RBI revises qualifying assets criteria for NBFC MFIs

Team, Vinod Kothari Consultants Pvt. Ltd.

finserv@vinodkothari.com

The RBI on November 08, 2019[1] revised the limits relating to the qualifying assets criteria, giving a much needed boost to Micro-Finance Institutions. The change in limits comes pursuant to the Statement on Developmental and Regulatory Policies[2] issued as part of the Monetary Policy Statement dated 04 October, 2019.

A detailed regulatory framework for MFI’s was put into place in December, 2011 based on the recommendations of a Sub-Committee of the Central Board of the Reserve Bank. The regulatory framework prescribes that an NBFC MFI means a non-deposit taking NBFC that fulfils the following conditions:

  • Minimum Net Owned Funds of Rs. 5 Crore.
  • Not less than 85% of its net assets are in the nature of qualifying assets.

Thus meeting the qualifying assets criteria is crucial to be classified as an NBFC-MFI. The income and loan limits to classify an exposure as an eligible asset were last revised in 2015.

In light of the above and taking into consideration the important role played by MFIs in delivering credit to those in the bottom of the economic pyramid and to enable them to play their assigned role in a growing economy, it was decided to increase and review the limits.

Revised Qualifying assets criteria

The changes are highlighted in the table below:

Qualifying Assets Criteria
Erstwhile Criteria Revised Criteria
Qualifying assets shall mean a loan which satisfies the following criteria:
  i.       Loan disbursed by an NBFC-MFI to a borrower with a rural household annual income not exceeding ₹ 1,00,000 or urban and semi-urban household income not exceeding ₹ 1,60,000;    i.      Loan disbursed by an NBFC-MFI to a borrower with a rural household annual income not exceeding ₹ 1,25,000 or urban and semi-urban household income not exceeding ₹ 2,00,000;
ii.       Loan amount does not exceed ₹ 60,000 in the first cycle and ₹ 1,00,000 in subsequent cycles;  ii.      Loan amount does not exceed ₹ 75,000 in the first cycle and ₹ 1,25,000 in subsequent cycles;
iii.       Total indebtedness of the borrower does not exceed ₹ 1,00,000; iii.      Total indebtedness of the borrower does not exceed ₹ 1,25,000;
Note: All other terms and conditions specified under the master directions shall remain unchanged.

The Statement on Developmental and Regulatory Policies called for revisions in the household income and loan limits only. The notification of the RBI additionally, in light of the change in total indebtedness of the borrower, felt it necessary to also increase the limits on disbursal of loans.

The revised limits are effective from the date of the circular, i. e. November 08, 2019.

[1] https://www.rbi.org.in/Scripts/NotificationUser.aspx?Id=11727&Mode=0

[2] https://www.rbi.org.in/Scripts/BS_PressReleaseDisplay.aspx?prid=48318

Links of related articles:

Sale assailed: NBFC crisis may put Indian securitisation transactions to trial

-By Vinod Kothari (vinod@vinodkothari.com)

Securitisation is all about bankruptcy remoteness, and the common saying about bankruptcy remoteness is that it works as long as the entities are not in bankruptcy! The fact that any major bankruptcy has put bankruptcy remoteness to challenge is known world-over. In fact, the Global Financial Crisis itself put several never-before questions to legality of securitisation, some of them going into the very basics of insolvency law[1]. There have been spate of rulings in the USA pertaining to transfer of mortgages, disclosures in offer documents, law suits against trustee, etc.

The Indian securitisation market has faced taxation challenges, regulatory changes, etc. However, it has so far been immune from any questions at the very basics of either securitisability of assets, or the structure of securitisation transactions, or issues such as commingling of cashflows, servicer transition, etc. However, sitting at the very doorstep of defaults by some major originators, and facing the spectrum of serious servicer downgrades, the Indian securitisation market clearly faces the risk of being shaken at its basics, in not too distant future.

Before we get into these challenges, it may be useful to note that the Indian securitisation market saw an over-100% growth in FY 2019 with volumes catapulting to INR 1000 billion. In terms of global market statistics, Indian market may now be regarded as 2nd largest in ex-Japan Asia, only after China.

Since the blowing up of the ILFS crisis in the month of September 2018, securitisation has been almost the only way of liquidity for NBFCs. Based on the Budget proposal, the Govt of India launched, in Partial Credit Guarantee Scheme, a scheme for partial sovereign guarantee for AA-rated NBFC pools. That scheme seems to be going very well as a liquidity breather for NBFCs. Excluding the volumes under the partial credit enhancement scheme, securitisation volumes in first half of the year have already crossed INR 1000 billion.

In the midst of these fast rising volumes, the challenges on the horizon seem multiple, and some of them really very very hard. This write up looks at some of these emerging developments.

Sale of assets to securitisation trusts questioned

In an interim order of the Bombay High court in Edelweiss AMC vs Dewan Housing Finance Corporation Limited[2], the Bombay High court has made certain observations that may hit at the very securitisability of receivables.  Based on an issue being raised by the plaintiff, the High Court has directed the company DHFL to provide under affidavit details of all those securitisation transactions where receivables subject to pari passu charge of the debentureholders have been assigned, whether with or without the sanction of the trustee for the debentureholders.

The practice of pari passu floating charge on receivables is quite commonly used for securing issuance of debentures. Usually, the charge of the trustees is on a blanket, unspecific common pool, based on which multiple issuances of debentures are covered. The charge is usually all pervasive, covering all the receivables of the company. In that sense, the charge is what is classically called a “floating charge”.

These are the very receivables that are sold or assigned when a securitisation transaction is done. The issue is, given the floating nature of the charge, a receivable originated automatically becomes subject to the floating charge, and a receivable realised or sold automatically goes out of the purview of the charge. The charge document typically requires a no-objection confirmation of the chargeholder for transactions which are not in ordinary course of business. But for an NBFC or an HFC, a securitisation transaction is a mode of take-out and very much a part of ordinary course of business, as realisation of receivables is.

If the chargeholder’s asset cover is still sufficient, is it open for the chargeholder to refuse to give the no-objection confirmation to another mode of financing? If that was the case, any chargeholder may just bring the business of an NBFC to a grinding halt by refusing to give a no-objection.

The whole concept of a floating charge and its priority in the event of bankruptcy has been subject matter of intensive discussion in several UK rulings[3]. There have been discussions on whether the floating charge concept, a judge-made product of UK courts, can be eliminated altogether from the insolvency law[4].

