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2020 – Year of changes for AIFs

Timothy Lopes – Senior Executive                                                                             CS Harshil Matalia – Assistant Manager

finserv@vinodkothari.com

The year 2020 – ‘Year of pandemic’, rather we can say the year of astonishing events for everyone over the globe. Without any doubt, this year has also been a roller coaster ride for Alternative Investment Funds (‘AIFs’) with several changes in the regulatory framework governing AIFs in India.

Recent Regulatory Changes for AIFs

In continuation to the stream of changes, Securities Exchange Board of India (‘SEBI’), in its board meeting dated September 29, 2020, has approved certain amendments to the SEBI (Alternative Investment Funds) Regulations, 2012 (‘AIF Regulations’). The said amendments have been notified by the SEBI vide notification dated October 19, 2020. The following article throws some light on SEBI (AIFs) Amendment Regulations, 2020 (‘Amendment Regulations’) and tries to analyse its impact on AIFs.

Clarification on Eligibility Criteria

Regulation 4 of AIF Regulations prescribes eligibility criteria for obtaining registration as AIF with SEBI. Prior to the amendment,  Regulation 4(g), provided as follows:

“4 (g) the key investment team of the Manager of Alternative Investment Fund has adequate experience, with at least one key personnel having not less than five years experience in advising or managing pools of capital or in fund or asset or wealth or portfolio management or in the business of buying, selling and dealing of securities or other financial assets and has relevant professional qualification;”

The amended provision to 4 (g) extends the meaning of relevant professional qualification, the effect of which seems to add more qualitative criteria to the management team of the AIF, to be evaluated  at the time of grant of certification. The newly amended section 4(g) of the AIF Regulations reads as follow:

“(g) The key investment team of the Manager of Alternative Investment Fund has –

  • adequate experience, with at least one key personnel having not less than five years of experience in advising or managing pools of capital or in fund or asset or wealth or portfolio management or in the business of buying, selling and dealing of securities or other financial assets; and
  • at least one key personnel with professional qualification in finance, accountancy, business management, commerce, economics, capital market or banking from a university or an institution recognized by the Central Government or any State Government or a foreign university, or a CFA charter from the CFA institute or any other qualification as may be specified by the Board:

Provided that the requirements of experience and professional qualification as specified in regulation 4(g)(i) and 4(g)(ii) may also be fulfilled by the same key personnel.”

It is apparent from the prima facie comparison of language that the key investment team of the Manager may have one key person with five years of experience (quantitative) as well as a personnel holding professional qualification (qualitative) from institutions recognised under the regulation. Further, clarity has been appended in form of proviso to the section that quantitative and qualitative requirements could be met by either one person, or it could be achieved collectively by more than one person in the fund.

With this elaboration, SEBI has harmonized the qualification requirements as that with the requirement specified for other intermediaries such as Investment Advisers, Research Analysts etc. in their respective regulations. Detailed prescription on degrees and qualifications for AIF registration by SEBI is a conferring move and is expected to aid as a clear pre-requisite on expectations of SEBI from prospective applications for registration of the fund.

Formation of Investment Committee

Regulation 20 of AIF Regulations specifies general obligations of AIFs. Erstwhile, the responsibility of making investment decisions was upon the manager of AIFs. It has been noticed by the SEBI from the disclosures made in draft Private Placement Memorandums (‘PPMs’) filed by AIFs for launch of new schemes, that generally Managers prefer to constitute an Investment Committee to be involved in the process of taking investment decisions for the AIF. However, there was no corresponding obligation in the AIF Regulations explicitly recognizing the ‘Investment Committee’ to take investment decisions for AIFs. Such Investment Committees may comprise of internal or external members such as employees/directors/partners of the Manager, nominees of the Sponsor, employees of Group Companies of the Sponsor/ Manager, domain experts, investors or their nominees etc.

