New Model of Co-Lending in financial sector

Scope expanded, risk participation contractual, borders with direct assignment drawn 

-Team Financial Services (finserv@vinodkothari.com)

Co-lending is coming together of entities in the financial sector – mostly, something that happens between banks and NBFCs, or larger banks and smaller banks. Financial interfaces between different financial entities may take the form of securitisation, direct assignment, co-lending, banking correspondents, loan referencing, etc.

While direct assignment and securitisation have been around for quite some time, co-lending was permitted by the RBI under its existing guidelines on ‘Co-origination of loans between banks and NBFC-SIs for granting loan to the priority sector’[1]. As per the Statement on Developmental and Regulatory Policies issued by the RBI dated October 9, 2020, it was decided to expand the scope of co-lending, currently permitted only for NBFC-SIs, to all NBFCs. Accordingly, the RBI came, vide notification on co-lending by banks and NBFCs (Co-Lending Model/CLM)[2] dated November 5, 2020, with a new regulatory framework for co-lending, of course, in case of priority sector loans. The CLM supersedes the existing guidelines on co-origination.

There is no clarity, still, on whether the non-priority sector loans (PSL  or Non-PSL) will also be covered by this regulatory discipline, or any discipline for that matter. In this write-up, we explore the key features of the co-lending regime, and also get into tricky questions such as applicability to non-PSL loans, the borderlines of distinction between direct assignments and co-lending, the sharing of risks and rewards, etc.

Applicability

The erstwhile Regulations for priority sector lending covered co-lending transactions of Banks and Systemically Important NBFCs. However, under the Co-Lending Model.The CLM covers all NBFCs (including HFCs) in its purview.

There is a whole breed of new-age fintech companies using innovative algo-based originations, and aggressively using the internet for originations, and these companies pass a substantial part of their lending to either larger NBFCs or to banks. Thus, the expanded ambit of the Co-Lending Model will increase the penetration and result into wider outreach, meet the objective of financial inclusion, and potentially, reduce the cost for the ultimate beneficiary of the loans. Smaller NBFCs have their own operational efficiencies and distribution capabilities; hence, this is a welcome move.

Further, the RBI has excluded foreign Banks, including wholly owned subsidiaries of foreign banks, having less than 20 branches, from the applicability of the CLM. Also, Small Finance Banks, Regional Rural Banks, Urban Cooperative Banks and Local Area Banks have been excluded from the applicability of CLM.

An interesting question that comes up here is whether such exclusion should be construed as a restriction on such entities from entering into co-lending transactions, or a relaxation from the applicability of the Co-Lending Model? It may be noted that the CLM a precondition for PSL treatment of the loans. This is clear from the title ‘Co-Lending by Banks and NBFCs to Priority Sector’. The intent is not to put a bar on existence of co-lending arrangements outside the CLM. That is to say, if the loan, originated by the principal co-lender, is a priority sector loan, then the participating co-lender will also be able to treat the participant’s share of the loan as a PSL, subject to adherence to the conditions specified in CLM. The implication of this is that where the loan does not meet the conditions of CLM, then the participating bank will not be able to accord a PSL status, even though the loan in question is a PSL loan.

With that rationale, in our view, there is no absolute prohibition in the excluded banking entities from being a co-lender. However, if the major motivation of the co-lending mechanism under the CLM is the PSL tag, that tag will not be available to the excluded banks, and hence, the very inspiration for falling under the arrangement may go away. This is also clear from the PSL Master Directions[3] which recognises co-origination of loans by SCBs and NBFCs for lending to the priority sector and specifically excludes RRBs, UCBs, SFBs and LABs.

Applicability date and the fate of existing transactions

In the absence of any specified timelines, the CLM supersedes the existing co-lending guidelines with immediate effect. However, it specifies that outstanding loans in terms of the erstwhile guidelines would continue to be classified under priority sector till their repayment or maturity, whichever is earlier.

This would mean grandfathering of existing loans, and not existing lending arrangements. That is to say, if there are existing co-lending arrangements, but the loan in question has not yet originated, even existing co-lending arrangements will have to abide with the Co-Lending Model. Needless to say, any new co-lending arrangements will nevertheless have to abide by the Co-Lending Model.

As we note below, one of the very important features of the Co-Lending Model is that risk-sharing and loan-sharing do not have to follow the same proportion. Additionally, it is possible for the participating bank to have an explicit recourse against the originating co-lender. This feature was not available under the earlier framework. This alone may be a sufficient motivation for existing CLMs to be revised or redrawn.