In India, the so-called security interest on receivables is not really intended to be a security device – it is merely a regulatory compliance with company law rules under which unsecured debentures are treated as “deposits”[5]. The real intent of the so-called debenture trust document is maintenance of an asset cover, which may be expressed as a covenant, even otherwise, in case of an unsecured debenture issuance. The fact is that over the years, the Indian bond issuance market has not been able to come out of the clutches of this practice of secured debenture issuance.

While bond issuance practices surely need re-examination, the burning issue for securitisation transactions is – if the DHFL interim ruling results into some final observations of the court about need for the bond trustee’s NOC for every securitisation transaction, all existing securitisation transactions may also face similar challenges.

Servicer-related downgrades

Rating agencies have recently downgraded two notches from AAA ratings several pass-through certificate transactions of a leading NBFC. The rationale given in the downgrade action, among other things, cites servicer risks, on the ground that the originator has not been able to obtain continuous funding support from banks. While absence of continuing funding support may affect new business by an NBFC, how does it affect servicing capabilities of existing transactions, is a curious question. However, it seems that in addition to the liquidity issue, which is all pervasive, the rating action in the present case may have been inspired by some internal scheme of arrangement proposed by the NBFC in question.

This particular downgrades may, therefore, not have a sectoral relevance. However, what is important is that the downgrades are muddying the transition history of securitisation ratings. From the classic notion that securitisation ratings are not susceptible to originator-ratings, the dependence of securitisation transactions to pure originator entity risks such as internal funding strengths or scheme of arrangement puts a risk which is usually not considered by securitisation investors. In fact, the flight to securitisation and direct assignments after ILFS crisis was based on the general notion that entity risks are escaped by securitisation transactions.

Servicer transitions

The biggest jolt may be a forced servicer transition. In something like RMBS transactions, outsourcing of collection function is still easy, and, in many cases, several activities are indeed outsourced. However, if it comes to more complicated assets requiring country-wide presence, borrower franchise and regular interaction, if servicer transition has to be forced, the transaction will be worse than originator bankruptcy.

Questions on true sale

The market has been leaning substantially on the “direct assignment” route. Most of the direct assignments are seen by the investors are look-alikes and feel-alikes of a loan to the originator, save and except for the true-sale opinion. Investors have been linking their rates of return to their MCLR. Investors have been viewing the excess spread as a virtual credit support, which is actually not allowed as per RBI regulations. Pari-passu sharing of principal and interest is rarely followed by the market transactions.

If the truth of the sale in most of the direct assignment transactions is questioned in cases such as those before the Bombay High court, it will not be surprising to see the court recharacterise the so-called direct assignments as nothing but disguised loans. If that was to happen in one case of a failed NBFC, not only will the investors lose the very bankruptcy-remoteness they were hoping for, the RBI will be chasing the originators for flouting the norms of direct assignment which may have hitherto been ignored by the supervisor. The irony is – supervisors become super stringent in stressful times, which is exactly where supervisor’s understanding is required more than reprimand.

Conclusion

NBFCs are passing through a very strenuous time. Delicate handling of the situation with deep understanding and sense of support is required from all stakeholders. Any abrupt strong action may exacerbate the problem beyond proportion and make it completely out of control. As for securitisation practitioners, it is high time to strengthen practices and realise that the truth of the sale is not in merely getting a true sale opinion.

Other Related Articles:


[1] For example, in a Lehman-related UK litigation called Perpetual Trustees vs BNY Corporate Trustee Services, the typical clause in a synthetic securitisation diverting the benefit of funding from the protection buyer (originator – who is now in bankruptcy) to the investors, was challenged under the anti-deprivation rule of insolvency law. Ultimately, UK Supreme Court ruled in favour of securitisation transactions.

[2] https://www.livelaw.in/pdf_upload/pdf_upload-365465.pdf. Similar observations have been made by the same court in Reliance Nippon Life AMC vs  DHFL.

[3] One of the leading UK rulings is Spectrum Plus Limited, https://www.bailii.org/uk/cases/UKHL/2005/41.html. This ruling reviews whole lot of UK rulings on floating charges and their priorities.

[4] See, for example, R M Goode, The Case for Abolition of the Floating Charge, in Fundamental Concepts of Commercial Law (50 years of Reflection, by Goode)

[5] Or partly, the device may involve creation of a mortgage on a queer inconsequential piece of land to qualify as “mortgage debentures” and therefore, avail of stamp duty relaxation.

Draft guidelines for on tap licensing of SFBs: decoded

-Kanakprabha Jethani | Executive

(kanak@vinodkothari.com)

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has issued draft guidelines for ‘on tap’ licensing of Small Finance Banks (SFBs). The guidelines are largely similar to the existing guidelines for licensing of SFBs. However, the major difference is that the licensing will be allowed ‘on tap’. Further, there are certain changes in the eligibility requirements as well. The following write-up intends to answer all the questions relating to licensing of SFBs under the new ‘on tap’ mechanism.

What is ‘on-tap’ licensing?

Under the existing framework, the RBI issues licences for SFBs in batches i.e. all the applications are reviewed in a decided time frame and approvals for a number of SFBs are issued at once. The RBI doesn’t give out approvals as and when applications are received. Rather, when sufficient number of applications are received, they are reviewed at once and the applications that satisfy RBI’s criteria are issued with licenses.

Under the ‘on-tap’ mechanism, RBI will initiate the review of applications as and when they are received. Individual applications will be reviewed and licenses will be issued accordingly.

Who is eligible to apply?

Eligible Promoters:
Resident individuals Atleast 10 years’ experience in banking and finance sector at senior level
Professionals who are Indian citizens Atleast 10 years’ experience in banking and finance sector at senior level
Companies/societies owned and controlled by residents Having successful track record of running their business for atleast 5 years
Conversion:
Existing NBFCs, Micro Finance Institutions (MFIs), Local Area Banks (LABs) -in private sector + controlled by residents + successful track record of running the business for atleast 5 years
Primary Urban Co-operative Banks (UCBs) As per the scheme for voluntary transition.
Fit and Proper Criteria:
Promoters/ promoter group Past record of sound credentials and integrity, financial soundness and successful track record of professional experience or of running their business for atleast 5 years

Who cannot apply?

