SEBI raps AMCs for pampering distributors

Finally, the market regulator’s eyes have opened up to the fund houses’ practice of lavishing their agents with expensive junkets; it may introduce strict guidelines to tackle this issue

Market watchdog Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) is working to stop the unethical practice of mutual fund houses lavishing distributors with expensive incentives such as cash payouts and expensive foreign junkets in return for peddling their products. Besides finding such rewards unethical, SEBI is also examining whether these incentives are being funded by investors’ money in the name of fund expenses, a top SEBI official told PTI. SEBI is apparently contemplating strong remedial measures to keep such practices in check.

Moneylife was among the first to have highlighted how fund companies were in competition to organise lavish junkets for their distributors, unable to incentivise distributors through entry loads, post the ban. As SEBI has rightly pointed out, the bigger question is who ultimately paid for these fancy trips and cash emoluments? Deducting such expenses from investors’ money was a common practice earlier, till the regulator came down heavily on AMCs and prevented the fund industry from making investors pay for such extravaganzas. So, AMCs were supposed to bear the expenses on their own, but suspicions still abound whether fund houses are draining the investors’ kitty through some subverted measures.

There have been several instances of such dole-outs, ranging from the subtle to the outrageously lavish. For those distributors who had raked in the maximum moolah, HDFC Mutual Fund had organised a trip to Italy for four days. Earlier, Reliance Mutual Fund took some of its distributors to Kashmir while HSBC took them to Kerala for a long weekend. According to distributors, Templeton was running a scheme wherein any distributor who achieves his target was entitled to a foreign trip.

Others have been offering cash incentives to distributors. As an ‘early bird incentive’ to proactive distributors, Religare offered cash emoluments for certain number of applications received before a certain date for its Religare Monthly Income Plan (MIP) Plus. The same product had another incentive structure in place depending on the volumes gathered by the distributor. For single applications up to Rs99,999, distributors were offered 0.75% as commission. For mobilising applications worth Rs1,00,000-Rs4,99,999, the commission offered was 1% and so forth.

However, as we have pointed out earlier, while extravagant incentivisation of distributors is unethical, offering innovative incentives is an unavoidable outcome of the current regime. Small incentives to distributors are necessary for the survival of the mutual fund industry. In the absence of such incentives, the industry may well come to a virtual standstill.

The CEO of a prominent fund advisory agreed, “Incentives should not be the whole and soul of selling a product. I think that SEBI’s concern is whether they (fund companies) are charging it to the scheme or not. I don’t think they are saying whether they should do it or not. If AMCs feel that they want to reward their agents, it is entirely at their discretion. As long as they are not charging it to the scheme, it is alright. SEBI’s intent is to draw a line between what is exorbitant and what is okay—which is perfect. There has to be some leeway for allowing AMCs to reward distributors.”
 

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COMMENTS

Manoja

7 years ago

Dear Bajaj,

When people run out of arguments to support their view point, this is a very handy excuse!! I can understand, no worries.

But the questions I have raised are valid, with or without this comment. If you care to rebut them, please do so. If you cannot, let them remain as questions.

Prof. Bajaj

7 years ago

@Mr. Manoj,

With the use of words like "utter crap" in this forum, I find it below my dignity to contribute in this discussion.

I would like to refrain myself from making any further comments.

Thanks

Roopsingh

7 years ago

@manoj-
i support yor view-my view is clear-we are mere advisors-not fund managers-we provide services and give business to AMC's-so we get commission-even our GOVT is clever to have a better business model for its post office-wher agents get 4% commission in monthly scheme-did D Swarup the wicked faced man ever advices to remove this 4% from post office savings and that to be paid by investor now-very frankly we IFA have been punished due to our own fault-ie we are our selves not clear about our welfare and we fight each other and we are not united to fight unitedly for our issues of bread and butter-

Manoj

7 years ago

Comments of Suresh & Bajaj are quite interesting. According to them, IFAs should get neither commission nor salaries.
But :

1. They have to provide advisory services on par with the best in the world!!

2. They should take rap for the poor performance of the funds they sell, irrespective of the fact that the performance depends on the ability of the fund manager (who incidentally gets a fixed salary + huge bonus at the end of the year)

3. They should be dependent on the whims & fancies of the individual customers to get their dues. I had explained in my last posting how these individuals react when it comes to the question of paying fees.

