A tweet from @TheMFGuy started the debate on social media a few weeks back. The tweet read: “Like wallets @SEBI_India should now make rules for mutual fund portability allowing to switch from one fund house to another.” Portability in a service is the option to move your business to another service provider without losing the identification number (as in a telephone number), or losing the history your account has built up (as in a medical insurance policy where a no-claims-bonus builds up for every claim-free year) or having a tax implication when an investment is switched rather than redeemed.
What does portability in a mutual fund mean? There are four kinds of portability that we need to understand in a mutual fund. First, between asset classes, for example, between stocks and bonds. Second, between schemes, for example, from the large-cap to a multi-cap fund of the same fund house. Third, between fund houses, for example, from the mid-cap fund of one fund house to the mid-cap fund of another fund house. Fourth, between various options in a scheme—for example, switching between growth and dividend or between regular and direct.
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.
I’m not sure it will work. I’m in Pondy (Puducherry) on holiday and almost out of cash. I have my ATM card but my bank does not have a machine here. And you can’t pay an auto guy 30 bucks with a credit card—at least not yet. I confess to never having used my ATM card on another bank’s machine—never had a need to and a basic distrust of machines that chew up cards has kept me faithful to my own bank’s ATM machines. But this is an emergency. I need cash. With a fair bit of reluctance, I stick the card into another bank’s ATM machine, punch in the password and watch the transaction get under way with a wrinkle of doubt. As the machine counts the currency notes with a whirr and spits them out, I let out a small cheer. For being liquid again. For technology that makes this possible. And for the regulator who made this happen, though there is now a limit of Rs10,000 a day with a maximum of five transactions a month in other bank ATMs.