FAQs on refund of interest on interest

-Financial Services Division (finserv@vinodkothari.com)

The Supreme Court of India (‘SC’ or ‘Court’) had given its judgment in the matter of Small Scale Industrial Manufacturers Association vs UOI & Ors. and other connected matters on March 23, 2021. The said order of SC put an end to an almost ten months-long legal scuffle that started with the plea for a complete waiver of interest but edged towards waiver of interest on interest, that is, compound interest, charged by lenders during Covid moratorium.  While there is no clear sense of direction as to who shall bear the burden of interest on interest for the period commencing from 01 March 2020 till 31 August 2020. The Indian Bank’s Association (IBA) has made representation to the government to take on the burden of additional interest, as directed under the Supreme Court judgment. While there is currently no official response from the Government’s side in this regard, at least in the public domain in respect to who shall bear the interest on interest as directed by SC. Nevertheless, while the decision/official response from the Government is awaited, the RBI issued a circular dated April 07, 2021, directing lending institutions to abide by SC judgment.[1] Meanwhile, the IBA in consultation with banks, NBFCs, FICCI, ICAI, and other stakeholders have adopted a guideline with a uniform methodology for a refund of interest on interest/compound interest/penal interest.

We have earlier covered the ex-gratia scheme in detail in our FAQs titled ‘Compound interest burden taken over by the Central Government: Lenders required to pass on benefit to borrowers’ – Vinod Kothari Consultants>

In this write-up, we have aimed to briefly cover some of the salient aspects of the RBI circular in light of SC judgment and advisory issued by IBA.

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Understanding regulatory intricacies of Payment Aggregator business

-Siddarth Goel (finserv@vinodkothari.com)

Abstract

The penetration of electronic retail payments has witnessed a steep surge in the overall payment volumes during the latter half of the last decade. One of the reasons accorded to this sharp rise in electronic payments is the exponential growth in online merchant acquisition space. An online merchant is involved in marketing and selling its goods and/or services through a web-based platform. The front-end transaction might seem like a simple buying-selling transaction of goods or services between a buyer (customer) and a seller (merchant). However, the essence of this buying-selling transaction lies in the payment mode or methodology of making/accepting payments adopted between the customer and the merchant. One of the most common ways of payment acceptance is that the merchant establishes its own payment integration mechanism with a bank such that customers are enabled to make payments through different payment instruments. In such cases, the banks are providing payment aggregator services, but the market is limited usually to the large merchants only. Alternatively, merchants can rely upon third-party service providers (intermediary) that facilitate payment collection from customers on behalf of the merchant and thereafter remittance services to the merchant at the subsequent stage – this is regarded as a payment aggregation business.

The first guidelines issued by the RBI governing the merchant and payment intermediary relationship was in the year 2009[1]. Over the years, the retail payment ecosystem has transformed and these intermediaries, participating in collection and remittance of payments have acquired the market-used terminology ‘Payment Aggregators’. In order to regulate the operations of such payment intermediaries, the RBI had issued detailed Guidelines on Regulation of Payment Aggregators and Payment Gateways, on March 17, 2020. (‘PA Guidelines’)

The payment aggregator business has become a forthcoming model in the online retail payments ecosystem. During an online retail payment by a customer, at the time of checkout vis-à-vis a payment aggregator, there are multiple parties involved. The contractual parties in one single payment transaction are buyer, payment aggregator, payment gateway, merchant’s bank, customer’s bank, and such other parties, depending on the payment mechanism in place. The rights and obligations amongst these parties are determined ex-ante, owing to the sensitivity of the payment transaction. Further, the participants forming part of the payment system chain are regulated owing to their systemic interconnectedness along with an element of consumer protection.

This write-up aims to discuss the intricacies of the regulatory framework under PA Guidelines adopted by the RBI to govern payment aggregators and payment gateways operating in India. The first part herein attempts to depict growth in electronic payments in India along with the turnover data by volumes of the basis of payment instruments used. The second part establishes a contrast between payment aggregator and payment gateway and gives a broad overview of a payment transaction flow vis-à-vis payment aggregator. The third part highlights the provisions of the PA Guidelines and establishes the underlying internationally accepted best principles forming the basis of the regulation. The principles are imperative to understand the scope of regulation under PA Guidelines and the contractual relationship between parties forming part of the payment chain.