Co-lending, Outsourcing and Direct Assignment – new borderlines of distinction

For the purpose of entering into co-lending transactions, banks and NBFCs will have to enter into a ‘Master Agreement’. Such agreement may require the bank either to mandatorily take the loans originated by the NBFC on its books or retain discretion as to taking the loans on its books.

Where the participating bank has a discretion as to taking its share of the loans originated by the originating partner, the transaction partakes the character of a direct assignment. Para 1(c) of the CLM says that ”…if the bank can exercise its discretion regarding taking into its books the loans originated by NBFC as per the Agreement, the arrangement will be akin to a direct assignment transaction. Accordingly, the taking over bank shall ensure compliance with all the requirements in terms of Guidelines on Transactions Involving Transfer of Assets through Direct Assignment of Cash Flows and the Underlying Securities….with the exception of Minimum Holding Period (MHP) which shall not be applicable in such transactions undertaken in terms of this CLM.

That would mean, a precondition for the arrangement being treated as a CLM is that the participating bank takes the loans originated by the originating partner without discretion exercisable on a cherry-picking basis.

Does this mean that irrespective of whether the loan originated by the originating partner fits into the credit screen of the bank or not, the bank will still have to take it, lying low? certainly, this is not the intent of the CLM This is what comes form clause 1(a)- ‘…..the partner bank and NBFC shall have to put in place suitable mechanisms for ex-ante due diligence by the bank as the credit sanction process cannot be outsourced under the extant guidelines.’

Thus, even in case the bank gives a prior, irrevocable commitment to take its share of exposure, the same shall be subject to an ex-ante due diligence by the bank. Ex-ante obviously implies a prior  As per the outsourcing guidelines for banks[4], the credit sanction process cannot be outsourced. Accordingly, it must be ensured that the credit sanction process has not been outsourced completely and the bank retains the right to carry out the due diligence as per its internal policy. Notwithstanding the bank’s due diligence exercise, the co-lending NBFC shall also simultaneously carry out its own credit sanction process.

The conclusion one gets from the above is as follows:

  • The essence of co-lending arrangement is that the participating bank relies upon the lead role played by the originating bank. The originating bank is the one playing the fronting role, with customer interface. The credit screens, of course, are pre-agreed and it will naturally be incumbent upon the originating bank to abide by those. Hence, on a case by case basis or so-called “cherry picking” basis, the participating bank is not selecting or dis-selecting loans. If that is what is being done, the transaction amounts to a DA.
  • Subject to the above, the participating bank is expected to have its credit appraisal process still on. Where it finds deviations from the same, the participating bank may still decline to take its share.

It is important to note that if DA comes into play, the requirements such as MHP, MRR, true sale conditions will also have to be complied with. However, co-lending transactions do not have any MHP requirements, unlike in case of either DA or securitiastion. Of course co-lending transactions do have a risk retention stipulation, as the CLM require a 20% minimum share with the originating NBFC. Hence, the intent of the RBI is that co lending mechanism must not turn out to be a regulatory arbitrage to carry out what is virtually a DA, through the CLM.

Interest Rates

The erstwhile guidelines require that the interest rate charged on the loans originated under the co-lending guidelines would be calculated as per Blended Interest Rate Calculations, that is to say the rate shall be calculated by assigning weights in proportion to risk exposure undertaken by each party, to the benchmark interest rate of the respective lender.

The current guidelines require that the interest rate shall be an all inclusive rate that is mutually agreed by the parties. However it shall be ensured that the interest rate charged is not excessive as the same would breach the provisions of fair practice code, which is to be compulsorily complied.

This change would provide flexibility to the lenders and also ensure that the cost incurred in tracing and disbursals to remote sectors as well as enhanced risk exposure is appropriately compensated.

Determining the roles

Under the erstwhile provisions, it was mandatory that the share of the co-lending NBFC shall be at least 20%. The same has been retained in the CLM as well, requiring NBFCs to retain a minimum of 20% share of the individual loans on their books.

Under the CLM, the co-lending NBFC shall be the single point of interface for the customers. Further, the grievance redressal function would also have to be carried out by the NBFC.

Operational Aspects

Escrow Account

For the purpose of disbursals, collections etc. an escrow account should be opened. The co-lending banks and NBFCs shall maintain each individual borrower’s account for their respective exposures. It is only for the purpose of avoiding commingling of funds, that an escrow mechanism is required to be placed. The bank and NBFC shall, while entering into the Master Agreement, lay down the rights and duties relating to the escrow account, manner of appropriation etc.

