Monika Halan is consulting editor and part of the leadership team at Mint. A certified financial planner, she has served as editor of Outlook Money and worked in some of India's top media organizations, including the Indian Express, the Economic Times and Business Today. She has run four successful TV series around personal finance advice, on NDTV, Zee and Bloomberg India, and is a regular speaker on financial literacy, regulation and consumer issues in retail finance. As part of her public policy service, she is a member of SEBI's Mutual Fund Advisory Committee. She lives in New Delhi and tweets at @monikahalan.
As the security woman at the entrance to a multiplex turns my hand bag inside out giving competition to an airline security check, she gleefully hits pay dirt. Not a small grenade, she’s found my bottle of gum and my tiny jar of dry fruit. No food allowed. But this is not food, it is something I carry in my bag all the time. An argument ensues and the movie experience is reduced. Once inside the complex, I find myself unwilling to pay exorbitant prices for average quality food that is pushed hard by ushers-turned-waiters who come in the way of movie watching.
What food costs inside a multiplex is suddenly part of the urban middle class discourse at dining tables, at social events, on social media, with the humble popcorn itself at the core of this debate. Popcorn in a multiplex costs about 500% more than what you get outside in the mall. Pop them at home, and the mark-up is more than a 1000%. While there is other food and drink being sold that is more expensive than retail prices outside, the price point of popcorn shows the highest mark-up. To force sales, multiplexes prohibit outside food from entering their premises, making for a captive consumer group who is out to have a good time and is in a mood to eat, drink and be entertained.
A long time ago when I was in my first job as a trainee researcher in a magazine, I would take the chartered bus (a working people’s school bus that collects people from a residential area and drops them in an office hub) from home to office. The art of eavesdropping on conversations must be ingrained because I still remember some of the chatter around. One particular conversation thread was between two women in their 40s. They looked like junior bank staff. The women were discussing how their friends who married men who could support them financially made a better deal. “We now have two jobs—at work and at home.” Indian men, it seems, get so tired at work that they have no strength for housework in a double income home.
Let’s Talk Money with author and columnist Monika Halan
Who is the ideal reader of Let’s Talk Money? What was your motivation to write this book?
I believe that the middle class Indian who is looking for a way to build financial security is the reader of this book. All of us who live in urban India and live the urban mass affluent life are readers of this book. It is for those who know that they need better financial control but don’t know how to go about it. It is for those who are confused with the products, the push and choices out there in the financial markets. It is for those who are afraid of the financial sharks and toxic financial products and take the safe route to real assets. It is for those who are willing to spend the time in learning the basics of managing money. It is for those who want a hands-free system of money management rather than a one shot gamble at getting rich quick.
Why did I write this book? At every TV show I have done, every radio spot, public lecture or a chance meeting on the airport with a follower of my work, the message came to me – is there a book that has all that you keep saying in one place?
As I look around the book space, there are excellent books on investing or financial planning, but there is nothing that relates money to our everyday lives with all its complexities and then gives a system for hands-free money management. I believe that money issues are deeply linked to who we are. A sorted money life sometimes leads to a sorted overall life. At least that is my experience. I want to share this with others like me who are not aspiring to get rich tomorrow but are happy to build financial security one step at a time. I want people to have better control over their money. I want people to stop getting cheated by financial con artists. I want people to get their money to work as hard for them as they work to earn it.
For the more than 25 crore policyholders of Life Insurance Corporation of India (LIC), the LIC-IDBI Bank headlines are very upsetting. LIC will use up to ₹ 13,000 crore of policyholder money to buy up to a 51% stake in IDBI Bank, an asset nobody wants to touch. With stressed assets of ₹ 55,588.26 crore and bad loans a huge 28% of the total loan book, IDBI Bank is probably the worst of the bad banks of India. With its own paid-up capital at just ₹ 100 crore as on 31 March 2017, LIC will use policyholder money entrusted to it to make this equity investment.
LIC has been the gilt-edged long-term safety net for most of post-Independence middle India. “LIC kara lo” is a refrain heard in Indian homes the minute the first salary of the young adult of a family begins to come in. There is public anger when this security of savings comes under threat. There are lots of reasons the policyholders are worried. They are worried about the safety of their money—what if the entire money goes down the drain. They are worried about this being a precedent to more such toxic asset purchases. They are worried about the haste with which the insurance regulator has interpreted a rule to allow this sale—insurance firms are not allowed to hold more than a 15% equity stake in a single firm to prevent concentration of risk.
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.