The average drawing room conversation on the government encroaching on the independence of the RBI tut-tuts over the good guys at the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) getting stamped on by a bully government. Now, the resignation of Urjit Patel has added fuel to the views fire. But I wonder if the conversation would change if the same groups realized what this ‘independence’ or its obverse, the lack of accountability, means to their money. Last week, the RBI announced that new floating rate home loans from banks would be benchmarked to a rate not controlled by banks from April 1 2019. Anybody who has taken a floating rate loan in India knows that as the interest rate cycle goes up, loan rates mostly go up very quickly, but the opposite does not happen. This is not a new problem. I remember flagging the issue more than 15 years ago. It is not as if the RBI has not been aware of the problem of benchmark fixing by banks to cheat retail home loan borrowers. RBI has changed the way the rate is calculated four times in the past 24 years to make it difficult for banks to fix the rate—starting with the Prime Lending Rate (PLR) in 1994 to the Marginal Cost of Funds lending Rate (MCLR) in 2016. But in each case the power to calculate and fix the rate remained with the banks. A power they have mis-used freely at your expense. An internal RBI committee found that banks fixed rates at will.
A tweet from @TheMFGuy started the debate on social media a few weeks back. The tweet read: “Like wallets @SEBI_India should now make rules for mutual fund portability allowing to switch from one fund house to another.” Portability in a service is the option to move your business to another service provider without losing the identification number (as in a telephone number), or losing the history your account has built up (as in a medical insurance policy where a no-claims-bonus builds up for every claim-free year) or having a tax implication when an investment is switched rather than redeemed.
What does portability in a mutual fund mean? There are four kinds of portability that we need to understand in a mutual fund. First, between asset classes, for example, between stocks and bonds. Second, between schemes, for example, from the large-cap to a multi-cap fund of the same fund house. Third, between fund houses, for example, from the mid-cap fund of one fund house to the mid-cap fund of another fund house. Fourth, between various options in a scheme—for example, switching between growth and dividend or between regular and direct.
There are two kinds of parents I meet. One kind talks about their children’s spending habits, the peer pressure-linked expenses, the lifestyle costs. The other kind talks about how difficult it is to get their children to spend, how they actually have to set a minimum limit to their spending when they become young adults and how reluctant the children are to accept financial help after a certain age. What’s going on? How does one set of children grow up to be financially prudent and the other set will take hard knocks in their lives before they learn the importance of respecting money and what it can buy? The short answer is parenting. It’s what we do and not what we say as parents. Children watch keenly what we as parents do and say. They watch our behaviour and words. And at one point they begin to see the contradictions in what we say and what we do. That’s the time that most teenage rebellion sets in. And that’s the time money related issues too become another point of conflict.
You may have already got this very enticing WhatsApp or email. It goes like this: “Initiative Q is building a new payment network and giving away significant sums of their future currency to early adopters. It is by invite only and I have a limited number of invites. Click this link to sign up…Initiative Q will succeed only if many people join. The more people invite their friends, the greater the likelihood of reaching the goal of each Q being worth around one US dollar.” You can see the site here: initiativeq.com.
What’s the deal? This start-up aims to replace the current payment systems (currency, credit cards, cash, wire transfers) because they are clunky and costly. There are newer technologies ready to replace them, says the material on the site, but this does not happen because not enough people switch to the new currencies. If a platform was created that enough people in the world on-boarded, then $20 trillion of transactions a year will flow on this new payment system. “Initiative Q is reserving this Q currency for people who join today—the earlier you join, the more Q you can reserve”. And then the killer line: “Think of this as getting free bitcoin seven years ago.”
Notice that when there is an external date marker, we end up doing things to service that date. Take birthdays, anniversaries, exams and deadlines around work. Exam and work related deadlines specially see us working at all hours with a single focus—of cracking that exam or shipping that order. We do the same when there is a deadline around filing taxes or making tax-saving investments. But most other items on our must-do list, like a health check-up, regular work out and money management, keep getting bumped to the next week, month or year. I’ll do it when I have, fill in the words ‘time’, ‘mindspace’, ‘money’ in the space, and we have our reasons in place for postponing one more time things we know we need to do but don’t since there is no hard deadline.