If in the 1950s somebody wrote a future finance story about India, they may not have predicted the market that faces a retail consumer today. Till the 1990s, your savings and investing decisions were dependent on the government. No wonder Indian households chose gold and real estate as saving sumps. The financial sector was a reflection of the overall direction of the economy. Costs were high, service poor in state-owned and run finance. But post 1991, change came suddenly to finance and this column maps some of those changes as India celebrates 70 years of political and 26 years of economic freedom.
Anybody who has struggled with trying to select a mediclaim policy will know how painful it can be. There is plenty of choice and lots of hard sales push, but no way to know what works for you. There is an information gap in the market today—there is plenty of information out there but it is of little use to somebody wanting to buy a policy. Until you have an experience of hospitalization, you would not know what features are important. It took me one stint with a family member suffering from food poisoning to find out what a sub-limit means. For those still out of the loop—if your medical policy comes with a ‘sub limit’ clause, there will be a limit to what the company will pay for room rents.
As consumers, we’ve moved quite a distance from buying the cheapest policy in the market. Low premiums can also mean lots of things hidden in the fine print that the policy does not pay—like a high room rent or for treatment of a particular disease or a particular medicine. At the very basic level, a mediclaim policy is good if it comes at a reasonable price, promises good benefits and pays up the claims when they are made. Sounds simple enough, but begin reading a policy document and you will be stumped to decode what the jargon means. The Mint SecureNow Mediclaim Rating does the grunge work for you and trawls through some 400 data points to bring you a shortlist of policies that make the cut on the three parameters.
How much money we need to retire at age 60 can be answered in many ways. I wrote earlier (you can read it here: bit.ly/2ruHEtK) that you need eight times your annual income at age 60 to retire comfortably. Plenty of people wrote back to say that a more useful benchmark will be an expense multiplier rather than an income multiplier. An expense multiplier is, in fact, a better way to crack the same problem because at the same level of income, different families will have very different expense behaviour. I know families that don’t know where their money goes and others who have tiny expenses because of their chosen lifestyle. An expense multiplier assumes that you know how much you spend. Many families are clueless of their annual expense number—money comes in and money goes out. So get a hold on how much you spend in a year as a first step.
I don’t think there will be many people in urban India who do not have a bank mis-selling story to share. The systemic use of bank branches to mis-sell life insurance products and to churn mutual fund portfolios is now part of the urban Indian discourse. The problem is not new. I remember first raising the issue of banks mis-selling insurance and mutual fund products in 2007 with one deputy governor of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI). I was treated to lunch and anecdotes from those in the room of how people close to them were ripped off by banks. In fact, subsequently, in every committee I served on—Swarup Committee 2009 (bit.ly/2tLat6F) and Bose Committee 2015 (bit.ly/2rS3xmK)—the offline conversations included stories of bank branches turning into dens of tricks and traps. I’ve raised the issue of mis-selling with RBI, and with the ministry of finance, and so have others who work in this space, most notably Moneylife magazine (bit.ly/2t7r5HJ and bit.ly/2sHtN6b), which has raised it on multiple occasions. But the messaging that came down from the towers of oblivion on Mint Street was always the same: not our problem; let the sector regulators deal with this.
Most of you who read this column are now investing in the right way, using a systematic investment plan (SIP). But did you know that your dull, boring SIP is the result of more than 10 years of regulatory change? Most of you have also discarded the low-return endowment plans and now purchase a pure term plan to look after your life insurance needs. But did you know that you got to the right solution not because of regulatory change but despite it. I’ve been mapping the Indian personal finance industry for over 15 years and the behaviour of two regulators in industries that both manage household money has been fascinating. We now have the data to show the impact of regulatory change in the mutual fund and the life insurance industries on firms, sellers and households. I will relate the story through four tables.
It was reported earlier this week in this newspaper that the insurance regulator is considering allowing portability in life insurance products. You can read the story here. I’m going to unpack what this means and whether it is possible to ‘port’ an insurance product. First, what is portability? When we think of a telecom service, then switching service providers from say, Airtel to Jio, is portability. Your number and basic services remain the same, but you switch your service provider. S.S. Mudra, deputy governor at the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), had suggested last year that bank account numbers become fully portable. You can read the story here. While bank account number portability is yet to happen, the logic is clear—our phone numbers and bank accounts are linked to multiple services we use. Often we stay with the service providers or banks out of inertia.