Market Dynamics

The RBI in its report stated that the leverage of technology through the use of mobile/internet electronic retail payment space constituted around 61% share in terms of volume and around 75% in share in terms of value during FY 19-20.[2] The innovative payment instruments in the retail payment space, have led to this surge in electronic payments. Out of all the payment instruments, the UPI is the most innovative payment instrument and is the spine for growth in electronic payments systems in India. Chart 1 below compares some of the prominent payment instruments in terms of their volumes and overall compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) over the period of three years.

The payment system data alone does not show the complete picture. In conformity with the rise in electronic payment volumes, as per the Government estimates the overall online retail market is set to cross the $ 200 bn figure by 2026 from $ 30 bn in 2019, at an expected CAGR of 30 %.[4] India ranks No. 2 in the Global Retail Development Index (GRDI) in 2019. It would not be wrong to say, the penetration of electronic payments could be due to the presence of more innovative products, or the growth of online retail has led to this surge in electronic payments.

What are Payment Aggregators and Payment Gateways?

The terms Payment Aggregator (‘PA’) and Payment Gateways (‘PG’) are at times used interchangeably, but there are differences on the basis of the function being performed. Payment Aggregator performs merchant on-boarding process and receives/collects funds from the customers on behalf of the merchant in an escrow account. While the payment gateways are the entities that provide technology infrastructure to route and/or facilitate the processing of online payment transactions. There is no actual handling of funds by the payment gateway, unlike payment aggregators. The payment aggregator is a front-end service, while the payment gateway is the back-end technology support. These front-end and back-end services are not mutually exclusive, as some payment aggregators offer both. But in cases where the payment aggregator engages a third-party service provider, the payment gateways are the ‘outsourcing partners’ of payment aggregators. Thereby such payments are subject to RBI’s outsourcing guidelines.

PA Transaction Flow

One of the most sought-after electronic payments in the online buying-selling marketplace is the payment systems supported by PAs. The PAs are payment intermediaries that facilitate e-commerce sites and merchants in accepting various payment instruments from their customers. A payment instrument is nothing but a means through which a payment order or an instruction is sent by a payer, instructing to pay the payee (payee’s bank). The familiar payment instruments through which a payment aggregator accepts payment orders could be credit cards, debit cards/PPIs, UPI, wallets, etc.

Payment aggregators are intermediaries that act as a bridge between the payer (customer) and the payee (merchant). The PAs enable a customer to pay directly to the merchant’s bank through various payment instruments. The process flow of each payment transaction between a customer and the merchant is dependent on the instrument used for making such payment order. Figure 1 below depicts the payment transaction flow of an end-to-end non-bank PA model, by way of Unified Payment Interface (UPI) as a payment instrument.

In an end-to-end model, the PA uses the clearing and settlement network of its partner bank. The clearing and settlement of the transaction are dependent on the payment instrument being used. The UPI is the product of the National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI), therefore the payment system established by NPCI is also quintessential in the transaction. The NPCI provides a clearing and settlement facility to the partner bank and payer’s bank through the deferred settlement process. Clearing of a payment order is transaction authorisation i.e., fund verification in the customer’s bank account with the payer’s bank. The customer/payer bank debits the customer’s account instantaneously, and PA’s bank transfers the funds to the PA’s account after receiving authorisation from NPCI. The PA intimates the merchant on receipt of payment and the merchant ships the goods to the customer. The inter-bank settlement (payer’s bank and PA’s partner bank) happens at a later stage via deferred net-settlement basis facility provided by the NPCI.

The first leg of the payment transaction is settled between the customer and PA once the PA receives the confirmation as to the availability of funds in the customer’s bank account. The partner bank of PA transfers the funds by debiting the account of PA maintained with it. The PA holds the exposure from its partner bank, and the merchant holds the exposure from the PA. This explains the logic of PA Guidelines, stressing on PAs to put in place an escrow mechanism and maintenance of ‘Core Portion’ with escrow bank. It is to safeguard the interest of the merchants onboarded by the PA. Nevertheless, in the second leg of the transaction, the merchant has its right to receive funds against the PA as per the pre-defined settlement cycle.