Joint ventures by different promoter groups for purpose of setting up SFB. Public sector entities, large industrial houses or business groups, bodies set up under state legislature, state financial corporations, etc. Group with assets of Rs. 5000 crores or more+ non financial business accounting for 40% or more

What will be the structure of SFB?

An SFB maybe floated either as a standalone entity or under a holding company, which shall act as the promoting entity of the bank. Such holding company shall be a Non-Operative Financial Holding Company (NOHFC) or be registered with the RBI as NBFC-CIC.

What activities can an SFB carry out?

Primarily, an SFB is allowed to carry out basic banking activities.

Apart from the primary functions, SFBs can also undertake non-risk sharing simple financial activities, not requiring commitment of their own funds, after obtaining approval of the RBI. Also, they are allowed to become Category II Authorised Dealer in foreign exchange business.

An activity that involves commitment of funds of the SFB, such as issue of credit cards, shall not be allowed.

What will be the capital structure in SFB?

Minimum paid-up equity capital:
All applicants Rs. 200 crores
For UCBs converting into SFB Initially Rs. 100 crores, which shall be required to be increased to Rs. 200 crores within 5 years
Capital Adequacy Ratio:
Tier I capital 7.5% of total risk-weighted assets
Tier II capital Maximum 100% of tier I capital
Capital 15% of total risk- weighted assets
Promoters Contribution:
Promoters’ holding Minimum 40% of paid-up voting equity capital

·         Bring down to 30% in 10 years

·         Bring down to 15% in 15 years

In case of conversion of NBFC/MFI to SFB, if promoters’ shareholding is maintained below 40% but above 26% due to regulatory requirements or otherwise, the same shall be acceptable. Provided that promoters’ shareholding doesn’t fall below 20%.
Lock-in on promoters’ minimum holding 5 years
If promoters’ shareholding > 40% Bring down to 40%

·         within 5 years from commencement of business (in case of other SFB)

·         within 5 years from the date paid-up capital of Rs. 200 crores is reached (in case of conversion from UCB)

No person other than promoters shall be allowed to hold more than 10% of the paid-up equity capital.
Foreign Shareholding:
Under automatic route Upto 49%
Government route Beyond 49% upto 74%
Atleast 26% of the paid-up equity capital should be held by resident shareholders.

Will the SFB be listed?

An application for listing of the SFB can be made voluntarily after obtaining approval of the RBI. However, on reaching a paid-up equity capital of Rs. 500 crores, listing shall be made mandatory.

What will be the compliance requirements for SFBs?

  • Have in place a robust risk management system.
  • Prudential norms as applicable to commercial banks shall be applicable.
  • 75% of Adjusted Net Bank Credit (ANBC) shall be extended to priority sectors.
  • The maximum loan size to a single person or group shall not be more than 10% of SFB’s capital funds.
  • The maximum investment exposure to a single person or group shall not be more than 15% of SFB’s capital funds.
  • Atleast 50% of loan portfolio should consist of small size loans (upto Rs. 25 lakhs per borrower).
  • There should be no exposure of the SFB to its promoters, shareholder holding 10% or more of the paid-up capital, and relatives of promoters.
  • Payments bank may make application to set up an SFB, provided that both the banks shall be under NOHFC structure.
  • SFB cannot be a Business Correspondent of other banks.

Are there any specific compliance requirements for NBFCs/MFIs/LABs converting into SFB?

Following are the specific requirements to be complied with in case of conversion from NBFC/MFI/LAB:

  • Have minimum paid-up capital of Rs. 200 crores. In case of deficiency, infuse the differential capital within 18 months.
  • Convert the branches of NBFC/MFI to branches of the SFB within 3 years from commencement of operations.
  • In case any floating charges stand in the balance sheet of the NBFC/MFI, the same shall be allowed to be carried until the related borrowings are matured.

How to make an application to set up an SFB?

An application shall be made to the RBI in Form III along with a business plan and detailed information of the existing as well as proposed structure, a project report regarding viability of the business of SFB and any other relevant information. The application shall be submitted to the RBI in physical form in an envelope superscripted “Application for Small Finance Bank” addressed to the Chief General Manager of the RBI.

In case, the application satisfies the RBI criteria, the fact of approval shall be placed on the RBI website. In case, the application is rejected, the applicant will be barred from making fresh application for a period of three years from such rejection.

 

Sharing of Credit Information to Fintech Companies: Implications of RBI Bar

-Financial Services Division | Vinod Kothari Consultants Pvt. Ltd.

(finserv@vinodkothari.com)

The RBI recently wrote a letter, dated 16th September, 2019, to banks and NBFCs, censuring them over what seems to have been a prevailing practice – sharing of credit information sourced by NBFCs from Credit Information Companies (CICs), to fintech companies. The RBI reiterated that such sharing of information was not permissible, citing several provisions of the law, and expected the banks/NBFCs to affirm steps taken to ensure compliance within 15 days of the RBI’s letter.

This write-up intends to discuss the provisions of the Credit Information Companies (Regulation) Act, 2005 [CICRA], and related provisions, and the confidentiality of credit information of persons, and the implications of the RBI’s letter referred to above.

Fintech companies’ model

Much of the new-age lending is enabled by automated lending platforms of fintech companies. The typical model works with a partnership between a fintech company and an NBFC. The fintech company is the sourcing partner, and the NBFC is the funding partner. A borrower goes to the platform of the fintech company which provides a user-friendly application process, consisting of some basic steps such as providing the aadhaar card or PAN card details, and a photograph. Now, having got the individual’s basic details, the fintech company may either source the credit score of the individual from one of the CICs, or may use its own algorithm. If the fintech company wants to access the data stored with the CICs, it will have to rely on one of its partner NBFCs, since CIC access is currently allowed to financial sector entities only, who have to mandatorily register themselves as members of all four CICs.

It is here that the RBI sees an issue. If the NBFC allows the credit information sourced from the CIC to be transferred to a fintech company, there is an apparent question as to whether such sharing of information is permissible under the law or not.

We discuss below the provisions of the law relating to use of credit information.

Confidentiality of credit information

By virtue of the very relation between the customer and a banker, a banker gets access to the financial information of its customers. Very often, an individual may not even want to share his financial data even with close family members, but the banker any way has access to the same, all the time. If the banker was to share the financial details of a customer, it would be a clear intrusion into the individual’s privacy, and that too, arising out of a fiduciary relationship.