Isn't this utter crap? D Swarup, in one of his speeches at the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India, had said that he expects more & more chartered accountants to join this industry. A very noble thought indeed. As a CA myself, I fully endorse that view that we need a lot more professionals to come into this area of financial advisory services. But where is the incentive? Where is the pay? Why will a CA leave the well paying, cushy job in corporate world to toil in a field where the incomes are uncertain??

This edition of Business World, in its cover story, has featured Hero Honda. At the very beginning of the story, it is mentioned that recently Hero Honda took all its distributors to Dubai to reassure them of the company's strength and also to launch a few new products. Nothing wrong in it since it is the dealers and distributors who ultimately sell the product. Similar is the case with car launches or for that matter any product launch.

Where is the money coming for these companies? Obviously out of the profits they earn from selling their products. Who is paying for the product? The consumer. Therefore can we argue with those companies to cut down these frivoulous costs and pass on the benefit to the end consumer??? Sounds funny, eh?

Suresh Ramasubramanian

7 years ago

@manoj - tell you what, I never said that the remuneration for IFAs should move to a salary model. It is just that IFAs get much the same commission selling a good scheme - but perhaps rather higher commissions selling dud schemes and dubious NFOs - which may influence a certain type of agent (of the sort who sells mutual funds here, amway there..) to sell those in preference to solid funds. "Courier guy" as this other gentleman said but with a choice of parcels that he chooses to deliver.

If the fees are structured to the returns the client gets .. that might be a fair way to calculate. That is you get Rs. x if the client earns less, or makes a loss (subject to a floor of rs.x) but earn rather more than that if the client makes a profit. The same concept as entry and exit load actually but more transparent and entirely between you and the client.

Just that there is still a certain amount of load being charged through IFAs - like just yesterday, HDFC Equity Fund was around 243 a unit for a sip I opened directly with them and 248 for another sip that had been opened several months back through an ifa.

And the other point is that most of the ifas have started selling products that earn them more commission - ULIPs, equity linked pension funds etc - compared to mutual funds .. hence all the stories in moneylife about various fund houses seeing their AUM levels drop.

Some of those are disastrous to the customer - and still actively get sold, just because it is in the ifa's interest rather than the customer's interest.

Manoj

7 years ago

@Prof.Bajaj,

Competency? When the same set of people were all too willing to take my services when it was free and backed out when it was made fee based, I dont think competency comes in picture. What comes in is the cheap mentality of the average investor to get anything and everything free of cost!!

You could perhaps try and answer my earlier question for Suresh on salaries being made completely variable. If this is saves a lot of money for a company and ultimately benefits an end consumer like me, what is the justification of having fixed salaries and hikes in that fixed salary every year?

Roopsingh

7 years ago

Dear sir Bajaj,
thanks for your comment to help me-
but my view about we IFA being a courier guy is based on the fact that we sell what is presented to us by our parent MF company or insuarnce co-we may get some expertise on risk based analysis of various instrumenst-but most of time we do not have access to risk part-bcos we are not informed by parent co-( i would remind of assured NAV plans-in which none of insurance co informed that it was a mere debt product which has least risk of getting negative)-sam eis with equity or debt products like real estate bonds-are we really informed about risks involved?
i must say 'NEVER"
just same as goldman sachs case-which did not inform its share holders-
so we are not inventors-but we are informers(courier messengers)
-so my views are slightly different-but based on different basics-
I am in touch with SEBI officials regarding my complaint(Thanks to sucheta madam)-and i just want to highlight the matter to SEBI-so i have put this matter in our discussions-bcos most others are not enough lucky to have access to higher authorities-if a person like me who works in finance field has to fight so much-what would be condition with other unaware clients-

Prof. Bajaj

7 years ago

Dear Mr. Manoj,

I fully agree with you on the front that investors are not ready to pay a fees. But don't you think the reason for the same is also the age old culture of "hidden commissions" which will take some time to change.

