Scalar regulatory framework for the NBFC sector

-Financial Services Division (finserv@vinodkothari.com)

Introduction

The RBI had, in its Statement on Development and Regulatory Policies dated December 4, 2020[1], highlighted a need to review the regulatory framework in line with the changing risk profile of NBFCs. The NBFC sector has witnessed various changes in the regulatory framework in the past few years, making it more comprehensive. However, the tremendous growth in the sector combined with regulatory arbitrage enjoyed by the NBFCs is now leading to systemic risk. Hence, it is necessary to tighten the regulatory norms for NBFCs holding a major chunk of market share.

In line with the aforesaid announcement, the RBI released a discussion paper on January 22, 2021[2] seeking inputs from industry participants. The following write-up analyses the major propositions made by the RBI.

Concerns behind the present regulatory proposal- regulatory arbitrage

The operational flexibility provided to the NBFCs has enabled it to assume a scale that would potentially impact systemic stability. In recent years, the regulator has identified structural arbitrage and prudential arbitrage between banks and NBFCs. Where the former emanates from differences in legislative and licensing framework like net owned funds, branch approval requirements, etc. While the latter is concerning CRAR, prescribed leverage, liquidity guidelines, etc.

There also exists some form of corporate governance and disclosure relaxation for NBFCs in comparison to banks such as instructions on compensation policy for WTD/CEOs/Risk Control Staff and most of SCB being listed and thus abiding by the listing requirement.

NBFCs have become more interconnected with the financial system. Linkages are due to the substantial exposure that banks have in NBFCs. As per the financial stability report of January 2021, the  NBFCs were the largest net borrowers of funds from the financial system. Where the gross payables and receivables stood around ₹9.37 lakh crore and ₹0.93 lakh crore as of end-September 2020.[3] More than half of this funding was supported by scheduled commercial banks (SCBs) followed by Asset Management Companies-Mutual Funds (AMC-MF) and Insurance Companies. Further, the discussion paper noted that there are seven NBFCs (including HFCs) each having an asset size exceeding 1 lakh crore and above.

The unconstrained growth of the NBFC sector in addition to the lenient regulatory framework within an interconnected financial system may sow the seeds of systemic risk. In the present scenario, the failure of any large and deeply interconnected NBFC is capable of transmitting shocks into the entire financial sector and causing a disruption even to the operations of the small and mid-sized NBFCs.

Classification of NBFCs

The proposed framework provides for the regulation on a scale-based approach. This essentially means that regulatory and supervisory resources are to be more focused on the entities which have become too big to fail ‘TBTF’ owing to their systemic interconnectedness with other financial market participants. The degree of regulation is to be based on the ‘principle of proportionality’. The three triggers of scale based regulation are:

  • Risk perception: This parameter is based on the size, leverage, and interconnectedness of the NBFC with market participants in terms of the prescribed threshold.
  • Size of operations: The size of the balance sheet of an NBFC beyond a certain prescribed high threshold would be an important independent factor in the determination of regulation.
  • Nature of activity – Just performing financial activity cannot give rise to systemic risk. Like Type 1 NBFCs which do not access public deposits and neither have customers, interfaces are to be regulated with a light touch. The essence of such a form of NBFCs is that the financial activity is being carried out by net-owned funds. However, some activities are regarded as high risk owing to their systemic connectivity and business model. The draft paper categorizes NBFC-HFC, IFC, IDF, SPD, and CIC as they are interconnected with other financial institutions while performing credit intermediation.

The RBI has proposed a scale-based four-layered structure regulatory framework–viz. Base Layer (NBFC-BL), Middle Layer (NBFC-ML), Upper Layer (NBFC-UL), and Top Layer. The classification of layers is made commensurate to the regulatory intervention required- i.e. the base layer having the least regulatory intervention and the intervention increasing as the one moves up the pyramid. The proposed categorisation/classification as provided in the discussion paper is summarized in the fig below:

CICs poised to be put under greater scrutiny. They are proposed to be regarded as Middle Layer NBFC (NBFC-ML) along with NBFCs currently classified as systemically important NBFCs (NBFC-ND-SI), deposit-taking NBFCs (NBFC-D), HFCs, IFCs, IDFs, SPDs. Though CICs and SPDs will fall in the Middle Layer of the regulatory pyramid, the existing regulations specifically applicable to them will continue to apply. However, a pertinent question for discussion would be whether the activity-based classification of NBFC-AA, P2P, NOFHC in Lower Layer and NBFC-HFC, IFC, IDF, CIC, and SPDs in Middle Layer justified.

Increased NOF & harmonisation of NPA recognition

Further, NOF is proposed to be raised to Rs. 20 crores. Further, in order to ensure a smooth transition, a well-defined timeline will be prescribed by the RBI for existing NBFCs, spanning over a period of, say, five years. For new registrations, the higher NOF norms will get implemented immediately on the issue of instructions.

NPA recognition based on 90 DPD will be extended to all NBFCs including those which are not systemically important.

Recognition of NBFCs in Upper Layer

NBFC categorisation is based on an annual review. The paper recognises two parameters; quantitative and qualitative:

  • The quantitative parameters will have 70% weightage.
  • The qualitative parameters will have 30% weightage.

The table below represents quantitative and qualitative parameters as proposed:

 

Parameter Sub-parameter Sub weight Weights
Quantitative Parameters (70%)
Size & Leverage Size: Total exposure (on-and off-balance sheet)

 

Leverage: total debt to total equity

20+15 35
Interconnectedness i) Intra-financial system assets:

–        Lending to FIs

–        Securities of other FIs

–        Mark to market REPO

–        OTC derivatives

 

ii) Intra-financial system liabilities

 

–        Borrowings from FIs

–        Marketable securities issued by finance company to FI

–        Mark to market OTC derivative with FIs

iii) Securities outstanding (issued by NBFC)

10

 

 

 

 

 

10

 

 

 

 

 

 

5

25

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Complexity i) Notional amount of OTC derivatives

–        CCP centrally

–        Bilateral OTC

 

ii) Trading and available for sale securities

5

 

 

 

 

5

10
Qualitative Parameters/Supervisory inputs (30%)
Nature and type of liabilities –        Degree of reliance on short term funding

–        Liquid asset ratios

–        Callable debts

–        Asset backed funding Vs. other funding

–        Asset liability duration and gap analysis

–        Borrowing split (secured debt, CCPS, CPs, unsecured debt)

10 30

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Group Structure –        Total number of entities

–        Total number of layers

–        Total intra-group exposure

10  
Segment Penetration Importance of NBFC as a source of credit in a specific segment or area 10  

 

 

The scoring will be done on a sample basis, by dividing the individual NBFCs amount by the aggregate sum of all the indicators in the sample. The score for each category will be converted into basis points and the overall systemic significance score will be based on the relative importance of the NBFC compared with other NBFCs in the sample.

 

The sample criteria for the purpose of the above parameter-based measurement is to be as follows:

  • Excluding the top 10 NBFCs (based on asset size) as they will automatically fall in upper layer regulation.
  • The sample will include the next 50 NBFCs based on total exposure (including off-balance sheet)
  • NBFCs designated as NBFC-UL in the previous year
  • NBFCs added to sample by supervisors judgment

For leverage calculation, the individual score of NBFC is to be divided by the average leverage of the sample. An NBFC-UL will be subjected to enhanced regulatory requirements similar to that of banks at least for a period of four years from its last appearance in the category, even where it does not meet the parametric criteria in the subsequent year.

NBFCs in Base Layer

The base layer would cover NBFCs with asset size up to Rs 1000 crores. The major propositions for this layer are provided in the table below:

Proposals for NBFCs in Base Layer
1. The current regulations require NPA classification of the asset having more than 180 DPDs the same is proposed to be reduced to 90 DPDs in order to bring it in sync with the regulatory guidelines for other classes of NBFCs
2. The board shall be required to have –

(i)  Adequate experience and educational qualification

(ii) At least one of the directors should have experience in retail lending in a bank/NBFC

3. For the Risk Management Committee-

(i)  Overall role and responsibilities to be laid out, and

(ii) Composition could be Board or Executive level as to be decided by the Board

4. The regulations for sale of stressed assets shall be made  at par with banks once guidelines are finalized
5. Additional disclosures on type of exposures, related party transactions, customer complaints shall be prescribed

NBFCs in Middle Layer

Several new regulatory requirements are proposed for this category in addition to the proposals for the base layer. There are no changes proposed in capital requirements for NBFC-ML.

Proposals for NBFCs in Middle Layer
1. Board approved policy taking into account all risks for Internal Capital Adequacy Assessment shall be required.
2. The extant credit concentration limits prescribed for NBFCs for lending and investment is proposed to be merged into a single exposure limit of 25% for a single borrower and 40% for group of borrowers anchored to Tier 1 capital instead of Owned Funds
3. Compulsory Rotation of auditors shall be applicable- After completion of continuous audit tenure of three years, Auditors shall not be eligible for re-appointment for a period of six years (two tenures)
4. i) Appointment of a functionally independent Chief Compliance Officer.

ii) Additional Corporate Governance and Disclosure Requirements, including requirement for Secretarial Audit.

5. It has been proposed that no KMP of an NBFC shall be allowed  hold office in any other NBFC-ML or NBFC-UL or subsidiaries, further, an Independent Director cannot be director in more than two NBFCs (NBFC-ML and NBFC-UL) at the same time
6. Board approved internal limits and adequate disclosures would be required for exposure to sensitive exposures and Dynamic vulnerability assessment by NBFCs shall be required. Sub-limit within the commercial real estate exposure ceiling should be fixed internally for financing land acquisition

 

7. Restrictions on grant of loans and advances for/to the following:

(a)  buy back of shares/ securities

(b)  activities leading to Ozone Depleting Substances

(c)  Directors and relatives of directors

(d)  Officers and relatives of Senior Officers

(e) Real Estate – only where project approvals other permissions are in place.

