Mumbai: The Securities and Exchange Board of India, or Sebi, is drafting new norms that would offer mutual fund investors a band or range of entry loads to pick from while purchasing units of a mutual fund, said a senior official at the market regulator.
An entry load is the commission that an investor has to pay a distributor while purchasing units. Currently, investors pay an average 2.25% of the sum invested as entry load if they buy the units from a distributor, who is a third party, but they pay nothing if they buy directly from the fund house.
The new norms are likely to be announced in a month, the official said requesting anonymity as details of the plan have not yet been finalized.
According to the Association of Mutual Funds in India a 13-year old industry lobby, there were about 47 million mutual fund account holders in India at the end of 2008. There were some 35 mutual fund houses with net assets under management of about Rs4.6 trillion, at the end of January. The bulk of mutual fund unit sales in the country, however, are conducted through a large, unorganized network of distributors, which also include a few large players that have their own fund offerings. The largest third party distributors of mutual fund products in India are banks such as ICICI Bank Ltd and HDFC Bank Ltd. Several brokerages and non-banking finance companies also have large mutual fund products distribution businesses.
Empowering Investors: Sebi chairman C.B. Bhave. The new Sebi norms are expected to make distributors more competent to justify their role. Abhijit Bhatlekar / Mint
“This (move) will hugely empower mutual fund investors,” said the Sebi official, adding that it would force “distributors to stay competent to justify their role”.
The move could also help increase the current investor base, this official said.
“Penetration of mutual funds can be much more (but) .. without distributors, it would have been even less,” said Uttam Aggarwal, who heads the mutual fund distribution business of Bajaj Capital Ltd, which is present in 90 towns and manages about one million investors.
“Look at Quantum (Quantum Asset Management Co. Pvt. Ltd), its asset under management is in double digit crore,” said Aggarwal. Quantum does not have a distribution model and does not charge entry load from investors.
At the same time, financial services firms with established distribution capabilities have now expanded to included funds management business to leverage their strength.
“We are in this business to leverage our strong distribution capabilities,” says Nitin Rakesh, chief executive of asset management with domestic retail brokerage Motilal Oswal Financial Services Ltd, one of the latest players in the funds business.
In fact, fund houses recognize the grip that distributors have over access in both directions. The penetration of mutual funds in India, have been “severely limited” by distributors, Ashu Sayash, managing director and country head (India) of Fidelity Advisors International, had said in June last year. He was speaking at the launch of FundsNetwork, an online fund distribution portal that Fidelity International, the world’s largest mutual fund manager, had launched.
“The existing mutual fund business model is also not as profitable as insurance,” said Aggarwal. “Insurance allows you to reach the smallest towns but mutual funds have regulatory issues (such as daily net asset value, or NAV, disclosures and cap on marketing expenses).”
Unlike the third party distributors of, say, insurance products, who can only sell policies of one firm, mutual fund distributors are free to sell schemes from any fund house. Not surprisingly, fund houses often fall over each other to woo distributors so they will push their products. Sebi currently allows mutual funds to spend up to 6% of a scheme as marketing expense, and fund houses typically spend part of this allocation on distributors.
Ravi Krishnan contributed to this story.