Regulatory approach towards PAs and PGs

The international standards and best practices on regulating Financial Market Infrastructure (FMI) are set out in CPSS-IOSCO principles of FMI (PFMI).[5] A Financial Market Infrastructure (FMI) is a multilateral system among participating institutions, including the operator of the system. The consumer protection aspects emerging from the payment aggregation business model, are regulated by these principles. Based on CPSS-IOSCO principles of (PFMI), the RBI has described designated FMIs, and released a policy document on regulation and supervision of FMIs in India under its regulation on FMIs in 2013.[6] The PFMI stipulates public policy objectives, scope, and key risks in financial market infrastructures such as systemic risk, legal risk, credit risk, general business risks, and operational risk. The Important Retail Payment Systems (IRPS) are identified on the basis of the respective share of the participants in the payment landscape.  The RBI has further sub-categorised retail payments FMIs into Other Retail Payment Systems (ORPS). The IRPS are subjected to 12 PFMI while the ORPS have to comply with 7 PFMIs. The PAs and PGs fall into the category of ORPS, regulatory principles governing them are classified as follows:

These principles of regulation are neither exclusive nor can said to be having a clear distinction amongst them, rather they are integrated and interconnected with one another. The next part discusses the broad intention of the principles above and the supporting regulatory clauses in PA Guidelines covering the same.

Legal Basis and Governance framework

The legal basis principle lays the foundation for relevant parties, to define the rights and obligations of the financial market institutions, their participants, and other relevant parties such as customers, custodians, settlement banks, and service providers. Clause 3 of PA Guidelines provides that authorisation criteria are based primarily on the role of the intermediary in the handling of funds. PA shall be a company incorporated in India under the Companies Act, 1956 / 2013, and the Memorandum of Association (MoA) of the applicant entity must cover the proposed activity of operating as a PA forms the legal basis. Henceforth, it is quintessential that agreements between PA, merchants, acquiring banks (PA’s Partners Bank), and all other stakeholders to the payment chain, clearly delineate the roles and responsibilities of the parties involved. The agreement should define the rights and obligations of the parties involved, (especially the nodal/escrow agreement between partner bank and payment aggregator). Additionally, the agreements between the merchant and payment aggregator as discussed later herein are fundamental to payment aggregator business. The PA’s business rests on clear articulation of the legal basis of the activities being performed by the payment aggregator with respect to other participants in the payment system, such as a merchant, escrow banks, in a clear and understandable way.

Comprehensive Management of Risk

The framework for the comprehensive management of risks provides for integrated and comprehensive view of risks. Therefore, this principle broadly entails comprehensive risk policies, procedures/controls, and participants to have robust information and control systems. Another connecting aspect of this principle is operational risk, arising from internal processes, information systems and disruption caused due to IT systems failure. Thus there is a need for payment aggregator to have robust systems, policies to identify, monitor and manage operational risks. Further to ensure efficiency and effectiveness, the principle entails to maintain appropriate standards of safety and security while meeting the requirements of participants involved in the payment chain. Efficiency is resources required by such payment system participants (PAs/PGs herein) to perform its functions. The efficiency includes designs to meet needs of participants with respect to choice of clearing and settlement transactions and establishing mechanisms to review efficiency and effectiveness. The operational risk are comprehensively covered under Annex 2 (Baseline Technology-related Recommendation) of the PA Guidelines. The Annex 2, inter alia includes, security standards, cyber security audit reports security controls during merchant on-boarding. These recommendations and compliances under the PA Guidelines stipulates standard norms and compliances for managing operational risk, that an entity is exposed to while performing functions linked to financial markets.

KYC and Merchant On-boarding Process

An important aspect of payment aggregator business covers merchant on-boarding policies and anti-money laundering (AML) and counter-terrorist financing (CFT) compliance. The BIS-CPSS principles do not govern within its ambits certain aspects like AML/CFT, customer data privacy. However, this has a direct impact on the businesses of the merchants, and customer protection. Additionally, other areas of regulation being data privacy, promotion of competition policy, and specific types of investor and consumer protections, can also play important roles while designing the payment aggregator business model. Nevertheless, the PA Guidelines provide for PAs to undertake KYC / AML / CFT compliance issued by RBI, as per the “Master Direction – Know Your Customer (KYC) Directions” and compliance with provisions of PML Act and Rules. The archetypal procedure of document verification while customer on-boarding process could include:

  • PA’s to have Board approved policy for merchant on-boarding process that shall, inter-alia, provide for collection of incorporation certificates, constitutional document (MoA/AoA), PAN and financial statements, tax returns and other KYC documents from the merchant.
  • PA’s should take background and antecedent checks of the merchants, to ensure that such merchants do not have any malafide intention of duping customers, do not sell fake/counterfeit/prohibited products, etc.