Therefore, the principle, which has since been reiterated by courts in numerous cases, was developed by UK courts in an old ruling in Tournier v National Provincial and Union Bank of England [1924] 1 KB 461. Halsbury’s Laws of England, Vol 1, 2nd edition, says: “It is an implied term of the contract between a banker and his customer that the banker will not divulge to third persons, without the consent of the customer, express or implied, either the state of the customer’s account, or any of his transactions with the bank or any information relating to the customer acquired through the keeping of his account, unless the banker is compelled to do so by order of a Court, or the circumstances give rise to a public duty of disclosure or the protection of the banker’s own interests requires it.

The above law is followed in India as well.

In Shankarlal Agarwalla v. State Bank of India and Anr. AIR 1987 Cal 29[1], it was held that compulsion to disclose must be confined to the regular exercise by the proper officer to actual legal power to compel disclosure.

In case any information is disclosed without a legal compulsion to disclose, the same is wrongful on the part of the lender.

Credit Information Companies and sharing of information

When an RBI Working Group set up in 1999 under the chairmanship of N. H. Siddiqui recommended the formation of CICs in India, the question of confidentiality of credit information was discussed. It was noted by the Working Group that all over the world, there are regulatory controls on sharing of information by credit bureaus:

The Credit Information Bureaus, all over the world, function under a well defined regulatory framework. Where the Bureaus have been set up as part of the Central Bank, the regulatory framework for collection of information, access to that information, privacy of the data, etc., is provided by the Central Bank. Where Bureaus have been set up in the private sector, existence of separate laws ensure protection to the privacy and access to the data collected by the Bureau. In the U.S.A. where Credit Information Bureaus have been set up in the private sector, collection and sharing of information is governed by the provisions of the Fair Credit Reporting Act, 1971 (as amended by the Consumer Credit Reporting Reform Act of 1996). The Fair Credit Reporting Act is enforced by the Federal Trade Commission, a Federal Agency of the U.S. Govt. In the U.K., Credit Bureaus are licensed by the Office of the Fair Trading under the Consumer Credit Act of 1974. The Bureaus are also registered with the Office of the Data Protection Registrar, appointed under the Data Protection Act, 1984 (replaced by the Data Protection Commissioner under the new Act of 1998). In Australia, neither the Reserve Bank of Australia nor the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) plays a role in promoting, developing, licensing or supporting Credit Bureaus. APRA holds annual meetings with the major Bureaus in Australia. The sharing of information relating to customers is regulated in Australia by the Privacy Act. This Act is administered by the Privacy Commissioner, who is vested with the responsibility of framing guidelines for protection of privacy principles and to ensure that Bureaus in Australia conform to these guidelines. In New Zealand, a situation similar to that of Australia exists. In Sri Lanka, the Bureau was formed by an Act of Parliament at the initiative of the Central Bank. A Deputy Governor of the Central Bank is the Chairman of the Bureau in Sri Lanka and the Bank is also represented on the Board of the Bureau by a senior officer. In Hong Kong, the Hong Kong Monetary Authority (HKMA), though not being directly involved in the setting up of a credit referencing agency has issued directions to all the authorised institutions recommending their full participation in the sharing and using of credit information through credit referencing agencies within the limits laid down by the Code of Practice on Consumer Credit Data formulated by the Privacy Commissioner. HKMA also monitors the effectiveness of the credit referencing services in Hong Kong, in terms of the amount of credit information disclosed to such agencies, and the level of participating in sharing credit information by authorised institutions.[2]

The inherent safeguards in the CIC Law

CICRA provides the privacy principles which shall guide the CICs, credit institutions and Specified Users in their operations in relation to collection, processing, collating, recording, preservation, secrecy, sharing and usage of credit information. In this regard, the purpose of obtaining information, guidelines for access to credit information of customers, restriction on use of information, procedures and principles for networking of CICs, credit institutions and specified users, etc. must be clearly defined.

Further, no person other than authorised person is allowed to have access to credit information under CICRA. Persons authorised to access credit information are CICs, credit institutions registered with the CICs and other persons as maybe specified by the RBI through regulations.

The Credit Information Companies Regulations provide that other persons who maybe allowed to access credit information are insurance companies, IRDAI, cellular service providers, rating agencies and brokers registered with SEBI, SEBI itself and trading members registered with Commodity Exchange.

Clearly, fintech companies or technology service providers are not authorised to access credit information. Access of information by such companies is a clear violation of CICRA.

Secrecy of customer information: duty of the lender

Paget on the Law of Banking observed that out of the duties of the banker towards the customer among those duties may be reckoned the duty of secrecy. Such duty is a legal one arising out of the contract, not merely a moral one. Breach of it therefore gives a claim for nominal damages or for substantial damages if injury is resulted from the breach.

Further, in case of Kattabomman Transport Corporation Ltd. V. State Bank of India, the Calcutta High Court held that the banker was under a duty to maintain confidentiality. An appeal[3] was filed against this ruling, the outcome of which was the information maybe disclosed by the banks, only when there is a higher duty than the private duty.

NBFCs providing access to the fintech companies is undoubtedly a private duty and thus, is a breach of duty on the part of the lender.

The case of Fintech Companies and NBFC partnership:

The letter of the RBI under discussion, dated 17th September, 2019, has been seen as a challenge to the working of the fintech companies. However, to understand in what way does this affect the working of fintech companies, we need to understand several situations.

Before coming to the same, it must be noted that the RBI’s 17th September circular is not writing a new law. The law on sharing of credit information has always been there, and the inherent protection is very much a part of the CICRA itself. The RBI circular is, at best, a regulatory cognition of an existing issue, and is a note of caution to NBFCs, who, in their enthusiasm to generate business, may not disregard the provisions of the law.