8. The IPO financing by NBFCs shall be capped at Rs.1 crore. There is no limit prescribed for NBFCs at present, while there is a limit of Ts. 10 lakh for banks for IPO financing.
9. Mandatory for NBFCs with more than 10 branches to have Core Banking Solution for NBFCs

NBFCs in the Upper layer

In addition to the regulations applicable to NBFC-ML, a set of additional regulations will apply to NBFC-UL, they are:

Proposals for NBFCs in Upper Layer
1. CET 1 may be prescribed at 9% within the Tier I capital

In addition to the CRAR requirements, NBFCs will also be subjected to a leverage requirement

2. Differential Provisioning being similar as banks for standard assets to be made applicable
3. For Concentration norms-

(i)   Large Exposure Framework (LEF) as applicable to banks with suitable modification will apply

(ii)  Transition time for implementation

4. Corporate Governance norms to be similar lines as applicable for Private Sector Banks. Additional governance regulations such as specifying qualification of board members, providing detailed disclosure on group companies including consolidated financial position and details of related party transactions.
5. Adequate phase-in-time for a mandatory listing to be provided. However, disclosure requirements will kick in earlier than the actual listing within the broad implementation plan for NBFC-UL
6. Removal of Independent Director shall require supervisory approval

NBFCs in Top Layer

The top layer is currently empty and will get populated in case RBI takes a view that there has been an unsustainable increase in the systemic risk spill-overs from specific NBFCs in the Upper Layer. NBFCs in this Layer will be subject to higher capital charges, including Capital Conservation Buffers. There will be enhanced and more intensive supervisory engagement with these NBFCs.

Conclusion

The RBI has sought the opinion of the stakeholders within a period of one month. However, the proposals seem to bring in stricter times for the otherwise leniently regulated NBFC sector. Further, it is notable that the nature of activities carried out by HFCs differs largely from that of other classes of NBFCs. Hence, increasing the NOF requirement to bring the same at par with the requirement for HFCs, may not be in the interest of the NBFC sector at large. NBFCs were formed to reach the credit gaps where banks could not. This was achievable only due to the liberalised regulatory framework. The intent of the paper is not to reduce the credit outreach of NBFCs but to regulate the ones posing a risk on the system. Hence, it is crucial to attain equilibrium between regulation and promotion.

[1] https://www.rbi.org.in/Scripts/BS_PressReleaseDisplay.aspx?prid=50748

[2] https://rbidocs.rbi.org.in/rdocs/Publications/PDFs/DP220121630D1F9A2A51415B98D92B8CF4A54185.PDF

[3] Reserve Bank of India – Reports (rbi.org.in)

Law relating to collective investment schemes on shared ownership of real assets

-Vinod Kothari (finserv@vinodkothari.com)

The law relating to collective investment schemes has always been, and perhaps will remain, enigmatic, because these provisions were designed to ensure that enthusiastic operators do not source investors’ money with tall promises of profits or returns, and start running what is loosely referred to as Ponzi schemes of various shades. De facto collective investment schemes or schemes for raising money from investors may be run in elusive forms as well – as multi-level marketing schemes, schemes for shared ownership of property or resources, or in form of cancellable contracts for purchase of goods or services on a future date.

While regulations will always need to chase clever financial fraudsters, who are always a day ahead of the regulator, this article is focused on schemes of shared ownership of properties. Shared economy is the cult of the day; from houses to cars to other indivisible resources, the internet economy is making it possible for users to focus on experience and use rather than ownership and pride of possession. Our colleagues have written on the schemes for shared property ownership[1]. Our colleagues have also written about the law of collective investment schemes in relation to real estate financing[2]. Also, this author, along with a colleague, has written how the confusion among regulators continues to put investors in such schemes to prejudice and allows operators to make a fast buck[3].

This article focuses on the shared property devices and the sweep of the law relating to collective investment schemes in relation thereto.

Basis of the law relating to collective investment schemes

The legislative basis for collective investment scheme regulations is sec. 11AA (2) of the SEBI Act. The said section provides:

Any scheme or arrangement made or offered by any company under which,

  • the contributions, or payments made by the investors, by whatever name called, are pooled and utilized solely for the purposes of the scheme or arrangement;
  • the contributions or payments are made to such scheme or arrangement by the investors with a view to receive profits, income, produce or property, whether movable or immovable from such scheme or arrangement;
  • the property, contribution or investment forming part of scheme or arrangement, whether identifiable or not, is managed on behalf of the investors;
  • the investors do not have day to day control over the management and operation of the scheme or arrangement.

The major features of a CIS may be visible from the definition. These are:

  1. A schematic for the operator to collect investors’ money: There must be a scheme or an arrangement. A scheme implies a well-structured arrangement whereby money is collected under the scheme. Usually, every such scheme provides for the entry as well as exit, and the scheme typically offers some rate of return or profit. Whether the profit is guaranteed or not, does not matter, at least looking at the definition. Since there is a scheme, there must be some operator of the scheme, and there must be some persons who put in their money into the scheme. These are called “investors”.
  2. Pooling of contributions: The next important part of a CIS is the pooling of contributions. Pooling implies the contributions losing their individuality and becoming part of a single fungible hotchpot. If each investor’s money, and the investments therefrom, are identifiable and severable, there is no pooling. The whole stance of CIS is collective investment. If the investment is severable, then the scheme is no more a collective scheme.
  3. Intent of receiving profits, produce, income or property: The intent of the investors contributing money is to receive results of the collective investment. The results may be in form of profits, produce, income or property. The usual feature of CIS is the operator tempting investors with guaranteed rate of return; however, that is not an essential feature of CISs.
  4. Separation of management and investment: The management of the money is in the hands of a person, say, investment manager. If the investors manage their own investments, there is no question of a CIS. Typically, investor is someone who becomes a passive investor and does not have first level control (see next bullet). It does not matter whether the so-called manager is an investor himself, or may be the operator of the scheme as well. However, the essential feature is there being multiple “investors”, and one or some “manager”.
  5. Investors not having regular control over the investments: As discussed above, the hiving off of the ownership and management of funds is the very genesis of the regulatory concern in a CIS, and therefore, that is a key feature.

The definition may be compared with section 235 of the UK Financial Services and Markets Act, which provides as follows:

  • In this Part “collective investment scheme” means any arrangements with respect to property of any description, including money, the purpose or effect of which is to enable persons taking part in the arrangements (whether by becoming owners of the property or any part of it or otherwise) to participate in or receive profits or income arising from the acquisition, holding, management or disposal of the property or sums paid out of such profits or income.
  • The arrangements must be such that the persons who are to participate (“participants”) do not have day-to-day control over the management of the property, whether or not they have the right to be consulted or to give directions.
  • The arrangements must also have either or both of the following characteristics—
  • the contributions of the participants and the profits or income out of which payments are to be made to them are pooled;
  • the property is managed as a whole by or on behalf of the operator of the scheme.
    • If arrangements provide for such pooling as is mentioned in subsection (3)(a) in relation to separate parts of the property, the arrangements are not to be regarded as constituting a single collective investment scheme unless the participants are entitled to exchange rights in one part for rights in another.

It is conspicuous that all the features of the definition in the Indian law are present in the UK law as well.

Hong Kong Securities and Futures Ordinance [Schedule 1] defines a collective investment scheme as follows:

collective investment scheme means—

  • arrangements in respect of any property—
  • under which the participating persons do not have day-to-day control over the management of the property, whether or not they have the right to be consulted or to give directions in respect of such management;
  • under which—
  • the property is managed as a whole by or on behalf of the person operating the arrangements;
  • the contributions of the participating persons and the profits or income from which payments are made to them are pooled; or
  • the property is managed as a whole by or on behalf of the person operating the arrangements, and the contributions of the participating persons and the profits or income from which payments are made to them are pooled; and
  • the purpose or effect, or pretended purpose or effect, of which is to enable the participating persons, whether by acquiring any right, interest, title or benefit in the property or any part of the property or otherwise, to participate in or receive—
  • profits, income or other returns represented to arise or to be likely to arise from the acquisition, holding, management or disposal of the property or any part of the property, or sums represented to be paid or to be likely to be paid out of any such profits, income or other returns; or
  • a payment or other returns arising from the acquisition, holding or disposal of, the exercise of any right in, the redemption of, or the expiry of, any right, interest, title or benefit in the property or any part of the property; or
  • arrangements which are arrangements, or are of a class or description of arrangements, prescribed by notice under section 393 of this Ordinance as being regarded as collective investment schemes in accordance with the terms of the notice.

One may notice that this definition as well has substantially the same features as the definition in the UK law.

Judicial analysis of the definition

Part (iii) of the definition in Indian law refers to management of the contribution, property or investment on behalf of the investors, and part (iv) lays down that the investors do not have day to day control over the operation or management. The same features, in UK law, are stated in sec. 235 (2) and (3), emphasizing on the management of the contributions as a whole, on behalf of the investors, and investors not doing individual management of their own money or property. The question has been discussed in multiple UK rulings. In Financial Conduct Authority vs Capital Alternatives and others,  [2015] EWCA Civ 284, [2015] 2 BCLC 502[4], UK Court of Appeal, on the issue whether any extent of individual management by investors will take the scheme of the definition of CIS, held as follows:  “The phrase “the property is managed as a whole” uses words of ordinary language. I do not regard it as appropriate to attach to the words some form of exclusionary test based on whether the elements of individual management were “substantial” – an adjective of some elasticity. The critical question is whether a characteristic feature of the arrangements under the scheme is that the property to which those arrangements relate is managed as a whole. Whether that condition is satisfied requires an overall assessment and evaluation of the relevant facts. For that purpose it is necessary to identify (i) what is “the property”, and (ii) what is the management thereof which is directed towards achieving the contemplated income or profit. It is not necessary that there should be no individual management activity – only that the nature of the scheme is that, in essence, the property is managed as a whole, to which question the amount of individual management of the property will plainly be relevant”.

UK Supreme Court considered a common collective land-related venture, viz., land bank structure, in Asset Land Investment Plc vs Financial Conduct Authority, [2016] UKSC 17[5]. Once again, on the issue of whether the property is collective managed, or managed by respective investors, the following paras from UK Financial Conduct Authority were cited with approval:

The purpose of the ‘day-to-day control’ test is to try to draw an important distinction about the nature of the investment that each investor is making. If the substance is that each investor is investing in a property whose management will be under his control, the arrangements should not be regarded as a collective investment scheme. On the other hand, if the substance is that each investor is getting rights under a scheme that provides for someone else to manage the property, the arrangements would be regarded as a collective investment scheme.

Day-to-day control is not defined and so must be given its ordinary meaning. In our view, this means you have the power, from day-to-day, to decide how the property is managed. You can delegate actual management so long as you still have day-to-day control over it.[6]

The distancing of control over a real asset, even though owned by the investor, may put him in the position of a financial investor. This is a classic test used by US courts, in a test called Howey Test, coming from a 1946 ruling in SEC vs. Howey[7]. If an investment opportunity is open to many people, and if investors have little to no control or management of investment money or assets, then that investment is probably a security. If, on the other hand, an investment is made available only to a few close friends or associates, and if these investors have significant influence over how the investment is managed, then it is probably not a security.