It was nice to know that you provide a whole array of services. If the clients are still not ready to pay you a fees, let them try those things elsewhere in the market or on their own. If they can do it on their own or can find a substitute in the market, well its time we have a re-look at our competencies. If they can't, they will automatically come to you and you can charge them a fees.

About the comparison, I think you are getting me wrong. As I have told you, I am myself a part of this industry and would never compare the hardwork of IFAs to that of a Casino. I was just trying to tell you that something cannot be justified only because it is employing many people.

@Roopsingh
Dear Sir, I am not able to understand, why you yourself want to undervalue your own dignity by calling yourself and the entire fraternity a courier guy ? The IFAs are definitely worth much more than that. I also have due respect for your agony regarding the cheating done by India Infoline. You may kindly let me know if I could be of any help to you regarding that matter.

And I would also like to tell you, that I do not only give lectures to others. I also have a Investment Consultancy firm of my own. I am myself putting to practice whatever I am talking about. I have a clientele in almost 5 states and have been charging them reasonable fees for my services.

Being pessimistic is not going to help you or anybody else. Face the situation and work out the best possible solution. Feel free to contact me in case I can provide you any help.

Regards
Prof. Bajaj

Roopsingh

7 years ago

Readers pl note -my broker means my equity broker-india infoline ltd-which has debited my ledger with no replies since last 2 months-its customer care has never responded me nor any staff of india infoline-they are shrewed people with no botheration to amswer-and when i sent all related details to SEBI-no one looked into the matter since last 2 months-

Roopsingh

7 years ago

@suresh and manoj and prof bajaj-
friends-IFA's have been under under fees structure by SEBI-fees to be charged performance and service related-but as Manoj has rightly asked suresh that if he would accept a variable salary depending upon his performance and level of job performance-
i want to extend it further to SEBI staff and its boss-if they are so concerned abt IFA's service they should first accept it to them selves-
My complaint regarding my equity borker is unresolved since last 2 months which i made to SEBI along with all proofs-but whats the result?no one took any initiative to look into it-at last i forwarded to our friend and guide Sucheta madam and she forwarded tosome SEBI officer-then only i got a phone call-but matter is still unresolved-
why this irresponsible and unbothered behaviour at regulator end?just bcos they will get full salaries at the end of month-
why SEBI should not be put in same structure of performance related variable salary?
the month when they dont solve all complaints recieved-their salaries should be deducted in proportion-
and they should get full salaries only when they perform well and resolve all complainst fully and amicably to satisfy the client-
i feel this structure should be implemented at SEBI first-and then to all othet govt departments-then only our country will progress and corruption will be controlled-
has SEBI courage to use variable salary model for its BOSS and its staff?if it really wants to put IFA's under service related commission structure-first it should accept it for itself-
FRIENDS-tell me how is my view?
please comment for it-i want to have nation wide debate for all govt departments which are most corrupt and un-efficient-they are parasites who dont produce but consume and waste our resources

ROOPSINGH

7 years ago

@SURESH,
y dont u ask govt to introduce 'direct'system in judiciary which needs it most-bcos advocates are those who corrupt the system most-in direct system both parties in conflict should be compeleed to appear in personally-
thanks mr bajaj -it is real fact that no client pays advisory fees-
i proposed a annual fee of only half percent for portfolio records-no one willingly accepted-
i told them-u pay half percent per transaction in scripts per transaction-they ahd no answer-
fees to a doctor is paid bcos of emergency-but in finncial matters-clients have ample time to plan-so they try to find cheapest advisor who can do things as per will-and most of avenues are well known to clients-but in medical-clients dont know how many medicinesor injections are there-and how to use them or when to use them-so they have to pay fees-but in finance field-all avenues are well known to investor-
so why he would pay fees-
fees system is a rubbish philosophy-ifa are courier people and they will remain so-accept the fact or dont accept-
the last thing which SEBIcould have done was to avail online exclusive platform for IFA's-to reduce cost of transactions-but after 8 months SEBI is sleeping-it id more bothered about commission matters but not bothered about its duties-
DOOSRO KO LECTURE DENA BAHUT AASAN HAI PER KHUD AMAL KARNA SABSE MUSHKIL-

Manoj

7 years ago

@ Suresh,

You still have not answered my question about salaries being made completely variable!!!

