To top this, you have to maintain an Average Quarterly Balance (AQB) amounting to Rs5,000 for Kotak and ICICI Bank, and Rs10,000 for HDFC Bank. This means that they are forcing you to avail of a service that you neither want nor need, and pay for it too!
While all these banks maintain an official stance that such 3-in-1 accounts are optional, the ground reality is that their call centre executives do not communicate the same to potential customers. The average customer will never contact the official spokespersons, assuming that the companies’ own employees are aware of their respective organisation’s policies.
This is a clear case of large companies thinking that they can blatantly disregard regulations and make their own rules, all the while dictating terms to customers.