A new requirement or reiteration by the RBI?
– Anita Baid (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Ever since its evolution, the basic need for fintech entities has been the use of electronic platforms for entering into financial transactions. The financial sector has already witnessed a shift from transactions involving huge amount of paper-work to paperless transactions. With the digitalization of transactions, the need for service providers has also seen a rise. There is a need for various kinds of service providers at different stages including sourcing, customer identification, disbursal of loan, servicing and maintenance of customer data. Usually the services are being provided by a single platform entity enabling them to execute the entire transaction digitally on the platform or application, without requiring any physical interaction between the parties to the transaction.
The digital application/platform based lending model in India works as a partnership between a tech platform entity and an NBFC. The technology platform entity or fintech entity manages the working of the application or website through the use of advanced technology to undertake credit appraisals, while the financial entity, such as a bank or NBFC, assumes the credit risk on its balance sheet by lending to the customers who use the digital platform.
In recent times many digital platforms have emerged in the financial sector who are being engaged by banks and NBFCs to provide loans to their customers. Most of these platforms are not registered as P2P lending platform since they assist only banks, NBFCs and other regulated AIFIs to identify borrowers. Accordingly, electronic platforms serving as Direct Service Agents (DSA)/ Business Correspondents for banks and/or NBFCs fall outside the purview of the NBFC-P2P Directions. Banks and NBFCs have th following options to lend-
- By direct physical interface or
- Through their own digital platforms or
- Through a digital lending platform under an outsourcing arrangement.
The digitalization of credit intermediation process though is beneficial for both borrowers as well as lenders however, concerns were raised due to non-transparency of transactions and violation of extant guidelines on outsourcing of financial services and Fair Practices Code. The RBI has also been receiving several complaints against the lending platforms which primarily relate to exorbitant interest rates, non-transparent methods to calculate interest, harsh recovery measures, unauthorised use of personal data and bad behavior. The existing outsourcing guidelines issued by RBI for banks and NBFCs clearly state that the outsourcing of any activity by NBFC does not diminish its obligations, and those of its Board and senior management, who have the ultimate responsibility for the outsourced activity. Considering the same, the RBI has again emphasized on the need to comply with the regulatory instructions on outsourcing, FPC and IT services.
We have discussed the instructions laid down by RBI and the implications herein below-
Disclosure of platform as agent
The RBI requires banks and NBFCs to disclose the names of digital lending platforms engaged as agents on their respective website. This is to ensure that the customers are aware that the lender may approach them through these lending platforms or the customer may approach the lender through them.
However, there are arrangements wherein the platform is not appointed as an agent as such. This is quite common in case of e-commerce website who provide an option to the borrower at the time of check out to avail funding from the listed banks or NBFCs. This may actually not be regarded as outsourcing per se since once the customer selects the option to avail finance through a particular financial entity, they are redirected to the website or application of the respective lender. The e-commerce platform is not involved in the entire process of the financial transaction between the borrower and the lender. In our view, such an arrangement may not be required to be disclosed as an agent of the lender.
Disclosure of lender’s name
Just like the lender is required to disclose the name of the agent, the agent should also disclose the name of the actual lender. RBI has directed the digital lending platforms engaged as agents to disclose upfront to the customer, the name of the bank or NBFC on whose behalf they are interacting with them.
Several fintech platforms are involved in balance sheet lending. Here, the lending happens from the balance sheet of the lender however, the fintech entity is the one assuming the risk associated with the transaction. Lender’s money is used to lend to customers which shows up as an asset on the balance sheet of the lending entity. However, the borrower may not be aware about who the actual lender is and sees the platform as the interface for providing the facility.
Considering the risk of incomplete disclosure of facts the RBI mandates the disclosure of the lender’s name to the borrower. In this regard, the loan agreement or the GTC must clearly specify the name of the actual lender and in case of multiple lender, the name along with the loan proportion must be specified.
Issuance of sanction letter
Another requirement prescribed by the RBI is that immediately after sanction but before execution of the loan agreement, a sanction letter should be issued to the borrower on the letter head of the bank/ NBFC concerned.
Issue a sanction letter to the borrower on the letterhead of the NBFC may seem illogical since the lending happens on the online platform. The sanction letter may be shared either through email or vide an in-app notification or otherwise. Such sanction letter shall be issued on the platform itself immediately after sanction but before execution of the loan agreement.
Further, the FPC requires lender NBFCs to display annualised interest rates in all their communications with the borrowers. However, most of the NBFCs show monthly interest rates in the name of their ‘marketing strategy’. This practice though have not been highlighted by the RBI must be taken seriously.
Sharing of loan agreement
The FPC laid down by RBI requires that a copy of the loan agreement along with a copy each of all enclosures quoted in the loan agreement must be furnished to all borrowers at the time of sanction/ disbursement of loans. However, in case of lending done over electronic platforms there is no physical loan agreement that is executed.
Given that e-agreements are generally held as valid and enforceable in the courts, there is no such insistence on execution of physical agreements. The electronic execution versions are more feasible in terms of cost and time involved. In fact in most of the cases, the loan agreements are mere General Terms and Conditions (GTC) in the form of click wrap agreements.
Usually, the terms and conditions of the loan or the GTC is displayed on the platform wherein the acceptance of the borrower is recorded. In such a circumstance, necessary arrangements should be made for the borrower to peruse the loan agreement at any time. The loan agreement may also be in the form of a mail containing detailed terms and conditions, along with an option for the borrower to accept the same.
The requirement from compliance perspective is to ensure that the borrower has access to the executed loan agreement and all the terms and conditions pertaining to the loan are captured therein.
Monitoring by the lender
Effective oversight and monitoring should be ensured over the digital lending platforms engaged by the banks/ NBFCs. As RBI does not regulate the platform entities, hence the only way to regulate the transaction is though the lenders behind these platforms.
The outsourcing guidelines require the retention of ultimate control of the outsourced activity with the lender. Further, the platform should not impede or interfere with the ability of the NBFC to effectively oversee and manage its activities nor shall it impede the RBI in carrying out its supervisory functions and objectives. These should be captured in the servicing agreement as well as be implemented practically.
Grievance Redressal Mechanism (GRM)
Much of the new-age lending is enabled by automated lending platforms of fintech companies. The fintech company is the sourcing partner, and the NBFC is the funding partner. However, the grievance of the customer may range from issue with the usage of platform to the non-disclosure of the terms of loan.
A challenge that may arise is to segregate the grievance on the basis of who is responsible for the same- the platform or the lender. There must be proper mechanism to ensure such segregation and adequate efforts shall be made towards creation of awareness about the grievance redressal mechanism.
 Read our detailed write up here- http://vinodkothari.com/2020/03/moving-to-contactless-lending/
 Read our detailed write up here- http://vinodkothari.com/2020/03/fintech-regulatory-responses-to-finnovation/
 RBI’s FAQs on P2P lending platform- https://www.rbi.org.in/Scripts/FAQView.aspx?Id=124
 Read our detailed write up here- http://vinodkothari.com/2019/09/the-cult-of-easy-borrowing/