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RBI to strengthen corporate governance for Core Investment Companies.

Vinod Kothari

As a part of the Bi-monthly Monetary Policy on 6th June, 2019, the RBI’s review of Development and Regulatory Policies [https://rbi.org.in/Scripts/BS_PressReleaseDisplay.aspx?prid=47226] proposed to set up a working group to strengthen the regulatory framework for core investment companies (CICs). The RBI states: “Over the years, corporate group structures have become more complex involving multiple layering and leveraging, which has led to greater inter-connectedness to the financial system through their access to public funds. Further, in light of recent developments, there is a need to strengthen the corporate governance framework of CICs. Accordingly, it has been decided to set up a Working Group to review the regulatory guidelines and supervisory framework applicable to CICs.”

Core investment companies are group holding vehicles, which hold equities of operating or financial companies in a business group. These companies also give financial support in form of loans to group companies. However, CICs are barred from dealing with companies outside the group or engaging in any other business operation.

Currently as per the data as on 30th April, 2019, there are only 58 registered CICs in the country. There may be some unregistered CICs as well, since those not having “public funds” do not require registration.

If a CIC is not holding “public funds” (a broad term that includes bank loans, inter-corporate deposits, NCDs, CP, etc.), the CIC is exempt from registration requirement. Presumably such CICs are also excluded from any regulatory sanctions of the RBI as well. However, it is quite common for CICs to access bank loans or have other forms of debt for funding their investments. Such CICs require registration and come under the regulatory framework of the RBI, if their assets are worth Rs 100 crores or more.

Corporate governance norms applicable to systemically important NBFCs are currently not applicable to CICs.

The RBI has observed that CICs are engaged in layering of leverage. This observation is correct, as very often, banks and other lenders might have lent to CICs. The CICs, with borrowed money, use the same for infusing capital at the operating level below, which, once again, becomes the basis for leveraging. Thus, leveraged funds become basis for leverage, thereby creating multiple layers of leverage.

While agreeing with the contention of the RBI, one would like to mention that currently, the regulatory definition of CICs is so stringent that many of the group holding companies qualify as “investment companies” (now, credit and investment companies) and not CICs. There is a need to reduce the qualifying criteria for definition of CICs to 50% of investments in equities of group companies. This would ensure that a large number of “investment companies” will qualify as CICs, based on predominance of their investments, and would be viewed and regulated as such.

Prominent among the registered CICs are entities like Tata Sons, L&T Finance Holdings, JSW Investments, etc. The extension of corporate governance norms to CICs is unlikely to benefit any, but impact all.

The Reserve Bank has accordingly constituted the Working Group to Review Regulatory and Supervisory Framework for Core Investment Companies on 3rd July, 2019 [https://rbidocs.rbi.org.in/rdocs/PressRelease/PDFs/PR43DDEE37027375423E989F2C08B3491F4F.PDF]. The Terms of Reference (ToR) of the Working Group are given below:

  • To examine the current regulatory framework for CICs in terms of adequacy, efficacy and effectiveness of every component thereof and suggest changes therein.
  • To assess the appropriateness of and suggest changes to the current approach of the Reserve Bank of India towards registration of CICs including the practice of multiple CICs being allowed within a group.
  • To suggest measures to strengthen corporate governance and disclosure requirements for CICs
  • To assess the adequacy of supervisory returns submitted by CICs and suggest changes therein
  • To suggest appropriate measures to enhance RBI’s off-sight surveillance and on-site supervision over CICs.
  • Any other matter incidental to the above.

As per the press release, the Working Group shall submit its report by October 31, 2019.