@ Prof Bajaj,

Again let me quote you one personal example. Subsequent to the mischief created by the D Swarup committe report, I thought of implementing a fee based advisory module. I put forwad a proposal to my clients where in I will be charging them a flat annual fee and will offer them advisory service in picking the best mutual funds, equities, assisting them with paper work, taking care of their tax work etc. You will be surprised to know the reaction of these high salary earning individuals to this!!! More than 90% refused to pay this small fee. These were the same set of people who took my services when it was free for them, albeit when they were okay with the entry load part. And guess, what was my fixed fee? Rs.1,500/- per annum. Today, when online filing of tax returns alone will cost upwards of Rs.500/-, this was not an obscene amount!!

People, specially the salaried class, do not want to pay. Simple. No matter what quality of service they get, no matter what quality of advice they get, they dont want to pay. This is hard truth.

And if you are comparing the hard work of agents and advisors to that of casinos, god bless you Sir!!!

Roopsingh

7 years ago

Dear readers-
i have earlier pointed that we agents are mere mere service providers9u can call postman kind)-bcos we just give message to investors about existing schemes-we are not money managers(like fund managers)-so if the fund performs due to market improve ment-it is not due to some very 'expert" advice-and when the market falls- IFA"s are not to be blamed bcos we dont manage fund-so what we are actully doing is mere courier service(honest confesion-which some of CFP may not agree)-so what we actully do is informing some existing avenues for investmenst-we dont formulate insuarnce plans(the only plan is TERM plan which charges only mortality charge)-which should be sold by IRDA-but this marketing methods make so much juggelery(LIC is best mastered in this)-that death coverage assumes lowest priority-same in case of equity and bonds-collateral bonds are sold which are most risky-equities are often traded with fully opearted by some OPERATOR(not by fundamentals)-what to trust and whome to trust-i have invested in VARUN SHIPPING looking to its dividend history-which gives 10% yeald year by year-but it never moves beyond a price tag-is this not a sign of CASINO GAME?good things never move-fundamentally weak moves in circuits-is this what our regulator is doing?
my whole comment is very very negative and pessimistic-but this is true to a big extent-so pl accept the truth-every thing is in ANARCHY in absence of a TOUGH ADMINISTRATION-
we need DICTATOR to clean this GREAT COUNTRY from corrupt administartors-

Prof. Bajaj

7 years ago

Dear Mr. Manoj,

I am thoroughly impressed by the arguments put by you. Fortunately or Unfortunately, I am also a part of this financial industry, but am definitely not in favor of the heavy commissions being paid to insurance agents.

I have due respect for the facts and figures given by you. But if I give out the facts and figures about the tax revenue that can be generated by legalising casinos in India and the employment that can be generated, would you say that Casinos should be legalised in our country ?? Obviously not !!

I agree that the investors need to understand that there is no free lunch. But the cost of the "lunch" also needs to be justified. If he has to pay heavy commissions for something as necessary as a life insurance, he will be demotivated to have that "lunch". So the cost and commissions need to be rationalised. Also, I am big time in favor of the entry load being banned. It has benefitted the investors in a big way. Problem was, agents suddenly started selling ULIPs and added to the problem.

Now is the time, when even insurance should also be made a fees based product. Arguments such as paying service tax, creating employment can never be good enough excuses for rationalisation of commissions. Also, I am not in favor of a salary model for the agents. That will again act against the investor (as rightly mentioned by you).

Suresh Ramasubramanian

7 years ago

There must be at least some value add to the investor. If IFAs charge based on the profits the investor actually gets, for example .. they aren't incentivized to churn investments, sell policies that give high commission but have poor returns / low performance etc.

Filling up forms, collecting cheques and processing redemptions are not any kind of service that'd justify the high costs charged in the shape of entry load.

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