PAs shall ensure that the merchant’s site shall not save customer’s sensitive personal data, like card data and such related data. Agreement with merchant shall have provision for security/privacy of customer data.

Settlement and Escrow

The other critical facet of PA business is the settlement cycle of the PA with the merchants and the escrow mechanism of the PA with its partner bank. Para 8 of PA Guidelines provide for non-bank PAs to have an escrow mechanism with a scheduled bank and also to have settlement finality. Before understanding the settlement finality, it is important to understand the relevance of such escrow mechanisms in the payment aggregator business.

Escrow Account

Surely there is a bankruptcy risk faced by the merchants owing to the default by the PA service provider. This default risk arises post completion of the first leg of the payment transaction. That is, after the receipt of funds by the PA from the customer into its bank account. There is an ultimate risk of default by PA till the time there is final settlement of amount with the merchant. Hence, there is a requirement to maintain the amount collected by PA in an escrow account with any scheduled commercial bank. All the amounts received from customers in partner bank’s account, are to be remitted to escrow account on the same day or within one day, from the date amount is debited from the customer’s account (Tp+0/Tp+1). Here Tp is the date on which funds are debited from the customer’s bank account.  At end of the day, the amount in escrow of the PA shall not be less than the amount already collected from customer as per date of debit/charge to the customer’s account and/ or the amount due to the merchant. The same rules shall apply to the non-bank entities where wallets are used as a payment instrument.[7] This essentially means that PA entities should remit the funds from the PPIs and wallets service provider within same day or within one day in their respective escrow accounts. The escrow banks have obligation to ensure that payments are made only to eligible merchants / purposes and not to allow loans on such escrow amounts. This ensures ring fencing of funds collected by the PAs, and act as a deterrent for PAs from syphoning/diverting the funds collected on behalf of merchants. The escrow agreement function is essentially to provide bankruptcy remoteness to the funds collected by PA’s on behalf of merchants.

Settlement Finality

Settlement finality is the end-goal of every payment transaction. Settlement in general terms, is a discharge of an obligation with reference of the underlying obligation (whatever parties agrees to pay, in PA business it is usually INR). The first leg of the transaction involves collection of funds by the PA from the customer’s bank (originating bank) to the PA escrow account. Settlement of the payment transaction between the PA and merchant, is the second leg of the same payment transaction and commences once funds are received in escrow account set up by the PA (second leg of the transaction).

Settlement finality is the final settlement of payment instruction, i.e. from the customer via PA to the merchant. Final settlement is where a transfer is irrevocable and unconditional. It is a legally defined moment, hence there shall be clear rules and procedures defining the point of settlement between the merchant and PA.

For the second leg of the transaction, the PA Guidelines provide for different settlement cycles:

  1. Payment Aggregator is responsible for the delivery of goods/service– The settlement cycle with the merchant shall not be later than one day from the date of intimation to PA of shipment of goods by the merchant.
  2. Merchant is responsible for delivery– The settlement cycle shall not be later than 1 day from the date of confirmation by the merchant to PA about delivery of goods to the customer.
  3. Keeping the amount by the PA till the expiry of refund period– The settlement cycle shall not be later than 1 day from the date of expiry of the refund period.

These settlement cycles are mutually exclusive and the PA business models and settlement structure cycle with the merchants could be developed by PAs on the basis of market dynamics in online selling space. Since the end-transaction between merchant and PA is settled on a contractually determined date, there is a deferred settlement, between PA and the merchant.  Owing to the rules and nature of the relationship (deferred settlement) is the primary differentiator from the merchants proving the Delivery vs. Payment (DvP) settlement process for goods and services.