Creation of Security

The manner of creation of charge on the security provided for the loan shall be decided in the Master Agreement itself.

Accounting

Each of the lenders shall record their respective exposures in their books. The asset classification and provisioning shall also be done for the respective part of the exposure. For this purpose, the monitoring of the accounts may either be done by both the co-lenders or may be outsourced to any one of them, as agreed in the Master Agreement. Usually, the function of monitoring remains with the NBFC (since, it has done the origination and deals with the customer.)

Non-PSL loans: whether the framework would apply in pari materia?

The guidelines on CLM have been issued for co-lending of loans that qualify for the purpose of priority sector lending. This does not bar lenders from entering into co-lending transactions outside the purview of these guidelines. The only difference it would make is such loans would not be eligible to be classified as loans to the priority sector (which is the primary motive for banks to enter into co-lending transactions).

This seems to form a view that the guidelines would not at all be applicable in case of non-priority sector loans. However, for a transaction to be a co-lending transaction, there has to be adequate risk sharing between the co-lenders. Hence, the guidelines on CLM shall be applicable in pari-materia.

[1] https://www.rbi.org.in/Scripts/NotificationUser.aspx?Id=11376&Mode=0

[2] https://www.rbi.org.in/Scripts/NotificationUser.aspx?Id=11991&Mode=0

[3] https://www.rbi.org.in/Scripts/NotificationUser.aspx?Id=11959&Mode=0

[4] https://www.rbi.org.in/scripts/NotificationUser.aspx?Id=3148&Mode=0

 

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Workshop on Scheme for grant of ex-gratia payment of the differential interest

While compound interest is the unquestionable reality of the world of banking and finance, somehow, courts have always been disapproving of the idea of “interest on interest”. After months of litigation in the Apex Court and a lot of confusion surrounding interest on interest being charged by the lenders on loan accounts whose payments were deferred under the moratorium scheme, the Central Government (CG), on October 23, 2020, introduced a Scheme for grant of ex-gratia payment of the difference between compound interest and simple interest, whereby the lenders will refund the differential interest, that is, difference between compound interest and simple interest during the 6 month period starting 1st March, 2020. The same will be taken over by the CG.

We intend to discuss the intricacies of the said scheme in this workshop (details provided below):

Date: 30th October, 2020 at 5.00 pm, IST. Will run for about 90-120 mins.

Where: On the internet, via Zoom Meetings

Please note that the webinar has a maximum capacity of 100, including the host, and entry is on first-come-first-enter basis.

Whether interactive?

Yes. Participants may post queries, either in advance or at the time of workshop. Participants may, based on feasibility, also be allowed to speak.

Fees: The fees for the workshop shall be INR 1000 per participant exclusive of GST (payable in advance).

For registration: Click on this link and fill the form- https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSe2Y8sT9N5AVkjTu7fC5l-D2lubfiYJlREA_VA2Us5LOxSRgQ/viewform

For queries: Drop a mail to rastogi@vinodkothari.com.

What will be covered in the workshop?

  • Basics of the scheme including introduction, objective, rationale, scope etc.
  • Eligibility conditions
  • Getting into the intricacies- questions like- what kinds of loans will be excluded? How will MSME loans be dealt with?
  • Manner of calculating ex-gratia payments
  • Procedural aspects
  • Grievance Redressal Mechanism (including guidance on the communication issued by the IBA)
  • Modus operandi for claiming the payment from the CG
  • Answers to practical issues that the industry is facing
  • Answering your queries, of course.

Knowledge Resources:

 

 

Webinar on RBI discussion paper on Governance in Commercial Banks in India

Date: 22nd June, 2020 at 05:00 pm, India time. Will run for about 90 mins.

Speaker: FCS Vinita Nair, Senior Partner, Vinod Kothari & Company

Background:

Effective Corporate Governance practices at banks plays a significant role in the banking sector and the economy as a whole. The banking industry in India witnessed governance failures in the past which seems to have triggered the need for the regulator to re-look at the governance guidelines for commercial banks in India.

RBI on 11th June, 2020 issued a discussion paper on the guidelines for Governance in Commercial Banks in India.

Scope of the webinar:

We intend to discuss the proposals put forth in the discussion paper in this webinar (expected duration around 90 mins) and comparing the proposed requirements with the existing ones.