The situations may be as follows:

  • Fintech company using its own algorithm: In this case, the fintech company is relying upon its own proprietary algorithm. It is not relying on any credit bureau information. Therefore, there is no question of any credit information being shared. In fact, even if the fintech uses the score developed by it, without relying on CIC data, with other entities, it is a proprietary information, which may be shared.
  • NBFC sharing credit information with Fintech company, which is sourcing partner for the NBFC: If the NBFC is sharing information with a fintech company, with the intent of using the information for its own lending, can it be argued that there is a breach of the provisions of the CICRA? It may be noted that regulation 9 of the CIC Regulations requires CICs to protect credit information from unauthorised access. As already discussed, access by such fintech companies is unauthorised.
  • NBFC sharing credit information with Fintech company, which is not partnering with the NBFC: In case, the NBFC is not partnering with the NBFC and is still sharing credit information, there seems to be no reason for such sharing other than information trading. Several NBFCs have at many instances, been reported to have engaged in information trading for additional income.
  • NBFC sharing credit information with another NBFC/bank, which is a co-lender: The NBFC may authorise its co-lender to obtain credit information from CICs and the same shall not be an unauthorised access of information, since the co-lender is also a credit institution and is registered with CICs.
  • Bank sharing credit information with another NBFC which is a sourcing partner and not a c0-lender: If the sourcing partner is a member of CICs, it may access the credit information directly from the CICs. If the sourcing partner is not a member of CICs, sharing of credit information is violation of customer privacy, and thus, shall not be allowed.

Conclusion

The credit bureau reports are actually being exchanged in the system without much respect to the privacy of the individual’s data. With the explosion of information over the net, it may even be difficult to establish as to where the information is coming from. Privacy and confidentiality of information is at stake. At the same time, the very claim-to-existence of fintech entities is their ability to process a credit application within no time. Whether there is an effective way to protect the sharing of information stored with CICs is a significant question, and the RBI’s attention to this is timely and significant.

 

[1] https://indiankanoon.org/doc/1300997/

[2] https://www.rbi.org.in/scripts/PublicationReportDetails.aspx?ID=76

[3] https://indiankanoon.org/doc/908914/

 

Partial Credit Guarantee Scheme

A Business Conclave on  “Partial Credit Guarantee Scheme” was organised by Indian Securitisation Foundation jointly with Edelweiss on September 16,2019 in Mumbai.

On this occasion, the presentation used by Mr. Vinod Kothari is being given here:

http://vinodkothari.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/partial-credit-enhancement-scheme-.pdf

 

We have authored few articles on the topic that one might want to give a read. The links to such related articles are provided below:

Union Budget 2019-20: Impact on Corporate and Financial sector

NBFCs in troubled waters as Madras Court Bench rules in favour of RBI

The latest judgement by the Madras HC as on 22nd April, 2019 has set aside an earlier single judge order in January this year, and ruled in favour of RBI. RBI argued that there was an appeal remedy available and the companies instead of filing writ petitions with the court could have approached the appellate authority.

However before citing the details of the present judgement, this writer believes a firm background is required to grasp the gravity of the present situation. The reader may feel free to scroll further down, if acquainted with the January single-judge decision beforehand.

Background

Since the Sarada scam in 2015, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) had been on high alert and had been subsequently tightening regulations for NBFCs, micro-finance firms and such other companies which provide informal banking services. As of December 2015, over 56 NBFC licenses were cancelled[1]. However, recently in light of the uncertain credit environment (recall DHFL and IF&LS) among other reasons, RBI has cancelled around 400 licenses [2]in 2018 primarily due to a shortfall in Net Owned Funds (NOF)[3] among other reasons. The joint entry of the Central Govt. regulators and RBI to calm the volatility in the markets on September 21st, 2018 after an intra-day fall of over 1000 points amid default concerns of DHFL, warranted concern. Had it been two isolated incidents the regulators and Union government would have been unlikely to step in. The RBI & SEBI issued a joint statement on September saying they were prepared to step in if market volatility demanded such a situation. This suggests a situation which is more than what meets the eye.

Coming back to NBFCs, over half of the cancelled NBFC licenses in 2018 could be attributed to shortfall in NOFs. NOF is described in Section 45 IA of the RBI Act, 1934. It defines NOF as:

1) “Net owned fund” means–
(a) The aggregate of the paid-up equity capital and free reserves as disclosed in the latest
Balance sheet of the company after deducting therefrom–
(i) Accumulated balance of loss;
(ii) Deferred revenue expenditure; and

(iii) Other intangible assets; and
(b) Further reduced by the amounts representing–
(1) Investments of such company in shares of–
(i) Its subsidiaries;
(ii) Companies in the same group;
(iii) All other non-banking financial companies; and
(2) The book value of debentures, bonds, outstanding loans and advances
(including hire-purchase and lease finance) made to, and deposits with,–
(i) Subsidiaries of such company; and
(ii) Companies in the same group, to the extent such amount exceeds ten per cent of (a) above.

At present, the threshold amount that has to be maintained is stipulated at 2 crore, from the previous minimum of 25 lakhs. Previously, to meet this requirement of Rs. 25 lakh a time period of three years was given. During this tenure, NBFCs were allowed to carry on business irrespective of them not meeting business conditions. Moreover, this period could be extended by a further 3 years, which should not exceed 6 years in aggregate. However, this can only be done after stating the reason in writing and this extension is in complete discretion of the RBI. The failure to maintain this threshold amount within the stipulated time had led to this spurge of license cancellations in 2018.

However, the Madras High Court judgement dated 29-1-2019 came as a big relief to over 2000 NBFCs whose license had been cancelled due a delay in fulfilling the shortfall.

 

THE JUDGEMENT

The regulations

On 27-3-2015 the RBI by notification No. DNBR.007/CGM(CDS)-2015 specified two hundred lakhs rupees as the NOF required for an NBFC to commence or carry on the business. It further stated that an NBFC holding a CoR and having less than two hundred lakh rupees may continue to carry on the business, if such a company achieves the NOF of one hundred lakh rupees before 1-04-2016 and two hundred lakhs of rupees before 1-04-2017.

The Petitioner’s claim

The petition was filed by 4 NBFCs namely Nahar Finance & Leasing Ltd., Lodha Finance India Ltd., Valluvar Development Finance Pvt. Ltd. and Senthil Finance Pvt. Ltd. for the cancellation of Certificate of Registration (CoR) against the RBI. The petitioners claim that they had been complying with all the statutory regulations and regularly filing various returns and furnishing the required information to the Registrar of Companies. These petitions were in response to the RBI issued Show Cause Notices to the petitioners proposing to cancel the CoR and initiate penal action. The said SCNs were responded to by the petitioners contending that they had NOF of Rs.104.50 lakhs, Rs.34.19 lakhs, Rs.79.50 lakhs and Rs.135 lakhs respectively, as on 31.03.2017.