Market Concerns

Banks operating as PAs do not need any authorisation, as they are already part of the the payment eco-system, and are also heavily regulated by RBI. However, owing to the sensitivity of payment business and consumer protection aspect non-bank PA’s have to seek RBI’s authorisation. This explains the logic of minimum net-worth requirement, and separation of payment aggregator business from e-commerce business, i.e. ring-fencing of assets, in cases where e-commerce players are also performing PA function. Non-bank entities are the ones that are involved in retail payment services and whose main business is not related to taking deposits from the public and using these deposits to make loans (See. Fn. 7 above).

However, one could always question the prudence of the short timelines given by the regulator to existing as well as new payment intermediaries in achieving the required capital limits for PA business. There might be a trade-off between innovations that fintech could bring to the table in PA space over the stringent absolute capital requirements. While for the completely new non-bank entity the higher capital requirement (irrespective of the size of business operations of PA entity) might itself pose a challenge. Whereas, for the other non-bank entities with existing business activities such as NBFCs, e-commerce platforms, and others, achieving ring-fencing of assets in itself would be cumbersome and could be in confrontation with the regulatory intention. It is unclear whether financial institutions carrying financial activities as defined under section 45 of the RBI Act, would be permitted by the regulator to carry out payment aggregator activities. However, in doing so, certain additional measures could be applicable to such financial entities.

Conclusion

The payment aggregator business models in India are typically based on front-end services, i.e. the non-bank entitles are aggressively entering into retail payment businesses by way of providing direct services to merchants. The ability of non-bank entitles to penetrate into merchant onboarding processes, has far overreaching growth potential than merchant on-boarding processes of traditional banks. While the market is at the developmental stage, nevertheless there has to be a clear definitive ex-ante system in place that shall provide certainty to the payment transactions. The CPSS-IOSCO, governing principles for FMIs lays down a good principle-based governing framework for lawyers/regulators and system participants to understand the regulatory landscape and objective behind the regulation of payment systems. PA Guidelines establishes a clear, definitive framework of rights between the participants in the payment system, and relies strongly on board policies and contractual arrangements amongst payment aggregators and other participants. Therefore, adequate care is necessitated while drafting escrow agreements, merchant-on boarding policies, and customer grievance redressal policies to abide by the global best practices and meet the objective of underlying regulation. In hindsight, it will be discovered only in time to come whether the one-size-fits-all approach in terms of capital requirement would prove to be beneficial for the overall growth of PA business or will cause a detrimental effect to the business space itself.

 

[1] RBI, Directions for opening and operation of Accounts and settlement of payments for electronic payment transactions involving intermediaries, November 24, 2009. https://www.rbi.org.in/scripts/NotificationUser.aspx?Mode=0&Id=5379

[2] Payment Systems in India – Booklet (rbi.org.in)

[3] https://m.rbi.org.in/Scripts/AnnualReportPublications.aspx?Id=1293

[4] https://www.investindia.gov.in/sector/retail-e-commerce

[5] The Bank for International Settlements (BIS), Committee on Payment and Settlement Systems (CPSS) and International Organisation of Securities Commissions (IOSCO) published 24 principles for financial market infrastructures and  and responsibilities of central banks, market regulators and other authorities. April 2012 <https://www.bis.org/cpmi/publ/d101a.pdf>

[6]Regulation and Supervision of Financial Market Infrastructures, June 26, 2013 https://www.rbi.org.in/scripts/bs_viewcontent.aspx?Id=2705

[7] CPMI defines non-banks as “any entity involved in the provision of retail payment services whose main business is not related to taking deposits from the public and using these deposits to make loans”  See, CPMI, ‘Non-banks in retail Payments’, September 2014, available at <https://www.bis.org/cpmi/publ/d118.pdf>

 

Our other related articles:

Overview of Regulatory Framework of Payment and Settlement Systems in India by Anita Baid – Vinod Kothari Consultants

RBI to regulate operation of payment intermediaries – Vinod Kothari Consultants

Major recommendations of the Committee on Payment Systems on Payment and Settlement System Bill, 2018 – Vinod Kothari Consultants

Risk-based Internal Prescription for Audit Function

Qasim Saif | Executive (finserv@vinodkothari.com)

Introduction

It is a well-known fact that an independent and effective internal audit function is of special importance to all corporates for mitigation of their risk. And it has increased importance for a financial sector entity as it provides for reasonable assurance to the board and its senior management regarding the quality and effectiveness of the entity’s internal control, risk management, and governance framework.

