Most sectors of the economy have been completely liberalised for foreign direct investment (FDI) and the Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) was abolished in June 2017. Policy watchers in this space were, therefore, taken unawares by a cryptic announcement by the Ministry of Finance on 16 April, 2018, on the “Minimum capital requirements for ‘other financial service’ activities which are unregulated by any financial sector regulator and FDI is allowed under government route”.

Why the Press Release

To put it in perspective, this announcement has its genesis in the RBI’s FEMA Notification No. 375/2016-RB dated September 9, 2016, which was a big ticket change, doing away with the nearly two decades old stipulation of minimum capitalisation in the NBFC sector. The playing field was thus levelled and the financial sector regulations could prevail in an ownership agnostic fashion.

The formal Press Note announcing this change in fact came subsequently (see Press Note 6 of 2016 dated October 25, 2016). FEMA 375 firmly placed all regulated financial services activities in the fold of the respective financial regulators, instead of the latter having to concern themselves with the ownership pattern of the entity.

FEMA 375, however, laid down that activities that are not regulated by any regulator, or where only part of the activity is regulated, or where there is doubt regarding regulatory oversight, approval would need to be obtained from the Government with attendant minimum capitalisation requirements as may be decided by the Government. It is not known , in the public domain, as to how many approvals in the ‘unregulated financial services’ space have actually been accorded post issuance of FEMA 375. This information would have been useful. Be that as it may, what has been set out in the press release of April 16, 2018 is perhaps the way for the future.

Continue Reading FDI and Unregulated Financial Services

There have been some very wide sweeping and deep impact changes in the business and economic environment over the past few years, many of which have also had a strong social impact. While some changes could be considered political, there are many changes that have happened basically because the government of the day chose to bite the bullet. These were long overdue and just couldn’t be kicked any further down the road – to put it succinctly, “the time had come”.

India’s Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) policy, which has its genesis in the liberalisation era beginning in the early 1990s, had always been subject to periodic incremental relaxation of sectoral caps and other easing measures. However, after years of a gradualist mode, the current decade has seen more dramatic shifts in the hitherto entrenched position in respect to FDI in various sectors. The ultimate measure was of course the abolition in June 2017 of the two and half decades old Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB), the inter-ministerial body that granted ‘prior government approval’ in mandated sectors.

The demise of this institution regarded as venerable by some and obstructionist by others, met as expected, with a mixed response. With nearly 95% of the FDI inflows in the country already coming in through the automatic route, the utility and need for such a body was clearly on the wane; practitioners were, however, apprehensive of the absence of the body, which had become the proverbial ‘go to place’ for clarifications and was the last port of call for policy intervention in case of need.

With the formal dissolution of the FIPB at the end of June 2017, a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) was put in place whereby the sectors / activities / transactions that required government approval were mandated to approach the respective administrative ministries for the same. Simultaneously, the FIPB portal was literally morphed into the Foreign Investment Facilitation Portal (FIFP), bringing with it bare essential changes to name and ownership, but virtually nothing more.

Continue Reading FDI Policy – So What’s New?

Despite several existing schemes and interventions by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), the problem of bad debt has plagued the Indian banking system. For years, various high value accounts have undergone restructurings that have not resolved stress or the underlying imbalance in the capital structure, or addressed the viability of the business.

The existing RBI stipulated resolution mechanism included corporate debt restructuring (CDR), strategic debt restructuring (SDR), change in ownership outside the strategic debt restructuring (Outside SDR), the scheme for sustainable restructuring of stressed assets (S4A), etc. All of these were implemented under the framework of the Joint Lenders’ Forum (JLF).

On February 12, 2018, the RBI decided to completely revamp the guidelines on the resolution of stressed assets and withdrew all its existing guidelines and schemes. The guidelines/framework for JLF was also discontinued.

The New Framework

The new framework requires that as soon as there is a default in a borrower entity’s account with any lender, the lenders shall formulate a resolution plan. This may involve any action, plan or reorganisation including change in ownership, restructuring or sale of exposure etc. The resolution plan is to be clearly documented by all the lenders even where there is no change in any terms and conditions.