Valluvar Development Finance also sent a reply stating that they had achieved the required NOF on 23-10-2017, attaching a certificate from the Statutory Auditor to support its claim. The other petitioners however submitted that due to significant change in the economy including the policies of the Govt. of India during the fiscal years 2016-17 and 2017-18 like de-monetization and implementation of Goods & Services Tax, the entire working of the finance sector was impaired and as such sought extension of time till 31-03-2019 to comply with the requirements.

Now despite seeking extension of time, having given explanations to the SCNs, the CoRs were cancelled without an opportunity for the NBFCs to be heard.

 

The Decision

It was argued that there is a remedy provided against the cancellation of the CoRs, the petitioners had chosen to invoke Article 226 contending violation of the principles of justice. The proviso to Section 45-IA(6) relates to the contentions in regards to cancellation of the CoRs.

“45-IA. Requirement of registration and net owned fund –

(3) Notwithstanding anything contained in sub-section (1), a non-banking financial company in existence on the commencement of the Reserve Bank of India (Amendment) Act, 1997 and having a net owned fund of less than twenty five lakh rupees may, for the purpose of enabling such company to fulfil the requirement of the net owned fund, continue to carry on the business of a nonbanking financial institution–

(i) for a period of three years from such commencement; or

(ii) for such further period as the Bank may, after recording the reasons in writing for so doing, extend,

subject to the condition that such company shall, within three months of fulfilling the requirement of the net owned fund, inform the Bank about such fulfilment:

Provided further that before making any order of cancellation of certificate of registration, such company shall be given a reasonable opportunity of being heard.

(7) A company aggrieved by the order of rejection of application for registration or cancellation of certificate of registration may prefer an appeal, within a period of thirty days from the date on which such order of rejection or cancellation is communicated to it, to the Central Government and the decision of the Central Government where an appeal has been preferred to it, or of the Bank where no appeal has been preferred, shall be final:

Provided that before making any order of rejection of appeal, such company shall be given a reasonable opportunity of being heard.

The decision was taken on two grounds. First, the statute specifically provides for an opportunity of personal hearing besides calling for an explanation. The amended provision is very particular that opportunity of being personally heard is mandatory, as the very amendment relates to finance companies, which are already carrying on business also. Not affording this opportunity would cripple the business of the petitioners.

Second, the amended section provides NBFCs sufficient time to enhance their NOF by carrying on business and comply with the notifications. For the aforesaid reasons, the orders by the RBI requires interference. Resultantly, the respondents (RBI authorities) are directed to restore the CoR of the petitioners and also extend the time given to the petitioners.

 

The Latest Judgement

The judgement pronounced as on 22nd April, 2019 was an appeal by the RBI to the aforementioned writ petitions. This latest decision which ruled in favour of the RBI had contentions on several grounds. However, all of them stem (invocation of sub-clauses) from the following four.

First, the RBI against the order in the writ petitions submitted that there is an appeal remedy available and the petitioners without availing such remedy have filed the petitions and as such petitions ought not to have been entertained.

Second that there were only four such companies (the ones above) who sought writ petitions and the remaining numbering more than 40 Non-Banking Financial Companies (NBFCs) have filed statutory appeals and therefore, the petitioners should be relegated to avail the appeal remedy.

Third, the present cancellation is owed to the petitioners’ failure to comply with the NOF conditions issued by the RBI. The notification dated 27.03.2015 specifying 200 lakhs as NOF for NBFCs to carry or commence operations has not been challenged by the petitioners. Therefore, if they do not achieved the said conditions, they cannot to continue to remain in business.

Fourth, it was submitted that the reasons assigned by the petitioners in the reply to the show cause notice were considered and the reasons not being sustainable were thus rejected.

 

Conclusion

This was a landmark hearing in the case of NBFCs with increasing pressure as of recent times. Many NBFCs may now apply for restoration of their licenses as per the present laws or file for statutory appeals. The case stands as an indication of the firm regulatory policies of the RBI amidst the environment of credit uncertainty. The last statement of the judgement also stands apt here. The brief sentence read, “Consequently connected miscellaneous petitions are closed.”

[1] https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/economy/finance/rbi-cancels-license-of-56-nbfcs-bajaj-finserv-gives-away-license/articleshow/50045835.cms?from=mdr

[2] https://www.businessinsider.in/indias-central-bank-has-scrapped-the-licenses-of-nearly-400-nbfcs-so-far-this-year/articleshow/65698193.cms

[3] https://www.firstpost.com/business/ilfs-dhfl-shocks-may-be-temporary-triggers-but-the-bad-news-for-indian-financial-markets-do-not-end-there-5248071.html

[4] https://enterslice.com/learning/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/Madras-high-court-Judgement-on-NBFC-License-Cancellation.pdf

[5] https://indiankanoon.org/doc/91785347/

NBFCs get another chance to reinstate NOF

By Falak Dutta, (finserv@vinodkothari.com)

Since the Sarada scam in 2015, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) had been on high alert and had been subsequently tightening regulations for NBFCs, micro-finance firms and such other companies which provide informal banking services. As of December 2015, over 56 NBFC licenses were cancelled[1]. However, recently in light of the uncertain credit environment (recall DHFL and IF&LS) among other reasons, RBI has cancelled around 400 licenses [2]in 2018 primarily due to a shortfall in Net Owned Funds (NOF)[3] among other reasons. The joint entry of the Central Govt. regulators and RBI to calm the volatility in the markets on September 21st, 2018 after an intra-day fall of over 1000 points amid default concerns of DHFL warrants concern. Had it been two isolated incidents the regulators and Union government would have been unlikely to step in. The RBI & SEBI issued a joint statement on September saying they were prepared to step in if market volatility warrants such a situation. This suggests a situation which is more than what meets the eye.

Coming back to NBFCs, over half of the cancelled NBFC licenses in 2018 could be attributed to shortfall in NOFs. NOF is described in Section 45 IA of the RBI Act, 1934. It defines NOF as:

1) “Net owned fund” means–

(a) The aggregate of the paid-up equity capital and free reserves as disclosed in the latest

Balance sheet of the company after deducting therefrom–

(i) Accumulated balance of loss;

(ii) Deferred revenue expenditure; and

(iii) Other intangible assets; and

(b) Further reduced by the amounts representing–

(1) Investments of such company in shares of–

(i) Its subsidiaries;

(ii) Companies in the same group;

(iii) All other non-banking financial companies; and

(2) The book value of debentures, bonds, outstanding loans and advances

(including hire-purchase and lease finance) made to, and deposits with,–

(i) Subsidiaries of such company; and

(ii) Companies in the same group, to the extent such amount exceeds ten per cent of (a) above.