The financial world and the real world

As is apparent, the definition in sec. 235 of the UK legislation has inspired the draft of the Indian law. It is intriguing to seek as to how the collective ownership or management of real properties has come within the sweep of the law. Evidently, CIS regulation is a part of regulation of financial services, whereas collective ownership or management of real assets is a part of the real world. There are myriad situations in real life where collective business pursuits,  or collective ownership or management of properties is done. A condominium is one of the commonest examples of shared residential space and services. People join together to own land, or build houses. In the good old traditional world, one would have expected people to come together based on some sort of “relationship” – families, friends, communities, joint venturers, or so on. In the interweb world, these relationships may be between people who are invisibly connected by technology. So the issue, why would a collective ownership or management of real assets be regarded as a financial instrument, to attract what is admittedly a  piece of financial law.

The origins of this lie in a 1984 Report[8] and a 1985 White Paper[9], by Prof LCB Gower, which eventually led to the enactment of the 1986 UK Financial Markets law. Gower has discussed the background as to why contracts for real assets may, in certain circumstances, be regarded as financial contracts. According to Gower, all forms of investment should be regulated “other than those in physical objects over which the investor will have exclusive control. That is to say, if there was investment in physical objects over which the investor had no exclusive control, it would be in the nature of an investment, and hence, ought to be regulated. However, the basis of regulating investment in real assets is the resemblance the same has with a financial instrument, as noted by UK Supreme Court in the Asset Land ruling: “..the draftsman resolved to deal with the regulation of collective investment schemes comprising physical assets as part of the broader system of statutory regulation governing unit trusts and open-ended investment companies, which they largely resembled.”

The wide sweep of the regulatory definition is obviously intended so as not to leave gaps open for hucksters to make the most. However, as the UK Supreme Court in Asset Land remarked: “The consequences of operating a collective investment scheme without authority are sufficiently grave to warrant a cautious approach to the construction of the extraordinarily vague concepts deployed in section 235.”

The intent of CIS regulation is to capture such real property ownership devices which are the functional equivalents of alternative investment funds or mutual funds. In essence, the scheme should be operating as a pooling of money, rather than pooling of physical assets. The following remarks in UK Asset Land ruling aptly capture the intent of CIS regulation: “The fundamental distinction which underlies the whole of section 235 is between (i) cases where the investor retains entire control of the property and simply employs the services of an investment professional (who may or may not be the person from whom he acquired it) to enhance value; and (ii) cases where he and other investors surrender control over their property to the operator of a scheme so that it can be either pooled or managed in common, in return for a share of the profits generated by the collective fund.”

Conclusion

While the intent and purport of CIS regulation world over is quite clear, but the provisions  have been described as “extraordinarily vague”. In the shared economy, there are numerous examples of ownership of property being given up for the right of enjoyment. As long as the intent is to enjoy the usufructs of a real property, there is evidently a pooling of resources, but the pooling is not to generate financial returns, but real returns. If the intent is not to create a functional equivalent of an investment fund, normally lure of a financial rate of return, the transaction should not be construed as a collective investment scheme.

 

[1] Vishes Kothari: Property Share Business Models in India, http://vinodkothari.com/blog/property-share-business-models-in-india/

[2] Nidhi Jain, Collective Investment Schemes for Real Estate Investments in India, at http://vinodkothari.com/blog/collective-investment-schemes-for-real-estate-investment-by-nidhi-jain/

[3] Vinod Kothari and Nidhi Jain article at: https://www.moneylife.in/article/collective-investment-schemes-how-gullible-investors-continue-to-lose-money/18018.html

[4] http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2015/284.html

[5] https://www.supremecourt.uk/cases/docs/uksc-2014-0150-judgment.pdf

[6] https://www.handbook.fca.org.uk/handbook/PERG/11/2.html

[7] 328 U.S. 293 (1946), at https://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/328/293/

[8] Review of Investor Protection, Part I, Cmnd 9215 (1984)

[9] Financial Services in the United Kingdom: A New Framework for Investor Protection (Cmnd 9432) 1985

 

Our Other Related Articles

Property Share Business Models in India,< http://vinodkothari.com/blog/property-share-business-models-in-india/>

Collective Investments Schemes: How gullible investors continue to lose money < https://www.moneylife.in/article/collective-investment-schemes-how-gullible-investors-continue-to-lose-money/18018.html>

Collective Investment Schemes for Real Estate Investments in India, < http://vinodkothari.com/blog/collective-investment-schemes-for-real-estate-investment-by-nidhi-jain/>

 

Digital Consumer Lending: Need for prudential measures and addressing consumer protection

-Siddarth Goel (finserv@vinodkothari.com)

Introduction

“If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck”

The above phrase is the popular duck test which implies abductive reasoning to identify an unknown subject by observing its habitual characteristics. The idea of using this duck test phraseology is to determine the role and function performed by the digital lending platforms in consumer credit.

Recently the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has constituted a working group to study how to make access to financial products and services more fair, efficient, and inclusive.[1]  With many news instances lately surrounding the series of unfortunate events on charging of usurious interest rate by certain online lenders and misery surrounding the threats and public shaming of some of the borrowers by these lenders. The RBI issued a caution statement through its press release dated December 23, 2020, against unauthorised digital lending platforms/mobile applications. The RBI reiterated that the legitimate public lending activities can be undertaken by Banks, Non-Banking Financial Companies (NBFCs) registered with RBI, and other entities who are regulated by the State Governments under statutory provisions, such as the money lending acts of the concerned states. The circular further mandates disclosure of banks/NBFCs upfront by the digital lender to customers upfront.

There is no denying the fact that these digital lending platforms have benefits over traditional banks in form of lower transaction costs and credit integration of the unbanked or people not having any recourse to traditional bank lending. Further, there are some self-regulatory initiatives from the digital lending industry itself.[2] However, there is a regulatory tradeoff in the lender’s interest and over-regulation to protect consumers when dealing with large digital lending service providers. A recent judgment by the Bombay High Court ruled that:

“The demand of outstanding loan amount from the person who was in default in payment of loan amount, during the course of employment as a duty, at any stretch of imagination cannot be said to be any intention to aid or to instigate or to abet the deceased to commit the suicide,”[3]

This pronouncement of the court is not under criticism here and is right in its all sense given the facts of the case being dealt with. The fact there needs to be a recovery process in place and fair terms to be followed by banks/NBFCs and especially by the digital lending platforms while dealing with customers. There is a need to achieve a middle ground on prudential regulation of these digital lending platforms and addressing consumer protection issues emanating from such online lending. The regulator’s job is not only to oversee the prudential regulation of the financial products and services being offered to the consumers but has to protect the interest of customers attached to such products and services. It is argued through this paper that there is a need to put in place a better governing system for digital lending platforms to address the systemic as well as consumer protection concerns. Therefore, the onus of consumer protection is on the regulator (RBI) since the current legislative framework or guidelines do not provide adequate consumer protection, especially in digital consumer credit lending.

Global Regulatory Approaches

US

The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) has laid a Special Purpose National Bank (SPNV) charters for fintech companies.[4] The OCC charter begins reviewing applications, whereby SPNV are held to the same rigorous standards of safety and soundness, fair access, and fair treatment of customers that apply to all national banks and federal savings associations.

The SPNV that engages in federal consumer financial law, i.e. in provides ‘financial products and services to the consumer’ is regulated by the ‘Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB)’. The other factors involved in application assessment are business plans that should articulate a clear path and timeline to profitability. While the applicant should have adequate capital and liquidity to support the projected volume. Other relevant considerations considered by OCC are organizers and management with appropriate skills and experience.

The key element of a business plan is the proposed applicant’s risk management framework i.e. the ability of the applicant to identify, measure, monitor, and control risks. The business plan should also describe the bank’s proposed internal system of controls to monitor and mitigate risk, including management information systems. There is a need to provide a risk assessment with the business plan. A realistic understanding of risk and there should be management’s assessment of all risks inherent in the proposed business model needs to be shown.

The charter guides that the ongoing capital levels of the applicant should commensurate with risk and complexity as proposed in the activity. There is minimum leverage that an SPNV can undertake and regulatory capital is required for measuring capital levels relative to the applicant’s assets and off-balance sheet exposures.

The scope and purpose of CFPB are very broad and covers:

“scope of coverage” set forth in subsection (a) includes specified activities (e.g., offering or providing: origination, brokerage, or servicing of consumer mortgage loans; payday loans; or private education loans) as well as a means for the CFPB to expand the coverage through specified actions (e.g., a rulemaking to designate “larger market participants”).[5]

CFPB is established through the enactment of Dood-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. The primary function of CFPB is to enforce consumer protection laws and supervise regulated entities that provide consumer financial products and services.

“(5)CONSUMER FINANCIAL PRODUCT OR SERVICES  The term “consumer financial product or service” means any financial product or service that is described in one or more categories under—paragraph (15) and is offered or provided for use by consumers primarily for personal, family, or household purposes; or **

“(15)Financial product or service-

(A)In general The term “financial product or service” means—(i)extending credit and servicing loans, including acquiring, purchasing, selling, brokering, or other extensions of credit (other than solely extending commercial credit to a person who originates consumer credit transactions);”

Thus CFPB is well placed as a separate institution to protect consumer interest and covers a wide range of financial products and services including extending credit, servicing, selling, brokering, and others. The regulatory environment has been put in place by the OCC to check the viability of fintech business models and there are adequate consumer protection laws.

EU

EU’s technologically neutral regulatory and supervisory systems intend to capture not only traditional financial services but also innovative business models. The current dealing with the credit agreements is EU directive 2008/48/EC of on credit agreements for consumers (Consumer Credit Directive – ‘Directive’). While the process of harmonising the legislative framework is under process as the report of the commission to the EU parliament raised some serious concerns.[6] The commission report identified that the directive has been partially effective in ensuring high standards of consumer protection. Despite the directive focussing on disclosure of annual percentage rate of charge to the customers, early payment, and credit databases. The report cited that the primary reason for the directive being impractical is because of the exclusion of the consumer credit market from the scope of the directive.

The report recognised the increase and future of consumer credit through digitisation. Further the rigid prescriptions of formats for information disclosure which is viable in pre-contractual stages, i.e. where a contract is to be subsequently entered in a paper format. There is no consumer benefit in an increasingly digital environment, especially in situations where consumers prefer a fast and smooth credit-granting process. The report highlighted the need to review certain provisions of the directive, particularly on the scope and the credit-granting process (including the pre-contractual information and creditworthiness assessment).

China

China has one of the biggest markets for online mico-lending business. The unique partnership of banks and online lending platforms using innovative technologies has been the prime reason for the surge in the market. However, recently the People’s Bank of China (PBOC) and China Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission (CBIRC) issued draft rules to regulate online mico-lending business. Under the draft rules, there is a requirement for online underwriting consumer loans fintech platform to have a minimum fund contribution of at least 30 % in a loan originated for banks. Further mico-lenders sourcing customer data from e-commerce have to share information with the central bank.