These  amendments are based on the recommendations to SEBI to recognize the practice followed by AIFs to delegate decision making to the Investment Committee.[1] The rationale behind amendments to AIF Regulations is based on the following merits as proposed in the recommendations::

  1. Presence of investors or Sponsors or their nominees in an Investment Committee which may serve to improve the due diligence carried out by the Manager, as they are stakeholders in the AIF’s investments.
  2. Presence of functional resources from affiliate/group companies of the Manager (legal advisor, compliance advisor, financial advisor etc.) in the Investment Committee may be useful to ensure compliance with all applicable laws.
  3. Presence of domain experts in the committee may provide comfort to the investors regarding suitability of the investment decisions, as the investment team of the Manager may not have domain expertise in all industries/ sectors where the fund proposes to invest.

Thus, the insertion was made, giving the option to the Manager to constitute an investment committee subject to the following conditions laid down in the newly inserted sub-regulation, i.e. Regulation 20(6) of the AIF Regulations given below –

  1. The members of the Investment Committee shall be equally responsible as the Manager for investment decisions of the AIF.
  2. The Manager and members of the Investment Committee shall jointly and severally ensure that the investments of the AIF comply with the provisions of AIF Regulations, the terms of the placement memorandum, agreement made with the investor, any other fund documents and any other applicable law.
  3. External members whose names are not disclosed in the placement memorandum or agreement made with the investor or any other fund documents at the time of on-boarding investors shall be appointed to the Investment Committee only with the consent of at least seventy five percent of the investors by value of their investment in the Alternative Investment Fund or scheme.
  4. Any other conditions as specified by the SEBI from time to time.

The constitution of investment committee is a global standard practice followed by the Funds. However, funds structure in India might be altered with the new defining role of investment committee under the AIF Regulations. The investment committee generally comprises of nominees of large investors in the fund and at times other external independent professional bodies that act as a consenting body towards prospective deals of the fund. The amendment will alter the role of investors holding positions at investment committee as the new defining role might deter them from taking underlying obligations. From the funds perspective seeking external independent professionals might get costly as there is an obligation introduced by way of this amendment regulation. Further, it casts an onus on the investment committee to be involved in day to day functioning of the fund, which used to be otherwise (where members were usually involved in mere finalising the deals).  Lateral entry of the members to investment committee post placement of memorandum with the consent of investors is aimed at greater transparency in funds functioning.

Test for indirect foreign investment by an AIF

As per Clause 4 of Schedule VIII of FEMA (Non-Debt Instrument) Rules, 2019 (‘NDI Rules’) any investment made by an Investment Vehicle into an Indian entity shall be reckoned as indirect foreign investment for the investee Indian entity if the Sponsor or the Manager or the Investment Manager –

(i) is not owned and not controlled by resident Indian citizens or;

(ii) is owned or controlled by persons resident outside India.

Therefore, in order to determine whether the investment made by AIFs in Indian entity is indirect foreign investment, it is essential to identify the nature of the Manager/Sponsor/investment manager, whether he is owned or controlled by a resident Indian citizen or person resident outside India.

RBI in its reply to SEBI’s query on downstream investment had clarified that since investment decisions of an AIF are taken by its Manager or Sponsor, the downstream investment guidelines for AIFs were focused on ownership and control of Manager or Sponsor. Thus, if the Manager or Sponsor is owned or controlled by a non-resident Indian citizen or by person resident outside India then investment made by such AIF shall be considered as indirect foreign investment.

Whether an investment decision made by the Investment Committee of AIF consisting of external members who are not Indian resident citizens would amount to indirect foreign investment?

In light of the above provisions of the NDI Rules and with the introduction of the concept of an “Investment Committee”, SEBI has sought clarification from the Government and RBI vide its letter dated September 07, 2020[2].

Conclusion

With the enhancement in eligibility criteria, SEBI has ensured that the investment management team of the AIF would have relevant expertise and required skill sets.

Further, giving recognition to the concept of an investment committee will cast an obligation on investment committee fiduciary like obligations towards all the investors in the fund. . However, there exists certain ambiguity under the NDI Rules, for applications wherein external members of investment committee who are not ‘resident Indian citizens’,   which is currently on hold and pending receipt of clarification.