At present, the threshold amount that has to be maintained is stipulated at 2 crore, from the previous minimum of 25 lakhs. Previously, to meet this requirement of Rs. 25 lakh a time period of three years was given. During this tenure, NBFCs were allowed to carry on business irrespective of them not meeting business conditions. Moreover, this period could be extended by a further 3 years, which should not exceed 6 years in aggregate. However, this can only be done after stating the reason in writing and this extension is in complete discretion of the RBI. The failure to maintain this threshold amount within the stipulated time had led to this spurge of license cancellations in 2018.

However, the Madras High Court judgement dated 29-1-2019 came as a big relief to over 2000 NBFCs whose license had been cancelled due a delay in fulfilling the shortfall.

 

THE JUDGEMENT[4]

The regulations

On 27-3-2015 the RBI by notification No. DNBR.007/CGM(CDS)-2015 specified two hundred lakhs rupees as the NOF required for an NBFC to commence or carry on the business. It further stated that an NBFC holding a CoR and having less than two hundred lakh rupees may continue to carry on the business, if such a company achieves the NOF of one hundred lakh rupees before 1-04-2016 and two hundred lakhs of rupees before 1-04-2017.

The Petitioner’s claim

The petition was filed by 4 NBFCs namely Nahar Finance & Leasing Ltd., Lodha Finance India Ltd., Valluvar Development Finance Pvt. Ltd. and Senthil Finance Pvt. Ltd. for the cancellation of CoR[5] against the RBI. The petitioners claim that they had been complying with all the statutory regulations and regularly filing various returns and furnishing the required information to the Registrar of Companies. These petitions were in response to the RBI issued Show Cause Notices to the petitioners proposing to cancel the CoR and initiate penal action. The said SCNs were responded to by the petitioners contending that they had NOF of Rs.104.50 lakhs, Rs.34.19 lakhs, Rs.79.50 lakhs and Rs.135 lakhs respectively, as on 31.03.2017.

Valluvar Development Finance also sent a reply stating that they had achieved the required NOF on 23-10-2017, attaching a certificate from the Statutory Auditor to support its claim. The other petitioners however submitted that due to significant change in the economy including the policies of the Govt. of India during the fiscal years 2016-17 and 2017-18 like de-monetization and implementation of Goods & Services Tax, the entire working of the finance sector was impaired and as such sought extension of time till 31-03-2019 to comply with the requirements.

Now despite seeking extension of time, having given explanations to the SCNs, the CoRs were cancelled without an opportunity for the NBFCs to be heard.

 

The Decision

It was argued that there is a remedy provided against the cancellation of the CoRs, the petitioners had chosen to invoke Article 226 contending violation of the principles of justice. The proviso to Section 45-IA(6) relates to the contentions in regards to cancellation of the CoRs.

“45-IA. Requirement of registration and net owned fund –

(3) Notwithstanding anything contained in sub-section (1), a non-banking financial company in existence on the commencement of the Reserve Bank of India (Amendment) Act, 1997 and having a net owned fund of less than twenty five lakhs rupees may, for the purpose of enabling such company to fulfill the requirement of the net owned fund, continue to carry on the business of a non-banking financial institution–

(i) for a period of three years from such commencement; or

(ii) for such further period as the Bank may, after recording the reasons in writing for so doing, extend,

subject to the condition that such company shall, within three months of fulfilling the requirement of the net owned fund, inform the Bank about such fulfillment:

Provided further that before making any order of cancellation of certificate of registration, such company shall be given a reasonable opportunity of being heard.

(7) A company aggrieved by the order of rejection of application for registration or cancellation of certificate of registration may prefer an appeal, within a period of thirty days from the date on which such order of rejection or cancellation is communicated to it, to the Central Government and the decision of the Central Government where an appeal has been preferred to it, or of the Bank where no appeal has been preferred, shall be final:

Provided that before making any order of rejection of appeal, such company shall be given a reasonable opportunity of being heard.

The decision was taken on two grounds. First, the statute specifically provides for an opportunity of personal hearing besides calling for an explanation. The amended provision is very particular that opportunity of being personally heard is mandatory, as the very amendment relates to finance companies, which are already carrying on business also. Not affording this opportunity would cripple the business of the petitioners.

Second, the amended section provides NBFCs sufficient time to enhance their NOF by carrying on business and comply with the notifications. For the aforesaid reasons, the orders by the RBI requires interference. Resultantly, the respondents (RBI authorities) are directed to restore the CoR of the petitioners and also extend the time given to the petitioners.

 

CONCLUSION

This was a landmark hearing in the case of NBFCs as they had been under increasing pressure as of recent times. Many NBFCs can now apply for restoration of their licenses and might already have. The case doesn’t just stand the case for NOF conflicts but will also ring in the minds of regulators in the future, compelling greater caution and concern. The last statement of the judgement stands apt here. The brief sentence read,” Consequently connected miscellaneous petitions are closed.”

[1] https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/economy/finance/rbi-cancels-license-of-56-nbfcs-bajaj-finserv-gives-away-license/articleshow/50045835.cms?from=mdr

[2] https://www.businessinsider.in/indias-central-bank-has-scrapped-the-licenses-of-nearly-400-nbfcs-so-far-this-year/articleshow/65698193.cms

[3] https://www.firstpost.com/business/ilfs-dhfl-shocks-may-be-temporary-triggers-but-the-bad-news-for-indian-financial-markets-do-not-end-there-5248071.html

[4] https://enterslice.com/learning/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/Madras-high-court-Judgement-on-NBFC-License-Cancellation.pdf

[5] Certificate of Registration

Extension of Ombudsman Scheme to remaining class of notified NBFCs

By Dibisha Mishra (dibisha@vinodkothari.com)

Updated as on April 26, 2019

Introduction

Reserve Bank of India (RBI), in its Statement on Development and Regulatory Policies[1] dated April 04, 2019, stated its intention to extend the same to the remaining notified classes of NBFCs as well, by the end of April, 2019.

