In your interest.
Online Personal Finance Magazine
No beating about the bush.
The SEBI chief is worried about poor retail participation. The regulator and the exchanges are alone responsible for this. Will anything change?
The Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) has finally woken up to the fact that it has fallen short in its key role to develop the capital market and increase the base of investors. Today, SEBI chief UK Sinha admitted as much, saying that the market regulator would take steps to get retail investors back into the market. While the new SEBI chief's policy changes are well-intentioned, the measures to be taken would make sense only if they are grounded in reality. We will be keenly watching what SEBI does, for Moneylife alone has been highlighting how investors have been pushed out of the capital market system by a combination of factors.
In India, the retail participation in the stock market has declined from 20 million in the 1990s to 12 million in 1999, and just around 8 million in 2009, according to official data, this despite the fact that the Sensex has grown by 20 times during this period. As a percentage of the total population, the retail investor participation is just 1.3%, whereas in the US and China it is 27.7% and 10.5% respectively, according to the Bimal Jalan Committee report. The SEBI chief has targeted an optimistic figure of 8% for retail participation in India.
As has been pointed out by Moneylife repeatedly in the past, the decline in investor participation is due to many complex issues for which the regulator and the stock exchanges are squarely responsible. This cannot be resolved by making just one or two policy changes. The market is riddled with problems ranging from the difficulties for investors in opening a demat account to price manipulation, poor grievance redressal and the lack of proper guidance. Retail investors face a tough time, and to add to this they are taken for a ride by greedy investment advisors.
In August last year, Union minister of state for finance, Namo Narain Meena, revealed in Parliament the reality of the Indian 'equity cult'. He said around 50% of the cash market transactions on the National Stock Exchange (during April-June 2010) came from a shockingly low 451 investors, of whom 156 were proprietary traders, while 50% of the trading in NSE's derivatives segment came from just 106 investors of whom 58 were proprietary traders. Only 6% of client accounts contributed to 90% of the trading in the cash segment. 80% of turnover came from just 41,654 investors. In other words, 1,50,546 investors (78%) accounted for just 10% of trading turnover.
Moneylife magazine and Moneylife Foundation have on a regular basis highlighted these issues through articles and seminars. In the month of February, Moneylife Foundation released a position paper on the issues faced by retail investors, alarmed by the decline in retail participation. This paper was sent to the finance minister, the finance secretary, the joint secretary, Capital Markets, and Yashwant Sinha, head of the Standing Committee on Finance. Investors face multiple issues as identified by Moneylife Foundation. Some of these are listed below:
To open a demat account an investor has to go thorough cumbersome KYC procedures. Along with this, the customer has to sign on numerous forms, many of which they sign without asking too many questions. The charges involved in opening and maintaining a demat account are not in favour of the retail investor either. Investors have to cough up nearly Rs550-Rs3,500 just open an account and then there are account maintenance and transaction charges. Brokers usually ignore those with small investments and look for investors with bigger pockets, as they earn higher commissions on the later.
The power of attorney (POA), which gives brokers the power to operate their clients account for conducting trades, is often misused by the brokers. In August 2009, an individual from the brokerage firm India Infoline was arrested for conducting unauthorised trades in an investors' account that led to a loss of Rs13 lakh for the investor (Read, Harassed Investors.) This is taking place in spite of the lengthy and complicated procedure of creating a demat account and is a de-motivation for the investor.
Portfolio management services (PMS) are no better in servicing clients. There are several cases where investors have been duped by fanciful presentations of the brokerage firms. The major problem is that this area is not yet regulated. Investment norms are not clear and there is no restriction to churning and trading. They have been cases where investors have lost a major portion of their fund value due to excessive churning. (Read, Will Portfolio Managers Be Accountable?)
The issues related to demat accounts, mis-selling, and PMS can be tackled to some extent with proper investor education. But, issues like price manipulation, corrupt accounting practices and over-pricing and incorrect grading of IPOs, are issues which cannot be controlled by the investor. It is the job of the regulator to take stern action against such malpractices. But, SEBI has not seriously pursued investor protection.
Investor protection is one of the primary objectives of SEBI. But, its grievance redressal system is not up to the mark. In May 2009, the chief information commissioner (CIC) under the Right to Information (RTI) Act had severely criticised the regulator's handling of investor grievances. The CIC said that SEBI was not providing the right support to information-seekers and rejected requests even when it had the power to obtain details from stock exchanges.
"The response of the regulators in India has been knee-jerk and panicky. Instead of trying to punish wrongdoers after in-depth investigation and sensitivity to market practices, the regulators have only succeeded in eroding investors' confidence in the market by high-profile arrests and media hype," says Deena Mehta managing director, Asit C Mehta Investment Interrmediates, and one of the three trading member-directors on the board of the Bombay Stock Exchange.
The Reserve Bank of India has written letters to several banks because they have crossed the limit of instruments dishonoured under the Electronic Clearing Service (ECS); 3%-5% is the acceptable apex bank norm—in a few cases, the percentage of dishonoured instruments under ECS has been as high as 30% to 40%. However, this move is a warning, and may not lead to punitive action
The RBI (Reserve Bank of India) keeps a track on the percentage of dishonoured instruments cleared under the ECS of all banks.
The ECS allows paperless direct credit and debit transactions for all banks. However, if a bank crosses the limit of instruments dishonoured under the ECS, the RBI asks the respective bank for an explanation.
According to the apex bank, "3%-5% is the tolerance level on a daily basis. At times when it goes up to 30%-40%, we ask the bank to find out about the particular accountholders whose instruments are not being honoured under ECS." Often, banks are not aware about the accountholders who are repeatedly dishonouring their financial instruments as ECS is transmitted in bulk to the clearing house.
