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.
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 $16 billion Walmart-Flipkart deal came closer home to many Flipkart employees when a letter sent to them listed out the process and price of the employee stock buyback. For those who are current employees with already vested options (see this story to know more about this: bit.ly/2wDOsfC), the money will come in three tranches—half on the date the transaction closes in about 60-90 days, a quarter a year later and the rest at the end of two years from the first liquidation. The letter puts the value per share that the firm will buy back from the vested stock options between $125 and $129. At the current conversion rate, a person holding 10,000 shares will make approximately a pre-tax Rs8 crore.
The news of the appointment of Subhash Chandra Khuntia as the insurance regulator on 1 May 2018 came as a surprise to most financial sector watchers. Of the eight people shortlisted for the final round of screening, Khuntia was the only bureaucrat, the rest were insurance industry insiders, including the serving Life Insurance Corp. of India chairman V.K. Sharma, New India Assurance chairman and managing director (CMD) G. Srinivasan, member Life at Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India (Irdai) Nilesh Sathe, and K. Sanath Kumar, CMD, National Insurance. The choice of a person with limited domain knowledge over others who have spent their entire careers working in this very technical industry was the surprise. Remember that it took an earlier outsider, J. Hari Narayan, the first three years of his five-year term to understand the sector. In fact, by the time he demitted office, he understood the sector so well that it went against the then government’s own agenda to allow him to continue. So what has gone into the decision to appoint an outsider as the head of a regulatory body that watches over Rs28 trillion of household savings and over Rs2.2 trillion of general insurance money?
It is difficult to run into somebody in Delhi you know and not have them confess that they too are caught with their money stuck in stalled real estate projects in the suburbs of Noida and Gurugram. The bankruptcy process in the Jaypee Infratech Ltd case got the headlines, but the number of large developers in jail is not small. It includes companies such as Unitech, SRS Group and DB Reality, showing how deep the rot in real estate goes because rich people in India seldom go to jail for breaking the law.
Stuck in the still-to-be-Italian-marbled buildings are the savings of the urban mass affluent Indian who thought she was investing smartly in the property boom. Investors bought into the good deals offered by builders who offered to pay their first few EMIs (equated monthly instalments), who offered post dated cheques for those EMIs, who offered a free car if you booked a flat above a certain value. Real estate investors who bit the bait allowed themselves to believe deals too good to be true, to be true. They refused to listen to sane counsel of friends and newspaper articles that warned them against such deals.
It is a brand new financial year and some of you must be gearing up to do things differently this year. But before you begin looking for the next best investment or the next flavour of the year, spend some time thinking about the money mistakes you make. I find that money mistakes come in many grades that move from the very basic to the more sophisticated. I’ll talk about just three right now. Grade one money mistakes are entry level errors, grade two money mistakes are made by more sophisticated investors, and so on. For all the attention that ‘getting rich’ or ‘investing to win’ kind of titles get in the book space, I think they are jumping the gun. Most of us struggle with far more basic issues than making that one winning investment and working towards a jackpot. Identify the grade you’re at in the money mistakes matrix.
Grade 1 Money Mistakes
A very basic error, it is the ground floor of money mistakes. It is to say: I don’t have money to invest. I am too poor. I have no savings. Where is the money? I have no head for numbers. Too difficult for me. No time. Will do it soon. Will hand over money to my spouse, father, brother, good friend who will manage for me. I’m too young to worry. Now I’m too old, what’s the point. These are all loser statements. Don’t make them. I’ve run workshops on money that have had village level NGO workers earning a tiny salary to the mass affluent in big metros. They all had the same look: why am I in the room, I have no money to invest? If the peanut seller outside your office can save some money, so can you. Not having a surplus is easily fixed— you can earn more, spend less and rework your current borrowing and investing patterns. There is no other magic formula to starting a saving surplus in your monthly income rhythm. 1st graders can be identified by their don’t care attitude towards money, which actually hides many insecurities and fears.