[1] https://www.sebi.gov.in/sebi_data/meetingfiles/oct-2020/1602830063415_1.pdf

[2] https://www.sebi.gov.in/sebiweb/about/AboutAction.do?doBoardMeeting=yes

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Adding Strain to Injury: Amendments impose Additional procedural requirements for insolvency applications

Megha Mittal

(resolution@vinodkothari.com)

On 24th September, 2020, the Ministry of Corporate Affairs notified the Insolvency and Bankruptcy (Application to Adjudicating Authority) (Amendment) Rules, 2020 (“Amendment Rules”)[1] in exercise of its powers under section 239 of the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016 (“Code”), thereby requiring an advance copy of all applications filed before under section 7, 9 or 10 of the Code, to be served to the Corporate Debtor and the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Board of India (“IBBI”).

By way of the said Amendment Rules, it is now required that-

  • An application intended to be filed under section 7, 9 or 10, has to be served to the Corporate Debtor and the Board, prior to filing before the Adjudicating Authority (“AA”)
  • The application filed before the AA must contain a proof of service to the Corporate Debtor and the Board;
  • Disclosure by the Insolvency Professional (IP) with respect to the ongoing assignments at the time of filing;
  • The application to be filed by the Operational Creditor must contain a certificate by the bank/ financial institution, where the creditor has its accounts, with respect to the sums which have been received by the Operational Creditor from the Corporate Debtor.

In this Article, we analyse the Amendment Rules, more specifically the requirement of advance notice, and its implications.

Service of the Application- ensuring a fair chance to be heard

NCLT and Principles of Natural Justice

The NCLT is a quasi-judicial body, constituted under section 408 of the Companies Act, 2013, and is subject to powers and duties set out under the National Company Tribunal Rules, 2016, as well as the Companies Act- One such duty is to ensure that the Rules of Natural Justice are abided by[2].

The Rules of Natural Justice, viz, (i) Rules against bias[3]; and (ii) the right to be heard[4] are not derived from any statute or constitution- it is based on common and moral law to ensure there is no contempt of justice. One of the components of the right to be heard is a “proper notice”, which ensures that the person who would be affected upon filing of the application is given notice of such filing to show cause against the proposed action. As such, whenever an application is filed, under any statute, or before any authority, it is a pre-requisite to serve an advance copy to the respondent.

Hence, the requirement to serve an advance copy of the application, to the corporate debtor existed prior to the Amendment Rules.

Additional service upon IBBI

The Amendment Rules now provide that an advance copy of the application has to be served on the Board as well, which in the humble view of the Author, seems to be a superfluous requirement.

First, the Central Government (MCA) has failed to provide any stated objectives or purpose behind such a requirement. While it may be argued that the same is for ensuring proper records and data, it must be noted that those applications which are eventually admitted, are anyway required to be informed to Board. The extant reporting requirement under the IBBI (Insolvency Process for Corporate Persons), Regulations, 2016 (“CIRP Regulations”), inter-alia intimation to IBBI in Form A, disclosure requirements forms CIRP-1, already ensure that sufficient information is provided to the Board to execute its functions as such.

However, if the objective behind such additional requirement was merely record keeping, the same could have also been provided for by integration or a simple cross-linking process with the already existing data rooms, from where the regulatory bodies may extract information as and when required. For instance, the e-filing portal of NCLT may make necessary arrangements such that once an application is filed on the portal, the information regarding such filing is simultaneously given to the Board.

Such a set-up would not only fulfil the understandable objective behind the Amendment Rules, but only waive off this additional burden levied upon the applicants. This would also be in concurrence with consistent suggestions of stakeholders towards creation of a common repository of data related to the Code.

It further remains unanswered whether in case of any supplementary filing and/ or rectified filing upon directions of the Bench, such advance service would be required again? In absence of any stated objective behind such Amendments, it would be difficult to comment if at all such re-servicing of a copy of the application would be required.

Readers may recall that a similar requirement of impleading the MCA in all applications filed under the Code was made mandatory by an order of the Hon’ble NCLT, Principal Bench, dated 22.11.2019[5] but later on nullified by an over-ruling order of the Appellate Tribunal[6] as one leading to duplicity of information and records. Similarly, the requirement of advance notice to the Board seems to be of a similar nature, and hence, in view of the Author, should not be added as a mandate.