Australia

The main legislation that governs the consumer credit industry is the National Consumer Credit Protection Act (“National Credit Act”) and the National Credit Code. Australian Securities & Investments Commission (ASIC) is Australia’s integrated authority for corporate, markets, financial services, and consumer credit regulator. ASIC is a consumer credit regulator that administers the National Credit Act and regulates businesses engaging in consumer credit activities including banks, credit unions, finance companies, along with others. The ASIC has issued guidelines to obtain licensing for credit activities such as money lenders and financial intermediaries.[7] Credit licensing is needed for three sorts of entities.

  • engage in credit activities as a credit provider or lessor
  • engage in credit activities other than as a credit provider or lessor (e.g. as a credit representative or broker)
  • engage in all credit activities

The applicants of credit licensing are obligated to have adequate financial resources and have to ensure compliance with other supervisory arrangements to engage in credit activates.

UK

Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) is the regulator for consumer credit firms in the UK. The primary objective of FCA ensues; a secure and appropriate degree of protection for consumers, protect and enhance the integrity of the UK financial system, promote effective competition in the interest of consumers.[8] The consumer credit firms have to obtain authorisation from FCA before carrying on consumer credit activities. The consumer credit activities include a plethora of credit functions including entering into a credit agreement as a lender, credit broking, debt adjusting, debt collection, debt counselling, credit information companies, debt administration, providing credit references, and others. FCA has been successful in laying down detailed rules for the price cap on high-cost short-term credit.[9] The price total cost cap on high-cost short-term credit (HCSTC loans) including payday loans, the borrowers must never have to pay more in fees and interest than 100% of what they borrowed. Further, there are rules on credit broking that provides brokers from charging fees to customers or requesting payment details unless authorised by FCA.[10] The fee charged from customers is to be reported quarterly and all brokers (including online credit broking) need to make clear that they are advertising as a credit broker and not a lender. There are no fixed capital requirements for the credit firms, however, adequate financial resources need to be maintained and there is a need to have a business plan all the time for authorisation purposes.

Digital lending models and concerns in India

Countries across the globe have taken different approaches to regulate consumer lending and digital lending platforms. They have addressed prudential regulation concerns of these credit institutions along with consumer protection being the top priority under their respective framework and legislations. However, these lending platforms need to be looked at through the current governing regulatory framework from an Indian perspective.

The typical credit intermediation could be performed by way of; peer to peer (P2P) lending model, notary model (bank-based) guaranteed return model, balance sheet model, and others. P2P lending platforms are heavily regulated and hence are not of primary concern herein. Online digital lending platforms engaged in consumer lending are of significance as they affect investor’s and borrowers’ interests and series of legal complexions arise owing to their agency lending models.[11] Therefore careful anatomy of these models is important for investors and consumer protection in India.

Should digital lending be regulated?

Under the current system, only banks, NBFCs, and money lenders can undertake lending activities. The regulated banks and NBFCs also undertake online consumer lending either through their website/platforms or through third-party lending platforms. These unregulated third-party digital lending platforms count on their sophisticated credit underwriting analytics software and engage in consumer lending services. Under the simplest version of the bank-based lending model, the fintech lending platform offers loan matching services but the loan is originated in books of a partnering bank or NBFC. Thus the platform serves as an agent that brings lenders (Financial institutions) and borrowers (customers) together. Therefore RBI has mandated fintech platforms has to abide by certain roles and responsibilities of Direct Selling Agent (DSA) as under Fair Practice Code ‘FPC’ and partner banks/NBFCs have to ensure Guidelines on Managing Risks and Code of Conduct in Outsourcing of Financial Service (‘outsourcing code’).[12] In the simplest of bank-based models, the banks bear the credit risk of the borrowers and the platform earns their revenues by way of fees and service charges on the transaction. Since banks and NBFCs are prudentially regulated and have to comply with Basel capital norms, there are not real systemic concerns.

However, the situation alters materially when such a third-party lending platform adopts balance sheet lending or guaranteed return models. In the former, the servicer platform retains part of the credit risk on its book and could also give some sort of loss support in form of a guarantee to its originating partner NBFC or bank.[13] While in the latter case it a pure guarantee where the third-party lending platform contractually promises returns on funds lent through their platforms. There is a devil in detailed scrutiny of these business models. We have earlier highlighted the regulatory issues in detail around fintech practices and app-based lending in our write up titled ‘Lender’s piggybacking: NBFCs lending on Fintech platforms’ gurantees’.

From the prudential regulation perspective in hindsight, banks, and NBFCs originating through these third-party lending platforms are not aware of the overall exposure of the platforms to the banking system. Hence there is a presence of counterparty default risk of the platform itself from the perspective of originating banks and NBFCs. In a real sense, there is a kind of tri-party arrangement where funds flow from ‘originator’ (regulated bank/NBFC) to the ‘platform’ (digital service provider) and ultimately to the ‘borrower'(Customer). The unregulated platform assumes the credit risk of the borrower, and the originating bank (or NBFC) assumes the risk of the unregulated lending platform.

Curbing unregulated lending

In the balance sheet and guaranteed return models, an undercapitalized entity takes credit risk. In the balance sheet model, the lending platform is directly taking the credit risk and may or may not have to get itself registered as NBFC with RBI. The registration requirement as an NBFC emanates if the financial assets and financial income of the platform is more than 50 % of its total asset and income of such business (‘principal business criteria’ see footnote 12). While in the guaranteed return model there is a form of synthetic lending and there is absolutely no legal requirement for the lending platform to get themselves registered as NBFC. The online lending platform in the guaranteed return model serves as a loan facilitator from origination to credit absorption. There is a regulatory arbitrage in this activity. Since technically this activity is not covered under the “financial activity” and the spread earned in not “financial income” therefore there is no requirement for these entities to get registered as NBFCs.[14]

Any sort of guarantee or loss support provided by the third-party lending platform to its partner bank/NBFC is a synthetic exposure. In synthetic lending, the digital lending platform is taking a risk on the underlying borrower without actually taking direct credit risk. Additionally, there are financial reporting issues and conflict of interest or misalignment of incentives, i.e. the entities do not have to abide by IND AS and can show these guarantees as contingent liabilities. On the contrary, they charge heavy interest rates from customers to earn a higher spread. Hence synthetic lending provides all the incentives for these third-party lending platforms to enter into risky lending which leads to the generation of sub-prime assets. The originating banks and NBFCs have to abide by minimum capital requirements and other regulatory norms. Hence the sub-prime generation of consumer credit loans is supplemented by heavy returns offered to the banks. It is argued that the guaranteed returns function as a Credit Default Swap ‘CDS’ which is not regulated as CDS. Thus the online lending platform escapes the regulatory purview and it is shown in the latter part this leads to poor credit discipline in consumer lending and consumer protection is often put on the back burner.

From the prudential regulation perspective restricting banks/NBFCs from undertaking any sort of guaranteed return or loss support protection, can curb the underlying emergence of systemic risk from counterparty default. While a legal stipulation to the effect that NBFCs/Banks lending through the third-party unregulated platform, to strictly lend independently i.e. on a non-risk sharing basis of the credit risk. Counterintuitively, the unregulated online lending platforms have to seek registration as an NBFC if they want to have direct exposure to the underlying borrower, subject to fulfillment of ‘principal business criteria’.[15] Such a governing framework will reduce the incentives for banks and NBFCs to exploit excessive risk-taking through this regulatory arbitrage opportunity.

Ensuring Fairness and Consumer Protection

There are serious concerns of fair dealing and consumer protection aspects that have arisen lately from digital online lending platforms. The loans outsourced by Banks and NBFCs over digital lending platforms have to adhere to the FPC and Outsourcing code.

The fairness in a loan transaction calls for transparent disclosure to the borrower all information about fees/charges payable for processing the loan application, disbursed, pre-payment options and charges, the penalty for delayed repayments, and such other information at the time of disbursal of the loan. Such information should also be displayed on the website of the banks for all categories of loan products. It may be mentioned that levying such charges subsequently without disclosing the same to the borrower is an unfair practice.[16]

Such a legal requirement gives rise to the age-old question of consumer law, yet the most debatable aspect. That mere disclosure to the borrower of the loan terms in an agreement even though the customer did not understand the underlying obligations is a fair contract (?) It is argued that let alone the disclosures of obligations in digital lending transactions, customers are not even aware of their remedies. Under the current RBI regulatory framework, they have the remedy to approach grievance redressal authorities of the originating bank/NBFC or may approach the banking ombudsman. However, things become even more peculiar in cases where loans are being sourced or processed through third-party digital platforms. The customers in the majority of the cases are unaware of the fact that the ultimate originator of the loan is a bank/NBFC. The only remedy for such a customer is to seek refuge under the Consumer Protection Act 2019 by way of proving the loan agreement is the one as ‘unfair contract’.

“2(46) “unfair contract” means a contract between a manufacturer or trader or service provider on one hand, and a consumer on the other, having such terms which cause significant change in the rights of such consumer, including the following, namely:— (i) requiring manifestly excessive security deposits to be given by a consumer for the performance of contractual obligations; or (ii) imposing any penalty on the consumer, for the breach of contract thereof which is wholly disproportionate to the loss occurred due to such breach to the other party to the contract; or (iii) refusing to accept early repayment of debts on payment of applicable penalty; or (iv) entitling a party to the contract to terminate such contract unilaterally, without reasonable cause; or (v) permitting or has the effect of permitting one party to assign the contract to the detriment of the other party who is a consumer, without his consent; or (vi) imposing on the consumer any unreasonable charge, obligation or condition which puts such consumer to disadvantage;

It is pertinent to note that neither the scope of consumer financial agreements is regulated in India, nor are the third-party digital lending platforms required to obtain authorisation from RBI. There are instances of high-interest rates and exorbitant fees charged by the online consumer lending platforms which are unfair and detrimental to customers’ interests. The current legislative framework provides that the NBFCs shall furnish a copy of the loan agreement as understood by the borrower along with a copy of each of all enclosures quoted in the loan agreement to all the borrowers at the time of sanction/disbursement of loans.[17] However, like the persisting problem in the EU 2008/48/EC directive, even FPC is not well placed to govern digital lending agreements and disclosures. Taking a queue from the problems recognised by the EU parliamentary committee report. There is no consumer benefit in an increasingly digital environment, especially in situations where there are fast and smooth credit-granting processes. The pre-contractual information on the disclosure of annualised interest rate and capping of the total cost to a customer in consumer credit loans is central to consumer protection.

