At the 4th edition of the annual Mint Mutual Fund Conclave last week, the overarching theme was the question: should FY 2018 be called the year of the mutual fund? For an industry that just two years back was still calling itself ‘nascent’ 24 years after privatisation, it is a giant leap forward to have assets under management that have tripled in the last five years. Mutual fund assets are now one-fifth of bank deposits and almost two-thirds of the assets under management by the life insurance industry. G. Mahalingam, whole-time member of the Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi), in his keynote address, said that possibly the external factors that helped this growth, such as easy money policy overseas for the last few years and more recently, demonetisation, are coming to an end, and now the real mettle of the industry will be tested. He said that several regulatory measures that are coming in the days ahead will ensure that the industry is investor-friendly. One, the scheme merger announcement will be made soon by Sebi. Two, the work on the total expense ratio (TER) going down must begin. Third, investor-friendly disclosure measures such as using the total return index should be taken. “Good times are the best times to swallow bitter medicine,” he said.
The stories you hear are romantic only in hindsight. A young man starting with just Rs50 in his pocket sets out into the world. Thirty years later, he is the king of a large multinational empire. The stories of deprivation and lack of food in the early years make for good copy today, but only somebody who has been through it can even begin to imagine what it was like.
When you are struggling to get out of a bad place, you don’t know how it will end. Whether you will break through or get sucked in. In that struggle, however, comes the transformation. It is that fire in the belly to change, to transform, to win that pushes some people to do superhuman things. And once you make the breakthrough, it is a very human desire to promise that your children will never go through the bleak and seemingly bottomless darkness you have lived through.
You remember what the cold felt like without the money for an overcoat. Or the smell of hot food when all you had was a hole in the pocket. Not your children. Never.
I have a friend who lives well when she earns more and gets into a frugal mode when business is bad. An artist, her income fluctuates, so does her lifestyle. Up when there is more and down when there is less. Her mood, though, is quite delinked from her financial status—always up. Last year, she said she wanted to start systematic investment plans (SIPs). Why? Because everybody around her was starting SIPs, and it seemed a cool thing to do—getting financial security is good, no? Yes, sure, but it has taken her the first 40 something years to get to even talk about financial security. Better late and all that. The first thing I asked her to do was to put down a number that she needed each month to live. It’s very difficult to pin down an average monthly expense for a person who matches expenses to earnings every few months. But the budgeting exercise, which is the building block for most plans, takes on much bigger importance for people with fluctuating incomes. Without knowing what you spend each month, there is no financial plan.
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.
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.
This would easily qualify as one of the worst moments of your life. That ping which says: your account debited with Rs30,000, and your current balance is now Rs2,467.20. Your blood chills and hands shake as you realise that you’ve been robbed—this is not a transaction you just made. Did I schedule a payment and forget about it? Did my spouse, who has my personal identification number (PIN), make a transaction? But I did not get a one-time password (OTP). You feel exactly the same way as you would, had somebody physically snatched your purse out of your hands. Robbery leaves the same feeling of disbelief and damage, whether it is virtual or not—the loss is very real.
While the loss you take home when cash is ripped out of your hand is yours, the responsibility is that of the bank when it happens in the virtual world. The banking regulator, Reserve Bank of India (RBI), has taken forward the draft it had released in August 2016 that thought through liability issues of electronic theft of money. The bank will now have to make good your entire loss if it happens through an unauthorized transaction or if the electronic theft happens due to a fault within the bank’s systems. You don’t even need to report this. For instance, when the data of nearly 3.2 million debit cards was compromised between May and July 2016, it was due to a virus in the systems of Hitachi Payment Services, the firm that manages the bank’s ATM network. In an event such as this, you do not have to report the loss of money, the bank will have to make good on it because its system failure caused the loss and many people are affected.
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.