The Securities and Exchange Board of India has become the first financial regulator to settle the debate regarding the classification of advisors and agents when it comes to financial instruments. Personal finance expert Monika Halan explains Sebi’s solution, comparing advisors to doctors, and agents to chemists. Agents are only supposed to sell products which customers seek, while advisors will make recommendations after assessing various factors related to the buyer. Meanwhile, other regulators like the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority, and the Reserve Bank of India are still lagging behind. Is it time for the government to intervene? Monika Halan is consulting editor, Mint, and author of the book ‘Let’s Talk Money’.
The crucial lines between an adviser and an agent have finally been clearly drawn in the Indian capital market. This is as crucial as drawing a distinction between a doctor and a chemist. The process that the capital market regulator began in 2013 ended in July 2020 with the Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi) notifying the registered investment adviser (RIA) amendments that have gone through years of debate, consultation papers and introspection. Sebi began by asking a question to the mutual fund intermediary: who are you? Are you an agent of the mutual fund or are you an adviser to the investor? The answer to this will determine in whose interest you work. The agent gets his compensation from the mutual fund in the form of a trail commission (Sebi banned front commissions in 2009) and the adviser is compensated by the investor through a fee. You can read the way the debate moved over the years here.