The UK legislation has been pro-active in addressing the underlying unfair contractual concerns, by fixation of maximum daily interest rates and maximum default fees with an overall cost cap of 100% that could be charged in short-term high-interest rates loan agreements. It is argued that in this Laissez-faire world the financial services business models which are based on imposing an unreasonable charge, obligations that could put consumers to disadvantage should anyways be curbed. Therefore a legal certainty in this regard would save vulnerable customers to seek the consumer court’s remedy in case of usurious and unfair lending.

The master circular on loan and advances provide for disclosure of the details of recovery agency firms/companies to the borrower by the originating bank/NBFC.[18] Further, there is a requirement for such recovery agent to disclose to the borrower about the antecedents of the bank/NBFC they are recovering for.  However, this condition is barely even followed or adhered to and the vulnerable consumers are exposed to all sorts of threats and forceful tactics. As one could appreciate in jurisdictions of the US, UK, Australia discussed above, consumer lending and ancillary services are under the purview of concerned regulators. From the customer protection perspective, at least some sort of authorization or registration requirement with the RBI to keep the check and balances system in place is important for consumer protection. The loan recovery business is sensitive hence there is a need for a proper guiding framework and/or registration requirement of the agents acting as recovery agents on behalf of banks/NBFCs. The mere registration requirement and revocation of same in case of unprofessional activities will serve as a stick to check their consumer dealing practices.

The financial services intermediaries (other than Banks/NBFCs) providing services like credit broking, debt adjusting, debt collection, debt counselling, credit information, debt administration, credit referencing to be licensed by the regulator. The banks/NBFCs dealing with the licensed market intermediaries would go much farther in the successful implementation of FPC and addressing consumer protection concerns from the current system.

Conclusion

From the perspective of sound financial markets and fair consumer practices, it is always prudent to allow only those entities in credit lending businesses that are best placed to bear the credit risk and losses emanating from them. Thus, there is a dearth of a comprehensive legislative framework in consumer lending from origination to debt collection and its administration including the business of providing credit references through digital lending platforms. There may not be a material foreseeable requirement for regulating digital lending platforms completely. However, there is a need to curb synthetic lending by third-party digital lending platforms. Since a risk-taking entity without adequate capitalization will tend to get into generating risky assets with high returns. The off-balance sheet guarantee commitments of these entities force them to be aggressive towards their customers to sustain their businesses. This write-up has explored various regulatory approaches, where jurisdictions like the US and UK, and Australia being the good comparable in addressing consumer protection concerns emanating from online digital lending platforms. Henceforth, a well-framed consumer protection system especially in financial products and services would go much farther in the development and integration of credit through digital lending platforms in the economy.

 

[1] Reserve Bank of India – Press Releases (rbi.org.in), dated January 13, 2020

[2] Digital lending Association of India, Code of Conduct available at https://www.dlai.in/dlai-code-of-conduct/

[3] Rohit Nalawade Vs. State of Maharashtra High Court of Bombay Criminal Application (APL) NO. 1052 OF 2018 < https://images.assettype.com/barandbench/2021-01/cf03e52e-fedd-4a34-baf6-25dbb55dbf29/Rohit_Nalawade_v__State_of_Maharashtra___Anr.pdf>

[4] https://www.occ.gov/topics/supervision-and-examination/responsible-innovation/comments/pub-special-purpose-nat-bank-charters-fintech.pdf

[5]  12 USC 5514(a); Pay day loans are the short term, high interest bearing loans that are generally due on the consumer’s next payday after the loan is taken.

[6] EU, ‘Report from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council: on the implementation of Directive 2008/48/EC on credit agreement for consumers’, dated November, 05, 2020, available at < https://ec.europa.eu/transparency/regdoc/rep/1/2020/EN/COM-2020-963-F1-EN-MAIN-PART-1.PDF>

[7] https://asic.gov.au/for-finance-professionals/credit-licensees/applying-for-and-managing-your-credit-licence/faqs-getting-a-credit-licence/

[8] FCA guide to consumer credit firms, available at < https://www.fca.org.uk/publication/finalised-guidance/consumer-credit-being-regulated-guide.pdf>

[9] FCA, ‘Detailed rules for price cap on high-cost short-term credit’, available at < https://www.fca.org.uk/publication/policy/ps14-16.pdf>

[10] FCA, Credit Broking and fees, available at < https://www.fca.org.uk/publication/policy/ps14-18.pdf>

[11] Bank of International Settlements ‘FinTech Credit : Market structure, business models and financial stability implications’, 22 May 2017, FSB Report

[12] See our write up on ‘ Extension of FPC on lending through digital platforms’ , available at < http://vinodkothari.com/2020/06/extension-of-fpc-on-lending-through-digital-platforms/>

[13] Where the unregulated platform assumes the complete credit risk of the borrower there is no interlinkage with the partner bank and NBFC. The only issue that arises is from the registration requirement as NBFC which we have discussed in the next section. Also see our write up titled ‘Question of Definition: What Exactly is an NBFC’ available at http://vinodkothari.com/nbfcs/definition-of-nbfcs-concept-of-principality-of-business/

[14] The qualifying criteria to register as an NBFC has been discussed in our write up titled ‘Question of Definition: What Exactly is an NBFC’ available at http://vinodkothari.com/nbfcs/definition-of-nbfcs-concept-of-principality-of-business/

[15] see our write up titled ‘Question of Definition: What Exactly is an NBFC’ available at http://vinodkothari.com/nbfcs/definition-of-nbfcs-concept-of-principality-of-business/

[16] Para 2.5.2, RBI Guidelines on Fair Practices Code for Lender

[17] Para 29 of the guidelines on Fair Practices Code, Master Direction on systemically/non-systemically important NBFCs.

[18] Para 2.6, Master Circular on ‘Loans and Advances – Statutory and Other Restrictions’ dated July 01, 2015;

 

Our Other Related Write-Ups

Lenders’ piggybacking: NBFCs lending on Fintech platforms’ guarantees – Vinod Kothari Consultants

Extension of FPC on lending through digital platforms – Vinod Kothari Consultants

Fintech Framework: Regulatory responses to financial innovation – Vinod Kothari Consultants

One-stop guide for all Regulatory Sandbox Frameworks – Vinod Kothari Consultants

 

Global Securitisation Markets in 2020: A Year of Highs in the midst of Turmoil

-Vinod Kothari (vinod@vinodkothari.com)

Even as the pandemic disrupted life and economies across the globe, securitisation activity in different countries scaled new highs, at least in certain asset classes.

Securitisation in USA

Agency and non-agency RMBS

Agency RMBS was the star performer, at least in terms of new issuance volumes. Data available till Nov 2020 suggests that the new issuance volumes for 2020 will be about double of what it was in 2019, and the highest ever achieved in history. There are two reasons primarily responsible, of which the first one is quite obvious – historically low mortgage rates, particularly for refinancing activity. Second reason is that during the pandemic, there was extensive use of technology in mortgage origination and documentation, which led to far faster and simpler turnarounds for the borrowers.

Non-agency RMBS, however, is expected to end about 40% lower than 2019 volumes. Origination levels were halted because of shut-downs and the prevailing economic situation. Lenders put caution on the forefront as 30-day delinquencies continued to soar up.

Figure 1: US RMBS Issuance [By author, based on SIFMA data]

 

Asset-backed securities

The issuance volumes across all other classes of asset backed securities were down – from about 6% in case of auto-ABS to about 90% in case of credit cards ABS.

Figure 2: ABS issuance in USA

The decline in origination volumes of asset classes like credit cards is attributed to tighter lending standards by banks.

Securitisation in Europe

Euro area will end with a GDP contraction estimated at 7.7% in 2020[1].

As per data prepared by AFME[2], new issuance in Europe is down by about 5% upto Q3 of 2020.

EU regulators proposed some amendments to securitisation regulations, by amending Capital Requirements Regulations. “Securitisation can play an important role in enhancing the capacity of institutions to support the economic recovery, providing for an effective tool for funding and risk diversification for institutions. It is therefore essential in the context of the economic recovery post COVID-19 pandemic to reinforce that role and help institutions to be able to channel sufficient capital to the real economy.”[3] Accordingly, three amendments are proposed to securitisation regulatory framework: more risk-sensitive treatment for STS on-balance-sheet securitisation; removal of regulatory constraints to the securitisation of non-performing exposures; and recognition of credit risk mitigation for securitisation positions.

Figure 3: European securitisation issuance

 

Securitisation in China

Securitisation in China is expected to be about 10-15% lower than the volumes in 2019. A report from S&P recorded first half of 2020 to be almost the same as first half of 2019, but given the concerns and tightened lending by banks, it is expected that lower RMBS issuance will keep overall issuance levels low in 2020[4].

Figure 4: Securitisation Issuance in China – from S&P report

 

Securitisation in India

Indian securitisation statistics are typically collated on April-March basis. For Q2, Q3 and Q4 of calendar year 2020, securitisation activity [in Indian parlance, securitisation also includes bilateral portfolio transfers, called direct assignment] was highly subdued, as shadow-banking entities which are the major originators of transactions had stopped lending due to the prevailing lock-down. In addition, there were moratoriums imposed by the RBI whereby payments under existing loans were permitted to be withheld for a period of 5 months.

However, once the lockdowns have gradually been lifted, there is a very strong resurgence of economic activity. The Govt. had provided a sovereign guarantee for an additional 20% lending on existing lending facilities, subject to limits. While the non-banking financial entities are not needing significant funding by way of securitisation, there is a strong investor appetite.

This period has also been associated with defaults or credit events by some of the originators, and sale of the ABS investments held by some mutual funds. Hence, the market has seen servicer transitions, as also tested the (il)liquidity of investments in securitisation transactions.

Between April and September, 2020, the market recorded a volume of INR 223 billion only, and the total volume of transactions is estimated to be in the range of INR 600-800 billion for the financial year ending on 31st March, 2021[5]. This is as against INR 1970 billion worth transactions in financial year 2020 and INR 1990 billion worth transactions in financial year 2019. In terms of asset classes, the Housing Loans, LAP and Auto Loans[6] together represented almost two-third of the volumes.

Figure 5: Securitisation Issuance in India – from ICRA report

 

Rating activity

As may be expected, there have been major rating actions during the year as performance of most asset classes was disrupted due to the pandemic. Rating agency S&P reported 2551 structured finance rating actions, which included 1950 downgrades owing to the impact of the pandemic[7]. Moody’s, in a report, states that once Covid-led payment holidays abate, there will be increasing pressures on retail-focused ABS transactions. RMBS transactions, consumer ABS etc are likely to see rising delinquencies.

