Monday, December 31, 2012

RBI keeps us guessing

This article was originally published in Postnoon on December 28, 2012. Co-author: Purvee Hetamsaria

Prof. Nicky was strolling in the park when she heard a familiar voice calling out her name. She turned around to face a gasping Mr. Mukherjee. The face had a question mark.

Prof: Hello Mr. Mukherjee. What's troubling you?

Mukherjee (trying to regain his breath): You got me! I was wondering if the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) will lower the interest rates in their upcoming policy review. The general view is that there is a strong possibility of a 75 basis points cut next year. With 50 bps being cut during the last quarter of the current fiscal year.

Prof. Nicky: Well. I cannot predict what RBI is going to do. But yes, it might be welcome by many sections of the industries and the common man.

Mukherjee: That is what I am not able to understand. How does it help the common man? Why should he worry about the matters of monetary policy? I am personally indifferent to it.

Nicky: So you feel! But it's not true. Remember the time when you took a loan to buy that car of yours and you were complaining to me about the high interest rates?

Mukherjee: Yes. But what does that have to do with RBI and rate cuts?

Nicky: How do banks determine at what rate to lend? How are auto loan, home loan, personal loan, etc, their interest rates determined? It depends on the interest rates set by the RBI. The rate at which banks can borrow funds from the RBI is known as the Repo rate. When the repo rate goes down, banks get funds at a lower rate, which they can pass on to their customers in the form of cheaper loans.

Mukherjee: Hmmm...but since I have already taken the loan, it's not going to help me.

Nicky: Its not going to help you if your loan has a fixed interest rate. If the loan has a floating interest rate, that is, it changes with the changes in the Prime Lending Rate (PLR), then your Equated Monthly Instalments (EMIs) will come down.

Mukherjee: PLR?

Nicky: It's the rate at which banks lend to their most credit worthy customers. So for most of us, after taking our credit worthiness into account, the banks decide on an x percent to be added to the PLR, to determine the interest rate. For those who have floating rate loans, the banks generally quote the interest rate as PLR plus x percent. So when PLR comes down, EMI also comes down.

Mukherjee: Got it. But what about my deposits? Will the banks continue to pay me the same interest rates on them?

Nicky: For your existing Fixed Deposits, the answer is yes. For new fixed deposits, the banks may reduce the rates.

Mukherjee: Understood. Thank you.

Friday, December 21, 2012

KYC Norms eased

This article was originally published in Postnoon on December 21, 2012. Co-author: Purvee Hetamsaria

“The KYC (Know Your Customer) Guidelines were formulated to protect the financial system against threat of money laundering/terror financing and frauds”, said Prof. Nicky, when she was asked about their purpose by one of the new first year student.

Prof. Nicky: But why do you ask?

Student: I have been trying to open a savings bank account in a bank which has a branch just outside my home. The executive wanted a host of documents which I provided to him. But he is asking for separate identification and address proofs. I gave him my passport which also has my address. But he says that he needs an electricity bill or a bank statement as an address proof. Now where do I get that from? There is no separate electricity bill for me. It's on my father's name. Also, I want a bank account because I don't have one.

Prof. Nicky: Oh! In that case you need not worry any more. Just a couple of days back, the Reserve Bank of India, the regulator for all banks in India, revised the guidelines for KYC. To ease the burden in complying with the KYC requirements for opening new accounts, RBI has now notified that if the address on the document submitted for identity proof is same as that declared in the account opening form, the document may be accepted as a valid proof of both identity and address.

Student: Ah...that solves at least part of my problems.

Prof. Nicky: You must keep in mind though, that this happens only if you give the same address in the form as mentioned in the proof that you have provided.

Student: Ok. That is what I have done. Though I have another problem.

Prof. Nicky: And that is?

Student: The executive has also asked me for an introduction from an existing customer. My parents have accounts in a different bank. I do not know of anyone who has an account with this bank. What am I to do?

Prof. Nicky: You are in luck lady! Seems like RBI has been taking note of your prayers! RBI has notified that the introduction is not necessary any more under the KYC guidelines. So the bank should not insist on introduction for opening an account. So call back the executive and ask him to update himself with the newest changes and then open your account.

Student: I must thank RBI for these changes. This problem was being faced by a few of my other friends too. I must go and inform them too about these developments. Thank you, as usual!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Deeper PF cut will help in long term

This article was originally published in Postnoon on December 14, 2012. Co-author: Purvee Hetamsaria

There was urgency in Abhi's voice when he called to ask me if he could see me. I immediately agreed. He was in my office before I could get myself a cup of coffee from the Cafe. What is it Abhi?, I asked. "You look disturbed".

Abhi: Yes. I am disturbed. And who wouldn't be? My salary just went down because of the Government's action.