  • Scope and applicability;
  • Overall responsibilities of the Board of Directors;
  • Duties of director;
  • Understanding and managing Conflict of Interest for banks;
  • Structure, composition and role of Board Committees;
  • Risk Governance Framework – The three lines of defence;
  • Separation of ownership from Management;
  • Whistle-blower mechanism.

Where:

On the internet, via Google Meet / Zoom Meeting

Please note that the webinar has a maximum capacity of 50, including the host, and entry is on first-come-first-enter basis.

Whether interactive:

Yes. Participants may post queries, either in advance or at the time of webinar. Participants may, based on feasibility, also be allowed to speak.

For registration:

Kindly mail with relevant details on – shaifali@vinodkothari.com.

Knowledge Resources:

  1. RBI Discussion paper on Governance in Commercial Banks in India
  2. Report of the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision
  3. RBI circular on Calendar of Reviews – Audit Committee of the Board of Directors
  4. Recommendations of the Banks Board Bureau

MCA’s exclusion period for registering charge poses threat for creditors!

Webcasting in virtual AGM

by Smriti Wadehra & Qasim Saif

(smriti@vinodkothari.com) (executive@vinodkothari.com)

Background

MCA considering the COVID-19 pandemic and the social distancing norms issued by the Government, realized that conducting physical AGM by companies within the prescribed timeline shall be difficult for this financial year. Accordingly, the Ministry vide its circular dated 5th May, 2020 has permitted holding of Annual General Meetings (AGM) through video conferencing[1] for all meetings conducted during the calendar i.e. till 31st December, 2020. The said circular read with previous circulars dated 13th April, 2020[2] and 8th April, 2020[3] prescribed a detailed procedure as to how companies can conduct their general meetings virtually.

While these circulars dealt with various perplexities arising from the thought of virtual general meetings, however, there was still some clarification pending on applicability of other requirements applicable on companies, for instance, the requirement of webcasting under regulation 44(6) of SEBI (Listing Obligation and Disclosure Requirements) Regulation, 2015.

We discuss the same as below.

Webcast vs Video conferencing

The very basic differentiation in the term webcast and video conferencing is that, the former only provides one-way participation rights but the later provides for a two-way communication. In reference to providing webcasting facility during the AGM, the shareholders can only watch and listen to the proceedings of the meeting but cannot participate in voting or ask queries whereas in video conferencing the shareholders have complete participation as in case of a physical general meeting. Webcasting is merely “live streaming” of the AGM.

Intent of webcast

The requirement for providing webcast facility was recommended by Kotak Committee[4] on Corporate Governance which provided:

“Reg 44A. Meetings of shareholders

The top 100 listed entities by market capitalization, determined as on March 31 of every financial year, shall provide one-way live webcast of the proceedings of all shareholder meetings held on or after April 1, 2018

The aforesaid recommendation was in addition to the recommendation w.r.t. e-voting facility which as per the existing provision of law, is closed at 5 p.m. of the previous day of the meeting, however, the committee recommended to shift the closure of e-voting facility to the day of meeting itself. The intent behind the recommendation was that the e-voting timeline expires before the meeting is held, accordingly, shareholders not attending the meetings in person are unable to take into account discussions at the meeting in order to make informed decisions.

Whereas, SEBI accepted the recommendations made by the Kotak Committee on 9th May, 2018 w.r.t. webcasting facility and inserted a new sub-regulation, however, the recommendation w.r.t e-voting is still in draft form. The provisions relating to webcast were made applicable to top 100 listed entities from 1st April, 2019.

The whole intent of conducting annual general meetings is the indispensable right to the shareholders of companies to meet the directors and auditors of the Company, at least once in a year. This has been the feature of corporate laws over the decades – based on the fact that the “managers” (directors) at least face the “owners” (shareholders) once. The law therefore, mandates physical meetings. However, with the rise of technology, call it necessity or evolution, the law embraced e-voting as a recognised means of voting (but not participation). Later, SEBI introduced the concept of providing one-way webcast facility for shareholders so as to increase participation of shareholders at meeting (though one-way).

The data shows that attendance of shareholders at AGMs is even less than 5% of total number of shareholders at Meeting. Further, most of the shareholders (especially those residing in state other than where the AGM is conducted) find it more feasible to vote by way of e-voting. In the data[5] below, we can observe that on an average 95% of members of some well reputed companies vote through e-voting while on-site voting percentage is negligible. Therefore, it can be said, that the members do not really depend on meeting discussions to take a decision. However, webcast enables them to be apprised of the conduct of the meeting, shareholder queries, concerns, etc. raised at the meeting, etc.