Moody’s also forecasts the default rates in non-investment grade corporates to increase to 9.7% (trailing average of 12 months) by March, 2021. This will be the highest default rate after 2009. This will result into substantial pressure on CLOs.[8].

 

 

[1] Moody’s estimate

[2] https://www.afme.eu/reports/data/details/AFME-Securitisation-Data-Report-Q3-2020

[3] https://oeil.secure.europarl.europa.eu/oeil/popups/printficheglobal.pdf?id=716379&l=en

[4] https://www.spglobal.com/ratings/en/research/articles/200811-china-securitization-performance-watch-2q-2020-the-worst-may-have-passed-11604587

[5] https://www.icraresearch.in/Research/ViewResearchReport/3405

[6] Includes Commercial Vehicles, Cars and Construction Equipments

[7] https://www.spglobal.com/ratings/en/research/articles/201218-covid-19-activity-in-global-structured-finance-as-of-dec-11-2020-11782903

[8] https://www.moodys.com/researchdocumentcontentpage.aspx?docid=PBS_1249099

 

Link to related articles:

 

Banking exposure to open the current account by the banks

-Siddarth Goel (finserv@vinodkothari.com)

Background

Declaration from current account customers

The RBI issued a circular dated August 06, 2020, whereby the regulator instructed all scheduled commercial banks and payments banks shall not open a current account for customers who have availed credit facilities in form of cash credit (CC)/overdraft (OD) from the banking system. The motive behind the circular being that all the transactions of borrowers should be routed through the CC/OD account.

The genesis of this circular was in RBI circular dated May 15, 2004, where banks were advised that at the time of opening of current accounts for their customers, they have to insist on a declaration form by the account-holder to the effect that he is not enjoying any credit facility with any other bank or obtain a declaration giving particulars of credit facilities enjoyed by such customer. The move was in essence to secure the overall credit discipline in banking so that there is no diversion of funds by the borrowers to the detriment of the banking system. Post-May 15, 2004, a clarification notification was issued by the regulator dated August 04, 2004, stipulating that in case there is no response obtained concerning NOC after waiting a minimum period of a fortnight, the banks may open current accounts of the customers.

Thus there was an obligation on banks to scrupulously ensure that their branches do not open current accounts of entities that enjoy credit facilities (fund based or non-fund based) from the banking system without specifically obtaining a No-Objection Certificate (NOC) from the lending bank(s). Further, the non-adherence by banks as per the circular is to be perceived as abetting the siphoning of funds and such violations which are either reported to RBI or noticed during the regulator inspection would make the concerned banks liable for penalty under Banking Regulation Act.

Establishment of CRILC

The RBI established a Central Repository of Information on Large Credits (CRILC). The CRILC was established in connection to the RBI framework “Early Recognition of Financial Distress, Prompt Steps for Resolution and Fair Recovery for Lenders: Framework for Revitalising Distressed Assets in the Economy“. As under the framework banks were required to furnish credit information to CRILC on all their borrowers having aggregate fund-based and non-fund based exposure of Rs. 5 Crores and above with them. Besides banks were required to furnish current accounts of their customers with outstanding balance (debit or credit) of Rs 1 Crore and above to the CRILC. The reporting under the extant framework was to determine SMA-0 classification, where the principal or interest payment is not overdue for more than 30 days but account showing signs of stress. An increase in the frequency of overdrafts in current accounts is one of the illustrative methods for determining stress.

Reposting of large credits

Post establishment of CRILC, a subsequent guideline on the opening of current accounts by banks was issued by the RBI via circular dated July 02, 2015, dealing with the same subject. To enhance credit discipline, especially for the reduction in NPA level in banks, banks were asked to use the information available in CRILC and not limit their due diligence to seeking NOC. Banks were to verify from the data available in the CRILC database whether the customer is availing of credit facility from another bank.

The chart below highlights the series and events and relevant circulars.

Credit Discipline- August 06, 2020 Circular

As per the circular dated August 06, 2020, issued by the regulator on Opening of Current Accounts by Banks – Need for Discipline (‘Revised Guidelines’), there are two aspects that need to be considered before opening a CC/OD facility or opening the current account of the customer. The Revised Guidelines provides a clear guiding flowchart for banks to follow when the customer approaches a bank for opening of the current account, the same has been categorised into two scenarios which could be considered by the banks to comply with the revised guideline.

Case 1: Customer wants to avail or is already having a credit facility in form of CC/OD

Case 2: Customer wants to open a current account or have an existing current account with the bank

 

Further, there is a requirement on banks to monitor all CC/OD accounts regularly at least quarterly, especially concerning the exposure of the banking system to the borrower. There has been an ambiguity surrounding what would amount to ‘exposure’ under the Revised Guidelines.

‘Exposure to the banking system’ under Revised Guidelines

The Revised Guidelines provides that exposure shall mean the sum of sanctioned ‘fund based and non-fund based credit facilities’. However, there is a regulatory ambiguity, since neither the term used by the RBI has been specifically defined in the Revised Guideline nor elsewhere under any other regulations. There is no straight jacket exclusive definition for determining as to what exposure banks should include determining funded and non-funded credit facilities. Therefore, based on back-tracing of regulatory regime an inclusive list can be of guidance for banks and borrowers especially large borrowers (like NBFCs and HFCs) and other financial institutions and corporates who rely on banking facilities (current account and CC/OD) extensively for their business.

The CRILC may not be the only source for banks while the collection of borrower’s credit information. Other modes could be information by Credit Information Companies (CICs), National E-Governance Services Ltd. (NeSL), etc., and even by obtaining customers’ declaration, if required. However, since the revised guideline stresses on borrowers having exposure more than 5 crores, therefore, information disseminated by the banks to CRILC is a good point to start with and to comply with under the revised guidelines. The circular dated July 02, 2015, draws reference to the Central Repository of Information on Large Credits (CRILC) to collect, store, and disseminate data on all borrowers’ credit exposures. The guideline further provided banks to verify the data available in the CRILC database whether the customer is availing credit facility from another bank. Further even under the Guidelines on “Early Recognition of Financial Distress, Prompt Steps for Resolution and Fair Recovery for Lenders” dated January 30, 2014, provided that credit information shall include all types of exposures as defined under RBI Circular on Exposure Norms.

The RBI Exposure Norms dated July 01, 2015, defines exposure as;

“Exposure shall include credit exposure (funded and non-funded credit limits) and investment exposure (including underwriting and similar commitments). The sanctioned limits or outstandings, whichever are higher, shall be reckoned for arriving at the exposure limit. However, in the case of fully drawn term loans, where there is no scope for re-drawal of any portion of the sanctioned limit, banks may reckon the outstanding as the exposure.”

The banking exposure norms provide for two exposures; namely credit and investment exposures. Further RBI Exposure Norms defines ‘credit exposure’ and ‘Investment Exposure’ as follows;

“2.1.3.3. Credit Exposure

Credit exposure comprises the following elements:

(a) all types of funded and non-funded credit limits.

(b) facilities extended by way of equipment leasing, hire purchase finance and factoring services.

2.1.3.4 Investment Exposure

  1. a) Investment exposure comprises the following elements:

(i) investments in shares and debentures of companies.

(ii) investment in PSU bonds

(iii) investments in Commercial Papers (CPs).

  1. b) Banks’ / FIs’ investments in debentures/ bonds / security receipts / pass-through certificates (PTCs) issued by an SC / RC as compensation consequent upon sale of financial assets will constitute exposure on the SC / RC. In view of the extraordinary nature of the event, banks / FIs will be allowed, in the initial years, to exceed the prudential exposure ceiling on a case-to-case basis.
  2. c) The investment made by the banks in bonds and debentures of corporates which are guaranteed by a PFI1(as per list given in Annex 1) will be treated as an exposure by the bank on the PFI and not on the corporate.
  3. d) Guarantees issued by the PFI to the bonds of corporates will be treated as an exposure by the PFI to the corporates to the extent of 50 per cent, being a non-fund facility, whereas the exposure of the bank on the PFI guaranteeing the corporate bond will be 100 per cent. The PFI before guaranteeing the bonds/debentures should, however, take into account the overall exposure of the guaranteed unit to the financial system.”

The Revised Guidelines, specifically define exposure in a footnote to the revised guideline stipulating that to arrive at aggregate exposures in the footnote as follows;

“‘Exposure’ for the purpose of these instructions shall mean sum of sanctioned fund based and non-fund based credit facilities”.

Further the RBI in its subsequent FAQs on revised guidelines dated December 14, 2020, guided on what could be included in aggregate exposure.

4. Whether aggregate exposure shall include Day Light Over Draft (DLOD)/ intra-day facilities and irrevocable payment commitments, limits set up for transacting in FX and interest rate derivatives, CPs, etc.

All fund based and non-fund based credit facilities sanctioned by the banks and carried in their Indian books shall be included for the purpose of aggregate exposure.”

Further in FAQ No. 3 in the circular dated December 14, 2020, the RBI clarified that

3. For the purpose of this circular, whether exposure of non-banking financial companies (NBFCs) and other financial institutions like National Housing Bank (NHB) shall be included in computing aggregate exposure of the banking system.

The instructions are applicable to Scheduled Commercial Banks and Payments Banks. Accordingly, the aggregate exposure for the purpose shall include exposures of these banks only”

While the regulator evaded assigning express meaning as to what could be included while determining banking exposure and took an inclusive view. However, from the foregoing, it is amply clear that the credit facilities should include credit exposures (funded and not funded) that have been sanctioned by banks. Therefore, only exposures to banks and payments banks are to be included while calculating exposures, any or all the exposure of a borrower to the other financial institutions like NHB, LIC Housing, SIDBI, NABARD, Mutual funds & other development Banks are neither commercial banks nor payments banks hence are to be excluded. [The list of licensed payments banks by the RBI can be viewed here. ]

CIRLC captures credit information of borrowers having aggregate fund-based and non-fund based exposures of Rs. 5 Crores and above including investment exposures. The banks are required to submit a quarterly return to CIRLC. It is pertinent to note that total investment exposure is to be indicated separately under the head total investment exposure. While there is a need for a detailed breakup on fund-based and non-fund based credit facilities in the CIRLC return. The table below is an indicative list of (funded and non-funded) loans to be submitted from the CIRLC return.

 

Non-Funded credit exposure  Funded credit exposure
Letter of Credit Cash Credit/ Overdraft
Guarantees Working Capital Demand Loan (including CPs)*
Acceptances Inland Bills
Foreign Exchange Contracts Packing Credit
Interest Rate Derivatives (incl FX Interest Rate Derivatives) Export Bills
Term Loan
Credit equivalent of OBS/derivative exposure

*CP to be included in WCDL only if part of working capital sanctioned limit. All other CPs are to be considered as investment exposure.