Given the current relatively uncertain economic environment which has put significant pressure on debt servicing capabilities of corporates and businesses, there is a need to critically examine the existing portfolio and take an account of the related risk management and accounting practices.

This on-going stressed situation coupled with the uncertain economic environment and the increased global regulatory watch requires financial institutions to critically evaluate the quality of their regulatory submissions, risk model, capital adequacy, and conduct in the financial markets.

In recent times, Non-Banking Financial Companies (NBFCs) / Urban Co-operative Banks (UCBs) have grown in size and have become systemically important in the economy given their increased participation in the financial credit market. Just like banks, NBFCs and UCBs face similar risks by virtue of being engaged in financial intermediation activities, hence, it makes sense that their internal audit systems should also broadly align while keeping in mind the principle of proportionality.

Applicability

Earlier this year, RBI had issued RBIA Framework for Strengthening Governance Arrangements for commercial banks, local area banks, small finance banks, and payment banks on 7th January 2021[1].

To increase focus on the risk management function of NBFCs/UCBs, the RBI on 3rd February 2021[2] issued a circular prescribing the requirement for Risk-Based Internal Audit (RBIA Framework). The requirements prescribed under the circular are to be implemented by 31st March 2022.The said circular is applicable on-

The framework for NBFCs and UCBs draws largely from the framework for banks.

The circulars clearly indicates that RBI is now accepting a more stringent attitude towards risk management and audit, specifically given the challenges faced due to Covid -19. It seems like Covid-19 acted as a wake-up alarm to increase focus on risk management and its mitigation by financial sector entities.

Applicability on Housing Finance Companies (HFCs)

The RBI circular does not specifically state the applicability of RBIA Framework on HFCs. Since the same is open for interpretation by the stakeholders and so there are 2 different school of thoughts on this. First is that as HFCs are also a class of NBFCs hence the circular should be applicable on HFCs as well. However, a counter interpretation is that the Master Direction for Housing Finance Company (which assembles all applicable regulations at one place) which was notified on February 17, 2021[3] (after the given 3rd February circular), does not include compliance with RBIA Framework. Accordingly, the coverage of the RBIA Framework does not seem to be applicable on HFCs. In absence of any clarification from RBI, the issue currently remains unresolved.

Risk Based Internal Audit: A Sub-set of Risk Management Framework

An essential characteristic of an effective RBIA Framework would be that it should be a connecting link between various components of risk management framework and should provide for reasonable assurance that organisation’s internal controls, risk management, and governance related systems and processes are adequate to deal with risk faced by it.

The internal audit function should ideally be targeted towards contributing to the overall improvement of the organization’s governance, risk management, and control processes using a systematic and disciplined approach.

The circular provides that internal audit function is an integral part of sound corporate governance and is considered as the third line of defence. The inference for different lines of defence for risk management may be drawn from the RBIA circular for Banks, which provides as follows-

Based on the recent developments and emerging trends, the focus areas for robust internal audit should ideally inter-alia the following components-

The internal audit function in NBFCs/UCBs has generally been concentrated on accounting requirements and regulatory compliance etc. However, considering the market developments, testing limited to these factors may not be sufficient. Therefore, the current framework includes, above aspects along with, an evaluation of the risk management systems and control procedures in various areas of operations. This will help in anticipating areas of potential risks and mitigating such risks.

The RBIA should be conducted based on a RBIA plan which is required to be formulated after considering the elements of risk management framework of the entity.

Actionable

As mentioned above, reasonable amount of time is provided to NBFCs/UCBs to prepare for effective implementation of the RBIA Framework, that is, by 31st March 2022. However, though the requirements are to be complied by the end of next financial year, the preparedness for the same must be initiated immediately. A list of actionable on the part of NBFCs/UCBs has been provided below for reference:

Role and responsibilities of functionaries

It is a well understood notion that to get a particular task done, a fixed responsibility centre should be set-up, this enables proper implementation and also increases the efficiency of the implementation. Considering the same RBI has prescribed for responsibilities of senior management, Board and Audit committee to ensure proper implementation of RBIA Framework.  The allotted role and responsibilities shall be as follows-

Board of Directors / Audit Committee of Board

The Board of Directors (the Board) / Audit Committee of Board (ACB) of NBFCs/UCBs shall have the primary responsibility of overseeing the internal audit function in the organization. The major responsibility of the Board and ACB would be to establish and further review the RBIA systems.

