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.
Low Risk High Return Buy 5000 SHARES Of xxxx CMP Rs 7.80 TGT Rs 15 SL Rs 7.70 . Stock Raise Non Stop Till Diwali.” Over the past few weeks some of us would have got messages pushing this one stock.
As markets keep moving up, the frenzied calls and SMS texts that push up a particular stock increase in frequency. I don’t get emails or WhatsApp messages pitching stocks—just calls and SMSes. Some of the callers are really aggressive. Push back at them and they start snarling. Obviously they’re sitting on very steep customer acquisition targets. But we know from past experience that any kind of frenzy usually ends badly. If you gave into the frenzy of real estate a few years back, you’re looking at a nominal erosion of 30-40% of the price you paid. An inflation- and mortgage-cost-adjusted loss will be closer to 50-60%. Frenzies are unsettling. You lose your equilibrium. You get pushed into doing things that you normally won’t do. If you find yourself thinking of suddenly moving money into one stock or one mid-cap mutual fund on a tip, you know you’ve succumbed to the frenzy. Otherwise I’m-safe-in-an-FD (fixed deposit) people are suddenly discovering their risk appetite and want to invest right away on a tip.
As a kid I remember getting irritated whenever the old people would get together. Now they’ll start talking about how expensive everything is, I used to mutter. Back in those days, kids couldn’t utter aloud all the insidious little comments that were swimming around in their heads when adults were around. “Arrey, on a salary of twenty rupees you could run the house and then have something left over? That shawl mamijee wears, no? That cost a full five rupees. Now toh, you can’t buy it for five thousand only.” Everybody shakes their heads. “Tch tch. Zamana hi kharab hai (these are bad times).” As a kid I remember buying sweets for 5 paise and bus tickets cost 25 paise (and I’m on my way to irritating the life out of kids in the family). My daughter has never seen coins below one rupee. Her daughter will probably say the same for fifty bucks. The fall in purchasing power is the reason that we worry about meeting our expenses when we retire.
A guy I know wanted to retire when he was 25. He just didn’t have the money. If I get Rs1 crore, he said, then I’ll retire. Now, 30 years later, he’s still working and still not done with gathering the corpus he needs to retire. Anyway, he’s wiser and agrees that financial security and going to work need not be either/or. People can continue to work even if they are financially secure. But how much do we really need to save out of our incomes to know that we will hit retirement with enough to maintain our lifestyle for another 30 years? Every time I speak to a friend about buying a life cover, he tells me—the risk we have is not of dying too soon, but of living too long.
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.
Why do the world’s most value-for-money people choose a pre-tax 4% return on the money that they leave in their savings deposits? It is the twin advantage of safety and liquidity that makes people love their savings deposits. But an aggressive mutual fund industry is using new products and processes to offer alternatives to these deposits, and is taking the battle for the share of the household savings right to the door of banks. Remember that mutual funds have product categories that can look after most of your money management needs—from liquid money to building and milking retirement funds. Last week, the Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi) announced a series of rule changes that make it safer and easier for investors to shift from a bank savings deposit to a liquid fund and allow people to use their e-wallets to invest in funds.
Has your mutual fund agent, adviser, wealth manager, or whatever he calls himself, asked you to ‘switch’ from one scheme to another? A friend recently WhatsApped me, asking if it was okay to ‘switch’ schemes in the same fund house. Her mutual fund agent advised her to move from an under-performing fund to an out-performing one. He also told her that he does not earn any commission on the ‘switch’. He then moved her from a large-cap fund of the fund house to a similar scheme of the same fund house. I asked her to check with him again: did he earn any commission on the ‘switch’? Ask for a commission statement. She called back furious. Yes, he does earn from the ‘switch’ and no, he had not shown the statement before she insisted that he disclose it. She was surprised to see what he was earning.