Mumbai: As executive director of the Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi) and later as chairman of National Securities Depository Ltd (NSDL) in the 1990s, C.B. Bhave dragged the Indian equity market into the paperless era.
He is now attempting an encore as chairman of Sebi, the capital markets regulator. In November, Bhave began a process to shred the paper in the mutual fund business through dematerialization, or demat.
Large distributors of mutual funds are now goading clients to hand over their paper certificates to NSDL, India’s largest depository, and hold them in electronic form instead. Industry experts say this would help distributors save postage, stationery and infrastructure costs.
There could be a long-term benefit as well: Demat of mutual funds could provide a big push to the trading of units on stock exchanges.
Ashu Suyash, managing director and country head, Fidelity Fund Management Pvt. Ltd, with Rs7,879 crore in assets, said, “This is the next part of the move to allow MFs (mutual funds) to be traded on exchanges. Without demat, the exchange platforms were not getting traction. This move will be an enablement.”
Krishnamurthy Vijayan, CEO, IDBI Asset Management Co. Ltd, with Rs1,300 crore in assets, said the demat process will help exchange platforms. “All capital market investments will be available in one statement, making life simple for investors,” he said.
Mutual fund buying on exchanges got off to a slow start, but activity has picked up in July. The daily average number of transactions grew more than 10-fold, to over 1,000 transactions worth nearly Rs6 crore in July.
In November 2009, Sebi floated the idea of trading units on exchanges to help the Rs6.75 trillion MF industry, which was on the back foot after a June 2009 Sebi order banning payment of agent fees from investor money.
However, till now only new purchases could be made through these platforms. With the introduction of demat, even old fund holdings can now be transacted on exchanges.
NSDL alone has over 10 million active demat accounts with assets worth Rs59.5 trillion. In comparison, the MF industry has over 40 million investor accounts with assets in excess of Rs6.75 trillion, most of it paper.
Surjit Mishra, executive vice-president and national head, mutual funds, Bajaj Capital Ltd, a financial products distributor, said that contrary to popular belief, a good number of MF investors already have demat accounts for their direct equity investments. “Roughly 50% of MF investors already own demat accounts. By converting their MF investments into demat form, they will get great ease in transaction and accounting.”
According to Mishra, this will improve further as people can now use the demat to sell and exit existing investments. “Without demat, only new (mutual fund) investments can be done and only those investments made through the exchange platform could be refunded. With the introduction of demat, existing investments can also be transacted. The number of transactions will go up,” he added.
Entities such as Integrated Enterprises India Ltd, a distributor and depository participant, are pushing dematerialization. “We are actively promoting the demat route,” said V. Krishnan, head of mutual funds at Integrated. According to him, the response has been good. “We have got very good response during the recent new fund offers of HDFC Asset Management Co. Ltd and ICICI Prudential Asset Management Co. Ltd. In June, we opened about 100 new demat accounts. This month the number has crossed 500 already and may cross 600 eventually.”
The growing popularity of exchange-traded funds, or ETFs, as an important class of funds is also driving home the importance of demat accounts. At least two new fund offers are for ETFs.
However, one major hitch is the direct transfer of units to client accounts. In share transactions, shares are first transferred to pool accounts of brokers before being moved to a client’s account. This gives the broker a chance to ensure that payment is received before the shares are transferred. But in a mutual fund transaction, the units are directly transferred to client account. “This puts the risk on the broker. Therefore, only pre-funded transactions are being executed at present. We have asked the regulator for the pooled account facility in mutual fund units also. Once this is allowed, most brokers would begin to show interest,” Krishnan.