Therefore, all the investment exposures of banks to the borrower such as investments in corporate bonds, shares, PTCs issued by asset reconstruction companies and securitisation companies, and others are to be excluded while arriving at aggregate fund-based and non-fund based credit facilities as under the Revised Guidelines. Nevertheless, the PTCs issued by NBFCs or HFCs are investment exposure of banks on the underlying loan pools and not on the originator entity. Similarly, exposure of a bank in a co-lending transaction is exposure on the ultimate obligor and not the co-originating partner NBFC.

 

 

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CKYCR becomes fully operational: The long-awaited format for legal entities’ information finally introduced

-Kanakprabha Jethani (kanak@vinodkothari.com)

Background

The Central KYC Registry (CKYCR) is a registry that serves as a central record for KYC information of all the customers of financial institutions. In India, the Central Registry of Securitisation Asset Reconstruction and Security Interest of India (CERSAI) has been authorised to carry out the functions of CKYCR. It was operationalised in 2016 beginning with collecting information on ‘individual’ accounts. Until now, the CKYCR did not have a feature to collect KYC information of legal entities.

The CERSAI has, in consultation with the RBI, prepared a template for submission of KYC information of legal entities (the same is yet to be published by CERSAI). The RBI has, through a notification dated December 18, 2020[1] (‘Notification’) directed financial institutions to begin submitting KYC information of legal entities w.e.f April1, 2021 (‘Notified Date’). The Master Direction – Know Your Customer (KYC) Direction, 2016 (‘KYC Directions’) have been updated in line with the said notification.

In this note we have discussed the implications for NBFCs, having customer interface, specifically.

Actionables for financial entities

In compliance with the existing KYC provisions on CKYCR and the Notification, NBFCs shall be required to take the following steps:

For customer who are legal entities, other than individuals and FPIs

  • Ensure uploading KYC data of legal entities whose loan account has been opened after the Notified Date; within 10 days of commencement of an account-based relationship with the customer. It is to be noted that the existing time limit for uploading the documents of individual accounts was 3 days.
  • Ensure uploading KYC records of legal entities on CKYCR, whose accounts are opened before the Notified Date, while undertaking periodic updation[2] or otherwise on receipt of updated KYC information from the customers. (When KYC information is uploaded during periodic updation or otherwise, it must be ensured that the same is in accordance with the CDD process as prevailing at such time.) Such uploading may not be required for loan accounts that are closed before undertaking the first periodic updation after the Notified Date.
  • Communicate the KYC identifier generated after uploading of KYC information to the customer.

 For individuals

  • Ensure that the existing KYC records of individual customers pertaining to loan accounts opened prior to April 01, 2017, should be incrementally uploaded on CKYCR at the time of periodic updation or earlier when the updated KYC information is obtained/received from the customers. (When KYC information is uploaded during periodic updation or otherwise, it must be ensured that the same is in accordance with the CDD process as prevailing at such time.) Such uploading may not be required for loan accounts that are closed before undertaking the first periodic updation after the Notified Date.
  • Ensure uploading KYC data of individual loan account opened after the Notified Date; within 10 days of commencement of an account-based relationship with the customer.
  • Communicate the KYC identifier generated after uploading of KYC information to the customer.

Clarification with respect to identity verification through CKYCR

There has been a confusion regarding validity of identity verification done by fetching KYC details from the CKYCR. While the provisions of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002 (PMLA) and rules thereunder as well as the operating guidelines clearly state that if the customer submits KYC identifier for identity and address verification, no other documents need to be obtained.

The KYC Directions have remained silent on the same for long. The Notification also clarified that-

“Where a customer, for the purpose of establishing an account based relationship, submits a KYC Identifier to a RE, with an explicit consent to download records from CKYCR, then such RE shall retrieve the KYC records online from CKYCR using the KYC Identifier and the customer shall not be required to submit the same KYC records or information or any other additional identification documents or details, unless –

  • there is a change in the information of the customer as existing in the records of CKYCR;
  • the current address of the customer is required to be verified;
  • the RE considers it necessary in order to verify the identity or address of the customer, or to perform enhanced due diligence or to build an appropriate risk profile of the client.”

Hence, for the purpose of verification, what is necessary is the KYC Identifier and an explicit consent from the customer to download his/her KYC information from the CKYCR.

Conclusion

The template for uploading KYC information of legal entities on the CKYCR portal has been formulated and shall be live on CERSAI Platform shortly. Financial institutions shall be required to ensure uploading of KYC information of legal entities w.e.f. the Notified Date. Further, additional obligations have been placed on financial institutions in terms of uploading KYC documents for existing customers and intimation of KYC identifier to all customers. Clarification regarding the validity of KYC verification using data from CKYCR is a welcome move.

 

[1] https://www.rbi.org.in/Scripts/NotificationUser.aspx?Id=12008&Mode=0

[2] As per para 38 of the KYC Directions- Periodic updation shall be carried out at least once in every two years for high risk customers, once in every eight years for medium risk customers and once in every ten years for low risk customers as per the prescribed procedure.

Impact of restructuring on ECL computation

-Aanchal Kaur Nagpal (aanchal@vinodkothari.com)

Introduction

The disruption throughout the globe due to the COVID-19 pandemic has hit the Indian economy as well significantly. The financial sector has experienced a massive blow due to the impact of the pandemic on the credit worthiness and repayment capacity of the overall general public. RBI has responded through various measures including allowing moratorium period, providing resolution framework for stressed accounts due to COVID-19 and numerous other measures.

The retail borrower segment of several banks and NBFCs has also been adversely affected by the disruption and hence, the lenders are contemplating ways to extend certain benefits to such borrowers them under the various circulars issued by the RBI and government. In this regard, restructuring or modification in terms of a loan is being done for economic or legal reasons, relating to the borrower’s financial difficulty. However, such restructuring may also have implications on the books of accounts, especially for IndAS compliant entities.

The following note discusses the meaning of ‘restructuring’ and it impact on the credit risk of the borrower.

Meaning of Restructuring

As per RBI norms on Restructuring of Advances by NBFC, A restructured account is one where the NBFC, for economic or legal reasons relating to the borrower’s financial difficulty, grants to the borrower concessions that the NBFC would not otherwise consider.

As per the Basel guidelines on prudential treatment of problem assets –definitions of nonperforming exposures and forbearance, definition of forbearance is as follows:

4.1. Identification of forbearance

  1. Forbearance occurs when:
  • a counterparty is experiencing financial difficulty in meeting its financial commitments; and
  • a bank grants a concession that it would not otherwise consider, irrespective of whether the concession is at the discretion of the bank and/or the counterparty. A concession is at the discretion of the counterparty (debtor) when the initial contract allows the counterparty (debtor) to change the terms of the contract in their favour (embedded forbearance clauses) due to financial difficulty.

The meaning of restructuring is modification in terms of a loan, which is done for economic or legal reasons, relating to the borrower’s financial difficulty. Usually, restructuring may be of various types. A credit weakness related restructuring is one which is done to assist the borrower to continue to service the facility. If such restructuring was not done, potentially, the borrower may not have been able to service the facility. Therefore, this is done with a view to avert a default. Yet another type of restructuring is a preponement of payments or early clearance of a loan. A third example has been given in the definition itself – for example, passing on the benefit of any interest rate increase or decrease in case of floating rate loans.

Change in credit risk

Under Indian Accounting Standard (Ind AS) 109 Financial Instruments (‘IndAS 109’), Expected Credit Loss (ECL) provision is computed for the loan accounts and it is important to determine whether restructuring should be considered as a factor in determining change in the credit risk characteristic of the borrower.

Significant Increase in Credit Risk (SICR), in the context of IFRS 9, is a significant change in the estimated Default Risk (over the remaining expected life of the financial instrument). The term ‘significant’ is not defined in IFRS-9 and thus SICR is determined using various internal and external indicators. The provisions of para 5.5.12 of IndAS 109[1] are self-explanatory on the point that if there has been a modification of the contractual terms of a loan, then, in order to see whether there has been a SICR, the entity shall compare the credit risk before the modification, and the credit risk after the modification.

While SICR indicators usually suffice during normal circumstances, but adjusting to the ‘new normal’ would require ‘new’ ways to consider SICR. The most important question that arises is whether modification in the loan terms to avoid a credit default due to COVID-19 disruption would lead to SICR.

International Guidance

  • As per the International Monetary Fund Report on The Treatment of Restructured Loans for FSI Compilation,

The BCBS (2017) defines loan forbearance as a situation in which (1) a counterparty is experiencing financial difficulty in meeting its financial commitments, and (2) a bank grants a concession that it would not otherwise consider, whether or not the concession is at the discretion of the bank and/or the counterparty. The Guide defines restructured loans as loans arising from rescheduling and refinancing of the original loan. Therefore, all forbearance measures are loan restructuring, but not all loan restructurings are forbearance measures.

Recently, in response to COVID-19 shock, the BCBS (2020) has clarified that when borrowers accept the terms of a payment moratorium (public or granted by banks on a voluntary basis) or have access to other relief measures such as public guarantees, these developments may not automatically lead to the loan being categorized as forborne. At the same time, banks would still need to assess the likelihood of the borrower’s rescheduled payments after the moratorium period ends.

  • The Indian Accounting Standard Board also released a clarification under ‘IFRS 9 and Covid-19’[2] stating that,

Entities should not continue to apply their existing ECL methodology mechanically. For example, the extension of payment holidays to all borrowers in particular classes of financial instruments should not automatically result in all those instruments being considered to have suffered an SICR.

  • According to the European Banking Authority’s Final Report on ‘Guidelines on reporting and disclosure of exposures subject to measures applied in response to the COVID‐19 crisis’[3],

More precisely, moratoria on loan payments that are in accordance with the EBA Guidelines on legislative and non‐legislative moratoria on loan repayments applied in the light of the COVID‐ 19 crisis do not trigger forbearance classification and the assessment of distressed structuring of loans and advances benefiting from these moratoria and they do not automatically lead to default classification. For example, if a performing loan is subject to a moratorium compliant with the GL on moratoria, which brings contractual changes to the terms of the loan, in the existing supervisory reporting this loan will continue to be reported under the category of performing exposures with no specific indication of the measures applied. However, it is also emphasised that the credit institutions should continue the monitoring and where necessary the unlikeliness to pay assessment of loans and advances that fall under the scope of these moratoria.

  • The Prudential Regulatory Authority of the Bank of England sent letters[4] to CEOs of various Banks guiding the following –

Our expectation is that eligibility for, and use of, the UK Government’s policy on the extension of payment holidays should not automatically, other things being equal, result in the loans involved being moved into Stage 2 or Stage 3 for the purposes of calculating ECL or trigger a default under the EU Capital Requirements Regulation (CRR). This expectation extends to similar schemes to respond to the adverse economic impact of the virus.