Continue Reading Overhaul of Stressed Assets Resolution

Morning Mumbai mist, hot coffee and the 1986 song ‘The Final Countdown’ by Europe is playing in the background – life seems blissful! And it was mostly so for the Alternative Investment Funds (AIFs) industry. As we begin the run-up to Budget 2018, we look back at the milestones crossed in 2017 and the goalposts set for 2018 – and we focus on the key hits, misses and asks of the AIF industry.

2017: Key Highlights 

  • Investment by Banks in Category II AIFs: The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) amended the Reserve Bank of India (Financial Services provided by Banks) Directions, 2016 permitting banks to invest in Category II AIFs up to a maximum cap of 10% corpus of such AIF. With Category II AIFs constituting nearly 50% of the total number of AIFs registered with the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI), this amendment sets the roadmap for channeling domestic savings into productive alternate assets and, at the same time, provides banks with the ability to earn a risk-adjusted return, thereby boosting the overall Return on Equity for its stakeholders.

Continue Reading It’s the Final Countdown: Achievements by and Expectations of the AIF Industry

Technological innovation is the new normal in the financial services sector. The evolution of every aspect of this industry in the past few years has been truly transformational, whether it is access to funds, demand creation/aggregation or even payment systems. The inception and growth of peer-to-peer (P2P) lending platforms in India is one such example. P2P platforms effectively function as an online marketplace for lenders and borrowers, for a commission. A need for regulatory oversight was considered by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), given the recent rise in the number of such operators and their integration into the financial services sector.

The RBI outlined its proposal to regulate such platforms in its consultation paper issued last year. Following notification on August 24, 2017 categorising P2P lending platforms as Non-Banking Financial Companies (NBFCs), the RBI has finally issued its widely anticipated master directions on October 04, 2017 (Master Directions).

Continue Reading One Size Fits All? Regulating Peer-To-Peer Lending Platforms

The RBI has amended the Master Directions on Financial Services provided by Banks. This is a significant move permitting Banks to invest in Category II Alternative Investment Funds.

As of June 30, 2017, Alternative Investment Funds (AIFs) had raised the cumulative figure of Rs. 48, 129 crores, against aggregate capital commitments of Rs 96,000 crores. The AIF industry is thus growing at an exponential rate, raising monies from domestic and offshore investors.

Unfortunately, however, the Indian AIF industry, lags behind its western counterparts in terms of participation by domestic pools of capital. In western countries, long term or patient capital, such as pension funds, contributes nearly 40% of the capital raised by AIFs. In the Indian context, restrictions prescribed by sector regulators have inhibited fund managers from raising capital from the domestic financial services sector.

Hence, it was no surprise that one of the key themes in the 2016 reports of the Alternative Investment Policy Advisory Committee (AIPAC), chaired by Mr Narayan Murthy, was “unlocking domestic pools of capital”. The committee’s recommendation was premised on the argument that the domestic capital pools – pensions, insurance, domestic financial institutions, banks, and charitable institutions – need access to appropriate investment opportunities to earn risk-adjusted returns.

Continue Reading It’s a Yes – for Banks!

The Indian banking system has been riddled with non performing assets (NPAs) for some time now. To help lenders, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has introduced a variety of debt restructuring policies, including the flexible structuring of project loans  and the strategic debt restructuring scheme. But these schemes have met with limited success, mostly due to the lack of funds available for promoters to invest, non-cooperation on the part of the borrowers and the sub-optimal levels of operations in the relevant companies.

The lukewarm economic environment has further amplified these woes. As such, ‘bad’ loans across 40 listed banks in India had increased to Rs. 5.8 trillion (approximately USD 85.9 billion) in March 2016 from Rs. 4.38 trillion (approximately USD 64.9 billion) in December 2015. Estimates show that weak assets in the Indian banking system will reach Rs. 8 trillion (approximately USD 118.5 billion) by March 2017.

Continue Reading Dealing with Stressed Assets in India – S4A, A Fresh Perspective