The RBIA policy is to be formulated with the approval of the Board and would be disseminated widely within the organization. The policy should be consistent with the size and nature of the business undertaken, the complexity of operations and should factor in the elements of internal audit. The ACB and Board would further review the performance of RBIA and shall also formulate and maintain a quality assurance and improvement program that covers all aspects of the internal audit function.

Senior Management

The senior management shall be responsible for implementation of the systems established by the board and ACB.

The senior management shall ensure adherence to the internal audit policy guidelines as approved by the Board and development of an effective internal control function that identifies, measures, monitors, and reports all risks faced. The senior management shall ensure audit reports is placed before the ACB/Board. Further, a consolidated position of major risks faced by the organization shall be presented at least annually to the ACB/Board, based on inputs from all forms of audit.

The senior management shall also be responsible for establishing a comprehensive and independent internal audit function that should promote accountability and transparency. It shall ensure that the RBIA Function is adequately staffed with skilled personnel of right aptitude and attitude who are periodically trained to update their knowledge, skill, and competencies.

Internal Audit Function: Major Elements

The RBIA Framework broadly provides for a comprehensive internal audit function the major elements and their requirements are summarised as follows-

Risk Matrix

A risk matrix is a matrix that is used during risk assessment to define the level of risk by considering the category of probability or likelihood as against the category of consequence severity. This is a simple mechanism to increase visibility of risks and assist in management decision making.

The circular requires that the RBIA function should consider risk matrix while setting up action plan. Further, certain risk mentioned shall be given enhanced attention during the RBIA, the matrix and areas of focus are marked red in graph below-

Outsourcing of the Internal Audit Function

The internal audit function cannot be outsourced. However, where required, experts including former employees can be hired on a contractual basis subject to the ACB/Board being assured that such expertise does not exist within the audit function of the NBFC/UCB. Any conflict of interest in such matters shall be recognised and effectively addressed.

Monitoring and follow up

Monitoring and follow-up actions form an integral part of entire internal control system to ensure effective functioning of the procedures. Accordingly, the process as well as findings under the RBIA Framework should be regularly monitored. The said responsibility lies with the Board and Senior Management, as discussed above.


[1] https://www.rbi.org.in/scripts/NotificationUser.aspx?Id=12011&Mode=0

[2] https://rbidocs.rbi.org.in/rdocs/PressRelease/PDFs/PR10365F8B4F9BF8FE4A209F3BD7FD1D62B7D9.PDF

[3] Our write up on the topic “RBI consolidates directions for Housing Finance Companies http://vinodkothari.com/2021/02/rbi-consolidates-directions-for-housing-finance-companies/

Factoring Law Amendments backed by Standing Committee

-Megha Mittal 

[finserv@vinodkothari.com]

In the backdrop of the expanding transaction volumes, and with a view to address the still prevalent delays in payments to sellers, especially MSMEs, the Factoring Regulation (Amendment) Bill, 2020 (‘Amendment Bill’) was introduced in September, 2020, so as to create a broader and deeper liquid market for trade receivables.

The proposed amendments have been reviewed and endorsed by the Standing Committee of Finance chaired by Shri. Jayant Sinha, along with some key recommendations and suggestions to meet the objectives as stated above.  In this article, we discuss the observations and recommendations of the Standing Committee Report  in light of the Amendment Bill.

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RBI consolidates directions for Housing Finance Companies

– Qasim Saif (finserv@vinodkothari.com)

 

Finance Minister in her speech for the budget 2019-20[1] stated that “Efficient and conducive regulation of the housing sector is extremely important in our context. The National Housing Bank (NHB), besides being the refinancer and lender, is also regulator of the housing finance sector. This gives a somewhat conflicting and difficult mandate to NHB. I am proposing to return the regulation authority over the housing finance sector from NHB to RBI. Necessary proposals have been placed in the Finance Bill.” Subsequently, the provisions of National Housing Bank Act, 1987 were amended w.e.f August 09, 2019[2] pursuant to the Finance Act, 2019 thereby shifting the power to govern Housing finance Companies (HFCs) from National Housing Bank (NHB) to the Reserve Bank of India (RBI). Consequently, the RBI on June 17, 2020[3], issued a draft for review of extant regulatory framework for HFCs, and had invited comments from the industry on the same. After considering the inputs received from the industry, the RBI, on October 22, 2020[4] issued the Regulatory Framework for HFCs (‘Regulations’).