The main problem is that even if one of the ECS instruments bounces, then it affects two or three banks at a time. It affects the ECS user bank, the ECS beneficiary bank and the destination bank to which the amount has to finally get transferred.
In a letter addressed to ICICI Bank, a copy of which is with Moneylife, the RBI has said: "Please refer to paragraph 2 of the Minutes of the General Body Meeting of the Chennai Bankers Clearing House (CBCH) held on August 2, 2010 and our letter dated October 28, 2010 relating to return clearing discipline. In pursuance of the instructions contained therein, it has been decided to invoke penalty @Rs. 1000.00 per return for the month of January.
The number of MICR and as well as RECS (Dr) returns of your banks has since been generated from the system and the details are been given in annexure. After deducting the tolerance of 4% and 5% on MICR and RECS returns respectively, a penalty of Rs 39821000.00 (Rupees Three Crore Ninety Eight Lakh twenty One Thousand only) is proposed to be imposed on your bank for non-adherence to the return discipline. You are hereby advised to put forward your case as to why Rs 39821000.00 (Rupees Three Crore Ninety Eight Lakh twenty One Thousand only) shall not be imposed on your bank. Your response should reach this office on or before 15 days from the issue of this letter, failing which it shall construed that you have nothing to report and accordingly the Bank shall proceed with a suitable action."
We gather that several other banks have been pulled up in a similar fashion. Thus, the RBI has defined a definite tolerance level beyond which it would charge a bank a certain fine on each rejection. That is why the RBI has threatened to charge a Rs3.98 crore fine for ECS dishonour beyond acceptable limits on ICICI Bank.
Moneylife spoke to the RBI for clarification. The central bank spokesperson said, "There were several banks that were not adhering to what we call 'return discipline' in Chennai and the notice was issued to all of them. The fine amount, though, varied. The purpose of the show-cause notice was to shake the banks out of complacence and to ensure that the rate of 'returns' fell within our comfort zone (and not really to collect fine amounts from them). There is significant improvement in the position now and we are not pursuing the penalties with the banks."
It was only after receiving the letter from the central bank that banks started screening accounts and transactions and are stopping all ECS debits.
ECS is a mode of electronic funds transfer from one bank account to another using the services of a clearing house. This is normally utilised for bulk transfers from one account to many accounts or vice-versa. This facility can be used both for making payments like distribution of dividend, interest, salary, pension, etc. by institutions or for collection of amounts for purposes such as payments to utility companies (telephone, electricity), or charges (house tax, water tax), etc or for loan instalments of financial institutions/banks or regular investments of individuals.
The ECS user bank is called the 'sponsor' bank under the scheme and the ECS beneficiary accountholder is called the ECS 'beneficiary' bank. The destination account holder's bank or the beneficiary's bank is called the 'destination' bank.
The beneficiaries of regular or repetitive payments can also request the paying institution to make use of the ECS (Credit) mechanism for effecting payment.
The three cases described in separate news reports today, underline the continuing worries over corporate checks and balances
News reports today highlighted cases against three big names in the Indian corporate world that should be a wake-up call for companies, auditors and regulators. They are State Bank of India (SBI), Wipro and Vedanta-owned Sesa Goa, all three dogged by wrongful accounting that was apparently ignored by the auditors.
These cases are all the more significant in the context of the Satyam Computer fraud, India's biggest corporate fraud that was revealed in January 2009.
SBI was named in one of the reports today, for deviations the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has detected in the sanction of bridge loans to some telecom companies. Some telecom firms are under investigation over the out-of-turn allocation of lucrative licences.
According to the report, SBI sanctioned a bridge loan of Rs2,500 crore to Unicor without identification of any financial institution for part-financing capital expenditure, pending tie-up of long-term project finance. Also, there was no committed financial tie-up at the time of disbursement of the money, and the roll-out should have been completed within a year of getting the licence in February 2009.
A year later, SBI sanctioned a regular term loan of Rs9,475 crore for the entire project, Rs2,850 crore of which was to replace the earlier bridge loan even when there was no committed tie-up in place. While the remaining Rs6,625 crore was not released, the bridge loan rolled out till December 2010.
Similar bridge loans/bank guarantees were extended to Loop Telecom (Rs725 crore), Datacom Solutions (Rs1,100 crore), Swan/Etisalat (Rs395 crore) and they were either adjusted against regular loans later on, or rolled over. Reliance Communication was sanctioned an unsecured corporate loan of Rs2,500 crore as capex, without any assessment of the credit requirements, even when unsecured loans of this scale were simply not permitted.
The Wipro embezzlement case has gone a step further, with the US Securities and Exchange Commission (US SEC) raising doubts about the competency of company's auditors. According to a report, the US SEC has asked Wipro to prove that its auditor, KPMG India, is independent. In the event that the IT firm is not able to fulfil the directive, it could have to appoint a new auditor and even get its business books audited all over again. Wipro had delayed filing its annual report for 2010 with the US regulator due to an investigation into alleged embezzlement of an estimated Rs32 crore, by one of its employees.
In the third case, the Ministry of Corporate Affairs' Serious Frauds Investigation office has reportedly recommended the prosecution of mining company Sesa Goa on nine counts, for over-invoicing imports by Rs14.60 crore, sales by Rs42.51 crore, exports by Rs1,002 crore and excess payment of agency commission of Rs40.60 crore. The fraud office has also accused the company's independent directors and statutory auditors for not co-operating in the investigation and recommended that they be prosecuted as well.
These are serious deviations constituting misdemeanours by responsible officials of the companies' managements and dereliction of duties by the statutory auditors that does not augur well for corporate governance. Something, that the auditors' body, the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India, will have to look at closely as will the regulators, the RBI and the Securities and Exchange Board of India.