Nicky: Really? What did the Government do now?

Abhi: The Employees Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO) of India has come out with a notification which says that now we will have to contribute towards the provident fund on the basis of allowances as well. This will reduce my take home salary.

Nicky: Ah that! You should be happy. Don't think short term. Think long term. You are forced to save more.

Abhi: What do you mean?

Nicky: See, earlier, you and your employer, both contributed 12% each, on your Basic plus Dearness Allowance (DA) only, towards the EPF. Now, suppose your Basic plus DA is ₹4,000. The contribution will amount to ₹480 from you and ₹480 from your employer. There is no contribution on the allowances that you receive. If your allowances total up to ₹2,000, your take home salary will be ₹4,000 minus ₹480 plus ₹2,000. That is ₹5,520. And your total contribution to EPFO is ₹960.

Abhi: Yes, this is exactly what happens in my case right now.

Nicky: But with the new circular, contribution will need to be made on Basic plus DA plus Allowances. This means, your contribution will be on ₹6,000. Hence, the total contribution to the EPFO by your employer (₹720) and you (₹720) will be ₹1440. This way, you take home only ₹5,280 but you save ₹480 more and your total income goes up by ₹240, the extra contribution made by the employer! So you should be happy.

Abhi: are right, but I am still not happy about the lower take home salary. You know that I recently got married and have bought a flat too, which comes with a fat EMI.

Nicky (laughing): True Abhi. But saving for your old age is important too. And many employees structure their salary to increase allowances and decrease PF contributions. This means that they are not saving enough. Also, because of higher contributions to the PF account, you will be able to claim a higher amount as section 80c deductions in income tax.

Abhi: But the limit for section 80c is ₹1 lakh right?

Nicky: Yes. So it will be beneficial to you only if you are not able to meet the ₹1 lakh through your life insurance and existing PF contributions.

Abhi: So overall, you are saying, the government may not have done such a bad thing! Well, I am not happy, but I do understand the government's point of view now. I'll have to think of rationing certain expenditures though!

Saturday, December 8, 2012

For investors or govt?

This article was originally published in Postnoon on December 7, 2012

"So Life Insurance Corporation (LIC) of India is launching a new Unit Linked Insurance Plan (ULIP)?" asked Srikanth.
"Yes. So the newspapers and news channels have reported", I replied.

Srikanth: I remember, ULIPs were really popular a couple of years back. Everyone was talking about it, investing in it. Then suddenly, they disappeared from the investments arena. Why? What happened?
Me: Well, as the regulations stood way back in 2010, the costs to the investors were huge in the case of ULIPs. The distributors and agents got large selling commissions, as high as 40% of the first year premium, and hence many of them pushed the product, mis-informed and mis-sold it to the investors.

Srikanth: Wow...isn't that wrong?

Me: It is. Hence the investors protested, once they realized that they had a product which was a sure way to lose money. Following the protests and a legal battle with the capital markets' regulator, SEBI, the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority (IRDA), brought in new regulations regarding the costs and losses in the event an investor fails to pay subsequent premium installments. After this, ULIPs did not remain as lucrative for the agents as they were earlier. Hence they stopped pushing it to the investors. And the sheen faded.
Srikanth: Legal battle with SEBI?

Me: Yeah, SEBI claimed that ULIPs were Mutual Funds being sold as Insurance and hence they should have jurisdiction over ULIPs. Anyways, the result was a set of new regulations, which brought down the charges for the investors and increased the minimum lock-in period of ULIPS from three years to five years.
Earlier, most of the insurers charged higher during the initial years of the plan. But now, the charges have to be distributed evenly over all the years of the lock-in period. IRDA also mandated a minimum mortality cover and a minimum guaranteed return. The charges are capped between 2.25% to 4%.

Srikanth: That's good for the investors. But not for the insurers and the distributors.

Me: That's the reason the share of ULIPs has only gone downhill since 2010. LIC is now coming out with a ULIP product after almost two years. And even that may not be with the investors' in mind. As Vivek Kaul points out in his article on, it could just be a ploy to help the government raise money through divestment. Since the investor's may not be willing to pick up stocks in PSUs, LIC will bail out the government by picking up stake in those companies.
Srikanth: But why launch a ULIP product for it?

Me: That's because the premiums collected through traditional plans cannot be invested in the Equity markets completely. There is a cap of 15% on equity exposure for the traditional plans, according to the Insurance Act. However, in the case of ULIPs, the entire premium can be invested in equities.
Srikanth: Ah, so basically LIC may be hoodwinking the investors, in order to help the government.

Me: Hmmm...I did not think in that direction earlier. But after reading Vive Kaul's article, I feel that may be the real story! Ultimately, the investors must do their homework before making any investment decision!