Globally, countries like United States of America, Canada, United Kingdom, France, China and many such countries have permitted conducting meeting through video conferencing during the crisis. Further, the concept of webcasting is new for India. However, for many foreign countries including those named above have included providing of webcasting facility in shareholder’s meeting as a requirement of law.

Webcast facility in virtual AGM, whether required?

Now, the question is, where the AGM has itself gone ‘virtual’ (as mentioned above), is there really a requirement of webcasting? Note that SEBI has not provided any relaxation from webcasting as such.

It may be noted that video conferencing is nothing but participation through electronic means by shareholders remotely i.e. other than the venue of AGM. Therefore, where the company has already provided the facility of video conferencing to shareholders, webcast may not actually be needed. The purpose which the webcast intends to serve (dissipation of conduct of meeting) is well-served by the video-conferencing. In fact, in webcast the shareholders get only participation rights i.e. to hear and view the proceedings of meeting. However, in case of virtual AGM, the shareholders are provided with two-way participation rights i.e. can speak as well. Hence, provided two options, the shareholders will mostly opt for the latter.

The webcast, however, can be of relevance where the participation capacity is limited. In this regard, MCA circular dated 8th April, 2020 has prescribed minimum capacity allowance by companies conducting virtual AGM. For companies that are required to provide e-voting facility has to arrange capacity of minimum 1000 members at virtual AGM on first come first basis. This limit is minimum 500 members for companies not required to provide e-voting facility. Hence, the platform for conducting virtual AGM should provide for aforesaid minimum.

We all know that mostly large companies have lakhs of shareholders.  Therefore, if companies restrict the entry of shareholders on first come first basis i.e. does not allow participation right to all shareholders in virtual AGM (due to software limitations, etc.), in that case webcast facility should be provided (if required). However, if companies do not restrict any shareholder from participation in virtual AGM and is open for all shareholders irrespective of the number, in such cases providing separate facility for webcast may turn out to be a futile exercise.

[1] http://www.mca.gov.in/Ministry/pdf/Circular20_05052020.pdf

[2] http://www.mca.gov.in/Ministry/pdf/Circular17_13042020.pdf

[3] https://www.mca.gov.in/Ministry/pdf/Circular14_08042020.pdf

[4] https://www.sebi.gov.in/reports/reports/oct-2017/report-of-the-committee-on-corporate-governance_36177.html

[5]Source: https://www.livemint.com/opinion/online-views/covid-19-need-to-re-look-at-pre-digital-era-compliances-under-companies-act-11588585274712.html

Virtual Conference on Impact of RBI’s Moratorium on PTC Transactions

The Agenda and details of the Video Conference:

Brief note on the Video Conference:

Presentation used in the Video Conference:

 

 

 

 

Webinar on Assignment of receivables: By Vinod Kothari

Date: 9th April, 2020 at 5.30 pm, India time. Will run for about 1 ½ to 2 hours.

Where: On the internet, via Zoom meetings

Who can attend: Legal professionals, banking and financial sector professionals, trustees, factoring entities dealing with assignment of receivables. Except for parts which are focused on India [RBI guidelines, factoring law], content of this webinar is suitable for international participants too.

Whether interactive: Yes. Participants may post queries, either in advance or at the time of webinar. Participants may, based on feasibility, also be allowed to speak.

Cost/fees: We are not meaning to charge any fee; however, we request participants to contribute whatever they can/want, to PM Cares Fund [https://www.pmindia.gov.in/en/]. You may contribute before or after the webinar, but please do not forget to send us the confirmation.

Contents:

  • Assignment as the basis for several financial transactions –factoring, securitisation, direct assignment, sale of NPAs, etc.
  • Meaning of assignment – assignment of receivables vs assignment of contract; Assignment by sale and assignment by way of security interest.
  • Assignment, novation, variation, endorsement of negotiable instruments, transfer of debt securities.
  • Partial assignment, assignment of future receivables.
  • Assignment and factoring law. intent of factoring as a value-added service
  • Meaning and context of “true sale”. Factors destructive of a true sale.
  • Direct assignments and securitisation – RBI’s guidelines. Assignment of a portfolio vs. assignment of stand alone assets.
  • Assignment-back of receivables assigned – unwinding of assignment transactions.
  • Stamp duty on assignment of receivables.

For registration – Drop a mail to kanak@vinodkothari.com . Please send mail from your official mail ID. The webinar has limited capacity – hence, we may have to use discretion to accept registration requests.