Ombudsman Scheme for Non-Banking Financial Companies, 2018 (Scheme) on 23rd February, 2018[2] was introduced with the intent of curbing down the time, costs and complexities involved in complaint redressal mechanism for certain services rendered by non-banking financial companies (NBFC). The salient features of the Scheme worth taking note of has been explained in our previous article.[3] The Scheme covered within its ambit, all NBFCs registered with RBI, who are:

  • authorized to accept deposits; or
  • having customer interface, with assets size of Rs. 100 Crores or above, as on the date of the audited balance sheet of the previous financial year,

(hereinafter referred to as “notified classes of NBFCs”)

However, to start with, the Scheme was made applicable to deposit taking NBFCs only and the idea was to make it applicable on the other notified classes of NBFCs, once the same could gather some traction.

Subsequently, as per RBI’s recent statement in regard to increased applicability, a formal notification in this regard was expected to follow. The aforesaid has finally been notified vide. RBI’s notification dated April 26, 2019[4].

Considering the importance of the matter, in this article we will discuss all that the remaining notified classes of NBFCs must prepare for.

Applicability

As already stated the Scheme is applicable to all notified classes of NBFCs, however, the following classes of companies are excluded from its purview:

  • Non-banking Financial Company – Infrastructure Finance Company (NBFC-IFC);
  • Core Investment Company (CIC);
  • Infrastructure Debt Fund – Non-banking Financial Company (IDF-NBFC); and
  • A company under liquidation.

To do list for newly included entities

Upon notification of Scheme, the newly notified NBFCs will have to immediately take care of the following:

  1. Make the copy of the Scheme available on the website and also with the designated officer of the company for perusal in the office premises.
  2. Display prominently in all its offices and branches:
  • the purpose of the Scheme;
  • the contact details of the Ombudsman to whom the complaint is to be made by the aggrieved customer;
  • notice about the availability of the copy of Scheme with such designated officer.
  1.  Appoint Nodal Officers at Head/ Registered/ Regional/ Zonal Offices and inform all the Offices of the Ombudsman about the same.
  2. Nodal Officers so appointed must be responsible for representing the company and furnishing information to the Ombudsman in respect of complaints filed against the NBFC.
  3. Wherever more than one zone/ region of a NBFC is falling within the jurisdiction of an Ombudsman, designate one of the Nodal Officers as the ‘Principal Nodal Officer’ for such zones or regions

Pre-Conditions for availing the Scheme by an aggrieved customer

A customer aggrieved by the acts of the company or its representatives can make an application under the Scheme, however, the following pre-conditions must be satisfied before making an application:

  1. Complaint must refer to any of the grounds mentioned under Clause 8 of the Scheme.
  2. Customer must have filed a written representation to the respective NBFC regarding the grievance
  3. Concerned NBFC must have rejected the complaint or the complainant must not have received any reply within one month of NBFC receiving the representation or the complainant must not have been satisfied with the reply given to him by the NBFC.
  4. Not more than one year must have elapsed after the complainant received the unsatisfactory reply or where no reply was received, not later than one year and one month have elapsed after the date of representation to NBFC.
  5. The complaint must not be in respect of the same cause of action which was settled or dealt with on merits by the Ombudsman in any previous proceedings whether or not received from the same complainant or along with one or more complainants or one or more of the parties concerned with the cause of action;
  6. The complaint must not pertain to the same cause of action, for which any proceedings before any court, tribunal or arbitrator or any other forum is pending or a decree or Award or order has been passed by any such court, tribunal, arbitrator or forum;
  7. The complaint must not be frivolous or vexatious in nature;
  8. The complaint must fall under the period of limitation prescribed under the Indian Limitation Act, 1963 for such claims; and
  9. The complainant must have filed along with the complaint, copies of the documents, if any, which he intends to rely upon, and a declaration that the complaint is maintainable under Clause 9-A.

Roadmap while availing the Scheme

Once the complainant is satisfied that the aforesaid conditions are satisfied, it will have to take the following route to make the application:

  1. Make a complaint, as per Annex II of the Scheme, to the Ombudsman under whose jurisdiction the concerned NBFC falls. The complaint can be made either by the aggrieved customer himself or by his authorized representative;
  2. Where extra clarification or documents is required from the customer, the same is to be provided;
  3. Ombudsman shall send a copy of the complaint to the branch or registered office of the NBFC named in the complaint, under advice to the designated Nodal Officer (NO);
  4. Ombudsman may require NBFC to provide information or furnish certified copies of any document relating to the complaint which is or is alleged to be in its possession;
  5. Endeavour should be made to promote a settlement of the complaint by agreement between the complainant and the NBFC through conciliation or mediation. He/ she may convene a meeting of NBFC and the complainant together to promote an amicable resolution;
  6. If complaint is still not settled by agreement, Ombudsman shall pass an award of either allowing or rejecting the case after giving both parties an opportunity of being heard;
  7. The Ombudsman shall take into account the evidence being placed, the underlying principles on which the practices, directions, instructions and guidelines issued by the Reserve Bank from time to time and such other factors which in his opinion are relevant to the complaint;
  8. A copy of the Award shall be sent to the complainant and the NBFC free of cost;
  9. An Award shall take effect only when the complainant furnishes to the NBFC and the Ombudsman concerned within a period of 30 days from the date of receipt of copy of the Award, a letter of acceptance of the Award in full and final settlement of his claim;
  10. Unless an appeal is filed, the NBFC shall then comply with the Award and intimate compliance of the same to the complainant and the Ombudsman;
  11. Award or appeal rejection can be appealed against within 30 days of receipt of such communication.

Conclusion

The Ombudsman scheme plays a very important role in the banking system. Considering the growing importance of NBFCs in the country, introduction of this became essential. However, effectiveness of any initiative depends on how well the beneficiaries of the same are informed; same will be the case with this Scheme as well. This Scheme will turn out to be fruitful only if the same borrowers are educated about this. RBI must also take some initiative to achieve that as well

[1] https://rbidocs.rbi.org.in/rdocs/PressRelease/PDFs/PR23654E42140EAC6347D1A9D08AF62F5BF2E9.PDF

[2] https://rbidocs.rbi.org.in/rdocs/Content/PDFs/NBFC23022018.pdf

[3] http://vinodkothari.com/2018/02/rbis-ombudsman-storm-tough-road-ahead-for-nbfcs/

[4] https://www.rbi.org.in/Scripts/NotificationUser.aspx?Id=11546&Mode=0