The face is usually darker. The eyes, a bit watery. It is almost as if the edges of the face are slightly blurred. Great care is evident in physical movements—a deliberation that is not fully normal. I can make out backache in a colleague, friend, co-traveller, whoever, because I am a fellow sufferer. Lower back ache is a scourge of modern-day living that is affecting an increasing number of people. The desperation to find a cure, to just stop the pain, has resulted in a proliferation of solution givers—reflexology, physiotherapy, massage, some German technique, aromatherapy, ayurvedic massage, meditation—to name just a few.
On World Yoga Day, I want to weigh in and tell you what is finally working for me. Fifteen years of a weak lower back with a young person’s disdain for rest or care came home to hurt hellishly five years ago—the back packed up. The final trigger was an overenthusiastic gym instructor at the local DDA facility. For the next three years, I went from orthopaedic to orthopaedic, from one physio intervention to another. Kati pasti (the wonderful Ayurvedic massage), reflexology, hot compress, cold compress, meditation, thinking good thoughts about the back and the world (I kid you not—somebody told me to do that), I’ve been there, done that.
Soft spoken and unhurried, Sandeep Bakhshi is probably the best placed today to calm the turbulent waters at ICICI Bank Ltd. More Warren Buffett than The Wolf of Wall Street, Bakhshi is a career banker who has now successfully run the insurance piece of the financial services empire of the ICICI Group of companies. He’s done this before—come into a bad situation and turned it around. Bakhshi was brought in to lead ICICI Prudential Life in 2010 at a difficult time. He inherited an aggressive sales-at-any-cost culture set in place by the firm’s first chief executive, Shikha Sharma. ICICI Prudential Life had been infamously in trouble over its “Operation Jehad” in 2005, when one of the branches used the name and images of Osama Bin Laden to motivate the sales force. Insurance policy sales were “kills”, and five ICICI Prudential Life employees were jailed over this episode. You can read more about this here.
Middle class Indian fathers used to be distant, authoritarian and usually dictatorial. They ran the extended household with an iron fist keeping a tight hold on expenses. The middle class pre-independence Indian father struggled to meet the needs of an extended family with meagre income and prospects. The fight for economic survival translated into the immovable patriarch image. Economic growth has changed not just fortunes of families but also the equations within the home. Smaller, nuclear families, better economic prospects, and more money has meant a larger role for the father within the home. From changing nappies, to school pick and drop duties, to doctor visits, the dads are a part of bringing up the baby. However, in most households, for a variety of reasons, the one thing that has remained largely constant is the control of the finances.
The math does not add up. The real estate refugees from the builder excesses of the past are now stuck between a rock and a hard place. These are the people lucky enough to actually have a finished flat with possession and not a legal case with absconding builders. These are the people who bought the Delhi suburban dream thinking they were getting in on the ground floor to the next Gurgaon. These are the people who live in Delhi, on rent or in own homes, and bought for investment in the greater NCR region, particularly in Greater Noida. These are the people who don’t know if they should sell and take a loss on their investment or keep funding it and hope prices recover.
A typical story goes like this: you bought a 3-BHK flat with a fancy foreign sounding name with a pool, community center, Italian tiles and more bells and whistles for Rs 60 lakh. Took a loan of Rs 40 lakh that costs about Rs 35,000 a month in EMI. Rent where you live in Delhi is Rs 30,000 a month. Rent from your Noida flat is Rs 8,000 a month. Amount of loan left is Rs 30 lakh. Current market price of flat if you can find a buyer—Rs 50 lakh.
It always happens. An introduction to mutual funds results in a feeding frenzy. I’d introduced a childhood friend to mutual funds two years ago. At age 45, she had left money and its management too late, but once she on-boarded mutual funds, she really went all the way. And beyond. Two years later, I’m horrified to see her portfolio. From the three-scheme portfolio she had started out with two years ago, she now sits on some 10 mutual fund schemes without a thought on what problem they solved. From an FD Hugger, she turned into a Feeding Frenzy Funder. I find that investors I meet fall into some stereotypes. Here are eight investor types—who are you?
The Ostrich: You have no plan, your money lies in your savings deposit and you are known to proudly say that you have no money to invest. You push away all help that comes your way because you are convinced that the world is full of cheats and you are just safer not doing anything rather than making an error. Beneath the don’t care mask, you are actually quite petrified about the state of your finance. And maybe for that reason believe that “something” will happen to make that pot of gold that you are convinced will come your way. Dream on.
A doctor friend will occasionally send a desperate SMS asking for clarity on the Narendra Modi government’s track record. He says he can’t make sense of the truth, flooded as he is with WhatsApp forwards, news, views and chatter that is so polarized that it looks like the messages are talking about two different countries. The next 10 months will see this divide get sharper and nastier as we roll up to Elections 2019.
The first thing we need to do when we enter this debate is to discard evidence by anecdote. For every anecdote from one side of the debate, the other side can give two more. My anecdote will always be more real to me than your story. Let’s stay with numbers. But numbers can also be hotly debated—depending on whether the GDP number is up or down, the validity of the data has been discarded or accepted. While numbers like the GDP or inflation or even manufacturing growth or investment are subject to a methodology which can be open to debate, the one number we can’t either fix or ignore is the Sensex, the broad market index made up of 30 companies. The Sensex seems to like it when Modi Sarkar wins elections. Look how it rose and then fell as the Karnataka elections changed colour from saffron to a muddled something.
Two weeks back, on 4 May 2018, capital markets regulator Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi) uploaded a five-page document that I thought should have made more news. Titled Consultation Paper on Review of SEBI (Issue of Capital & Disclosure Requirements) Regulations, 2009, it is a call for public comments on a big rehaul of the Indian capital issue regulations. The document links to three annexures that read over 369 pages with details of regulations that were changed or deleted and the reason for it, the draft regulations and the schedules. Post public comments, the draft regulations will go to the Sebi board soon.