We do not consider the use of a Covid-19 related payment holiday by a borrower to trigger the counting of days past due or generate arrears under CRR. We also do not consider the use of such a payment holiday to result automatically in the borrower being considered unlikely to pay under CRR.

Firms are reminded to apply sound risk management practices regarding the identification of defaults. Firms should continue to assess borrowers for other indicators of unlikeliness to pay, taking into consideration the underlying cause of any financial difficulty and whether it is likely to be temporary as a result of Covid-19 or longer term

Our expectation is that a covenant breach or waiver of a covenant relating to a modification of the audit report attached to audited financial statements because of the Covid-19 pandemic should not automatically, other things being equal, trigger a default under CRR or result in a move of the loans involved into Stage 2 or Stage 3 for the purposes of calculating ECL. This expectation extends to other covenant breaches and waivers of covenants with a direct link to the Covid-19 pandemic.

A breach of the covenants of a credit contract is a possible indication of unlikeliness to pay under the CRR definition of default. However, a covenant breach does not automatically trigger a default. Rather, firms have scope to assess covenant breaches on a case-by-case basis and determine whether they indicate unlikeliness to pay.

  • The Accounting Standards Board of Canada[5] also took note of the guidance provided by IASB on guidance on applying IFRS 9 Financial Instrument. Further, it also took note of the guidance[6] provided by the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions (OFSI) in Canada and specified that the guidance is consistent with the requirements in IFRS 9 and should thus be considered along with the guidance provided by the IASB. The OFSI, through its guidance, provided the following in relation to applying IFRS in extraordinary circumstances –

IFRS 9 is principles-based and requires the use of experienced credit judgement. Consistent with OSFI’s IFRS 9 Financial Instruments and Disclosures guideline, OSFI is providing guidance on three specific aspects of the accounting for Expected Credit Losses (ECLs) due to the exceptional circumstances arising from COVID-19. Deposit taking Institutions (DTIs) should also consider any additional guidance provided by the International Accounting Standards Board on the application of IFRS 9 in relation to COVID-19.

Under the IFRS 9 ECL accounting framework, DTIs should consider both quantitative and qualitative information, including experienced credit judgment, in assessing for significant increase in credit risk. In OSFI’s view, the utilization of a payment deferral program should not result in an automatic trigger, all things being equal, for significant increase in credit risk.

  • The International Public Sector Accounting Standards Board (IPSASB) released QnA[7] to provide insight into the financial reporting issues associated with COVID-19 government responses, and the relevant International Public Sector Accounting Standards (IPSAS). According to the same,

Given the economic severity associated with COVID-19, entities will need to review their portfolio of financial assets and assess whether an impairment is necessary.

Considering the aforesaid guidelines, all restructuring should not automatically be implied as SICR and the same should be based on facts after analyzing the background of credit worthiness of the borrower.

In case the restructuring is done under the disruption scenario then the same is not indicative of any increase in the probability of default. Accordingly, the same should ideally not be considered as a factor for considering SICR. Thus, if the restructuring is done for accounts that are stressed as a direct result of COVID-19, then the same shall not be treated as SICR.

However, if the restructuring is granted as a generalized option to all customers without any attention paid to reasons for such credit weakness, then the same is done to merely avoid credit difficulty or default of such borrowers which may not necessarily be caused by COVID-19.

Further, something like moratorium, which is granted for a systemic disruption such as a crisis of payment and settlements, natural calamities, etc. is for non-economic reasons, and therefore, may not be likened with a credit-weakness-related restructuring. In the current scenario, the general assumption may be that the credit default is directly associated with the COVID-19 pandemic in most cases.

Restructuring to all borrowers at a class level

A financial institution may also intend to modify the terms of the loan for the entire class as against a particular individual. If the underlying reason for such modification is the financial difficulty faced by the entire class due to Covid disruption, such that the modification is to tide over such difficulty and continue to service the loan, in our view, this will amount to restructuring and lead to a downgrade of asset classification. The underlying rationale is that a loan is a credit decision which is made looking at the prevailing situation at the time of extension of the credit. If the payment schedule is adjusted to take into consideration any change in situations that has happened subsequent to the grant of the credit, the same should be a case of deterioration in the credit quality of the loan. While going by the language of the regulation it seems to refer to only individual cases of restructuring, however, the fact that the entire class of borrower is facing the financial difficulty cannot be overlooked. Merely because the restructuring has been done for a class of borrowers does not mean the restructuring is not to avert a potential default.

Usually, the need for restructuring is identified at the individual exposure level to which concessions are granted due to financial difficulties of the respective borrower. Taking a decision to provide relief to an entire class of borrower instead of considering individual restructuring of each borrower account is a matter of prudence, which must be taken without compromising the interest of the Company, that is the lender.

Impact on IND AS treatment

Based on the aforesaid discussion, it can be inferred that the restructuring under the disruption scenario is not indicative of any increase in the probability of default. Accordingly, the same should ideally not be considered as a factor for considering SICR and in turn, should not result in shifting of the financial instruments from one stage to another. However, in case the account showed signs of credit weakness even before the restructuring, then there should be a shift from one stage to another.

Our related articles–

 

[1] If the contractual cash flows on a financial asset have been renegotiated or modified and the financial asset was not derecognised, an entity shall assess whether there has been a significant increase in the credit risk of the financial instrument in accordance with paragraph 5.5.3 by comparing:

(a) the risk of a default occurring at the reporting date (based on the modified contractual terms); and

(b) the risk of a default occurring at initial recognition (based on the original, unmodified contractual terms).

[2] ifrs-9-ecl-and-coronavirus.pdf

[3] Microsoft Word – Guidelines on Covid -19 measures reporting and disclosure.docx (europa.eu)

[4] Dear CEO Letter on Covid-19 IFRS 9 Capital Requirements and Loan Covenants (bankofengland.co.uk)

[5] IFRS 9 Expected Credit Losses and COVID-19 (frascanada.ca)

[6] OSFI Actions to Address Operational Issues Stemming from COVID-19 (osfi-bsif.gc.ca)

[7] IPSASB-Staff-QA-COVID-19-Relevant-Accounting-Guidance_0.pdf (ifac.org)

Credit Cards Business- Regulatory nuances from issuance to co-branding

ECLGS 2.0- Another push for businesses

-Kanakprabha Jethani (kanak@vinodkothari.com)

Background

The Government of India had, in response to the crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, announced an Emergency Credit Line Guarantee Scheme (ECLGS). Under the scheme, the Government undertook to guarantee additional facilities provided by Lending Institutions (LIs) to their existing borrowers[1]. These facilities were limited to business loans only.

On November 12, 2020, the Finance Minister (FM), in a press conference, extended the last date granting loans under ECLGS 1.0 from November 30, 2020 to June 30, 2020. Further, the FM also announced introduction of ECLGS 2.0. On November 26, 2020, ECLGS 2.0 was introduced and the existing operational guidelines[2] and FAQs on the scheme[3] were revised. The below write-up discusses the major features of ECLGS 2.0 and changes in the existing ECLGS (referred to as ECLGS 1.0).

Opt-in Vs. Opt-out

While ECLGS 1.0 is essentially an opt-out facility, i.e. the lenders are required to offer a pre-approved additional facility to all the existing eligible borrowers and provide them an option to opt-out (not avail the funding). Under ECLGS 1.0, it is the responsibility of the LIs to determine the eligibility of the borrowers and offer loans.

On the contrary, the ECLGS 2.0 is an opt-in facility i.e. only those eligible borrowers, who intend to avail the funding and make an application for the same, will receive the additional facility. Here, the LIs would check the eligibility of the borrower upon receipt of application from the borrower for such funding. Hence, the responsibility of the lender to offer has now been changed to the responsibility of the borrower to apply.

Difference between ECLGS 1.0 and ECLGS 2.0

Particulars ECLGS 1.0 ECLGS 2.0
Eligibility of the borrower ·         Credit outstanding (fund based only) across all lending institutions- up to Rs.50 crore

·         Days Past

·         Due (DPD) as on February 29, 2020 – up to 60 days or the borrower’s account should not have been classified as SMA 2 or NPA by any of the lender as on 29th February, 2020

·         Borrower should be engaged in any of the 26 sectors identified by the Kamath Committee on Resolution Framework vide its report[4] and the Healthcare sector

·         Total credit outstanding (fund based only) across all lending institutions- above Rs.50 crores and not exceeding Rs.500 crore

·         DPD as on February 29, 2020 -up to 30 days respectively or the borrower’s account should not have not been classified as SMA 1, SMA 2 or NPA by any of the lender as on 29th February 2020

Nature of Facility Pre- approved additional funding with 100% guarantee coverage from the NCGTC Non-fund based (in case of banks and FIs-other than NBFCs)/fund-based/mix of fund-based and non-fund based additional facility- with 100% guarantee coverage
Amount 20% of the total credit outstanding of the borrower up to Rs. 50 crores 20% of the total credit outstanding of the borrower up to Rs. 500 crores
Tenure 4 years from the date of disbursement 5 years from the date of first disbursement of fund based facility or first date of utilization of non-fund based facility, whichever is earlier

Other changes

Along with introduction of ECLGS 2.0, a few changes have been introduced in ECLGS 1.0 as well. The major changes are as follows:

  • Extension of last date of disbursing loans from November 30, 2020 to June 30, 2021;
  • Extension of the last date for sanctioning loans to March 31, 2021;
  • The limit on turnover, under the eligibility criteria has been removed;
  • The requirement of creating a second charge on the existing security has been waived-off in case of loans up to Rs. 25 lakhs.

Conclusion

With intent to provide relief and to give a push to the real sector, the government has been introducing various benefits and facilities; ECLGS being one of them. The date of the scheme has been extended to further provide benefit to the business. In this line, ECLGS 2.0 has also been introduced, with stricter eligibility criteria (to ensure lower risk) and higher loan sizes.

[1] Refer our detailed FAQs on the scheme here- http://vinodkothari.com/2020/05/guaranteed-emergency-line-of-credit-understanding-and-faqs/

[2] https://www.eclgs.com/documents/ECLGS%20-Operational%20Guidelines%20-%20Updated%20as%20on%2026.11.2020.pdf

[3] https://www.eclgs.com/documents/FAQs-ECLGS%20-Updated%20as%20on%2026.11.2020.pdf

[4] https://www.rbi.org.in/Scripts/PublicationReportDetails.aspx?UrlPage=&ID=1157

 

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