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.
RRR exit, hmmm. Brexit, meh. Shrugging off plenty of bad news, the Sensex hit an 11-month high this week. What’s going on? The story for India is the thickening of the retail equity pipeline, not directly in stocks, but through institutions such as pension funds and mutual funds. Sustained flows of retail money is coming in. And it is coming in a staggered manner. Indian household money has traditionally been in real assets such as gold and real estate, in bank fixed deposits (FDs) and to some extent in life insurance policies. The organised sector contributed to their provident fund, which again went into bonds and other fixed return paper. Think about the change in our own investing behaviour—we swore by FDs and Life Insurance Corporation of India policies, but are now die-hard SIPpers (investors into systematic investment plans of mutual funds). What changed?
At a wedding reception recently, a friend’s daughter, who just got her first job, wandered over to where us oldies were huddled. Aunty, I, like, wanted to chat about this SIP (systematic investment plan) thingie? Whenever you have the time, whatever? Another friend, not known for being sane, who lives consultancy cheque to consultancy cheque and regularly blows up her bank account on mad-hatter trips, worked with me over three afternoons to set up her SIP accounts through her online bank account. “I just totally have to get this SIP thing going—it is so cool!”
Sometimes a committee leaks a proposal it is considering to test reaction in stories and comments. Or sometimes it is a dissenter to what is being discussed who will leak a proposal or a decision to get public opinion against what is being proposed. Either of the two must have happened last week when we read that a Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi) committee examining a new compensation structure for mutual fund distributors is close to recommending a Rs 100 transaction fee on the sale of a mutual fund product. The quick push back from both distributors and consumer activists shows that both are unhappy. The distributors say that a flat fee of Rs 100 does not even cover the cost of transport and is neither here nor there. The consumer voices say that a flat fee is inherently unfair, translating to a 10% cost for a Rs 1,000 investor and a 0.1% cost for a Rs 1 lakh investor. They fear that this fee is an attempt to get entry loads in through the back door. It may begin as Rs 100 today, but what will prevent it from becoming Rs 1,000 tomorrow? Or coming back to a percentage in another year’s time?