Other Amendments

In addition to the service requirements as discussed above, the Amendment Rules also introduce further reporting obligations on the IPs and the Operational Creditors- the same has been discussed herein below-

Reporting of ongoing assignments by IPs

The Amendment Regulations, by way of an additional clause in Form 2, now requires that while giving consent to act as an RP, the Insolvency Professional must disclose the number of ongoing assignments that s/he has undertaking as on the day of filing of application.

In view of the Author, while the same is not required as information of similar nature is already required to be provided in Form IP-1. Hence, the same may be removed for the sake of brevity.

Obtaining Certificate by Banks/ Financial Institutions

As per Form 5 under Rule 6, of the NCLT Rules, an application filed by an operational creditor, other than creditors having their account with a foreign bank/ institution, must annex a copy of the relevant accounts from the banks/financial institutions maintaining accounts of the operational creditor confirming that there is no payment of the relevant unpaid operational debt by the operational debtor,if available.

 Hence, the operational creditors could simply self-certify their bank statements and submit the same on affidavit, as being a part of the application.

However, the Amendment Rules have substituted the above requirement with a new form, namely Form 5A, which is a certificate required to be obtained from the bank/ financial institution that the amount for which the application is being filed, has not been received by the creditor.

The Author is of the view that the said requirement would only lead to needless complication and delays. This would not only impose an additional requirement upon the creditors, but would also burden the banks/ financial institutions who may receive requests for such certificate in large volumes. Hence, it is suggested that the earlier modus shall continue, and the requirement of such certificate may be done away with.

Further, it is also pertinent to note that recent amendment in section 4 of the Code, whereby the minimum default amount for filing an application under the Code, was increased from Rs. 1 lakhs to Rs. 1 crore already led to a massive sweep-out of OCs from the purview of IBC. Further procedural burden, for example requirement of a bank certificate, would only make recourse a tougher for the OCs.

Implications

From the discussion above, we can gather that a common element through-out the Amendment Rules is increased disclosure/ reporting/procedural requirements. The Author humbly states that while the consistent efforts of the Government and Board, and the common suggestions from the stakeholders has been directed towards easing the superfluous, more-than-needed reporting and disclosure requirement, the Amendment Rules come as a complete deviation.

While the objectives, purpose of advance service is neither explicitly stated not implied from the text, it must be noted that the same is not a substitution of existing regulations, but an additional requirement for concerns already covered. The Amendments infact lead to elongated procedures, which do not serve any additional purpose.

In this pretext the Author is of the humble view that the Amendment Rules do not provide any ease, clarification and/ or assistance in the filing process. As such, the Central Government may consider a roll-back of the same.


[1] https://www.ibbi.gov.in/uploads/legalframwork/27e336abe5b5328297a2ba5b35b39fac.pdf

[2] Sec 424 (1) of the Companies Act, 2013

[3] Nemo judex causa in sua

[4] Audi Alteram Partem

[5] Read our views on this order, in our article- http://vinodkothari.com/2019/11/mandatory-impleadment-of-mca-as-a-respondent/

[6] By an order dated 22.05.2020

Amendments in SEBI (PIT) Regulations, 2015: From April, 2019 to July, 2020

corplaw@vinodkothari.com

Watch our Youtube video for the subject: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ly3KaQblJBE

 

Ablution by Resolution

The Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (Second Amendment) Bill, 2019 seeks to wash out liability of corporate debtors resolved under IBC

-Sikha Bansal (resolution@vinodkothari.com)

 

Resolution under the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016 (‘Code’) is a harbinger of fresh start of the corporate debtor, which passes into the control of a new management by the very application of section 29A. The fresh start would have no meaning if the corporate debtor or the new management thereof have to bear the brunt of offences which the corporate debtor or its officers committed prior to ablution under the Code – that is, one cannot be made to reap what they did not sow. As such, it was important to provide immunity to the corporate debtor and its assets, the successful resolution applicant and the new management personnel.

Read more