Our write-up covering the changes made by Regulations issued on October 22, 2020 and its analysis can be accessed here

After the Regulations were notified, the regulatory framework for HFCs became patchy as requirements came in from different sources and the need for a single point reference was felt.

To deal with the said issue, RBI has now issued the Master Directions – Non-Banking Financial Company – Housing Finance Company (Reserve Bank) Directions, 2021 on February 17, 2021[5] (“Directions”). The Directions broadly accumulate the regulatory requirements, from the Regulations notified on October 22, 2020, erstwhile Master Circular for Housing Finance Companies (NHB) Directions, 2010 and other applicable circulars[6]. The Directions neither impose any new requirements nor amend any existing regulation, but merely aggregate them.

Overview of the Direction

In order to get a comprehensive understanding of the Directions we have summarised the major requirements and also provided the original regulations from where the requirement arises.

Para Regulation in Master Direction Reference Circular
3 Following guidelines made applicable to HFC-

➔    Guidelines on Liquidity Risk Management Framework

➔    Guidelines on Maintenance of Liquidity Coverage Ratio

➔    Guidelines on Securitization Transactions and reset of Credit Enhancement

➔    Managing Risks and Code of Conduct in Outsourcing of Financial Services

➔    Implementation of Indian Accounting Standards

➔    Master Direction – Know Your Customer (KYC) Direction, 2016,

➔    Master Direction – Monitoring of Frauds in NBFCs (Reserve Bank) Directions, 2016,

➔    Master Direction – Information Technology Framework for the NBFC Sector dated June 08, 2017,

October 22, 2020 Regulations
3 LTV for Loan Against Shares and Gold Jewellry capped at 50% and 75% respectively
4 “Housing finance company” shall mean a company that fulfils the following conditions:

a. It is an NBFC whose financial assets, in the business of providing finance for housing, constitute at least 60% of its total assets (netted off by intangible assets)

b. Out of the total assets (netted off by intangible assets), not less than 50% should be by way of housing finance for individuals.

  Existing HFCs to comply the limits in phased manner till 2023
5 NOF Requirement to be increased to Rs. 20 Cr

Existing HFCs to achieve NOF of

➔    Rs. 15 Cr by 31.4.2022 and

➔    Rs. 20 Cr by 31.4.2023

HFC unable to fulfil the NOF requirement may convert to NBFC-ICC

6 HFCs shall, CRAR consisting of Tier-I and Tier-II capital which shall not be less than-

➔    13% on or before 31.4.2020;

➔    14% on or before 31.4.2020; and

➔    15% on or before 31.4.2020 and thereafter

The Tier-I capital, at any point of time, shall not be less than 10%

NHB Notification dated 17th June 2019[7]

 

7-17 Asset Classification, Provisioning and Accounting requirements As per the existing NHB Guidelines
19 LTV for grant of housing loans to individuals shall be capped at:

➔     < 30 lakhs                             90%,

➔     > 30 lakhs and < 75 lakhs    80%

➔     > 75 lakhs                             75%.

20 Norms for credit/investment concentration
21 Exposure of HFCs to group companies engaged in real estate business October 22, 2020 Regulations
22 Investment in real estate by HFC capped at 20% of capital funds
23 Limits on housing finance companies’ exposure to capital market
Chapter VII Acceptance of Public Deposits As per the existing NHB Guidelines
Chapter VIII Prior approval for change in control and directorship
Chapter IX Corporate Governance Norms
Section IV Miscellaneous Instructions
Chapter XIII Fair Practice Code

Pursuant to the consolidation as above, the corresponding extant NHB Guidelines as well as the October, 22 Regulations have been repealed.

 

[1] Speech Budget 2019-2020

[2] Transfer of Regulation of Housing Finance Companies (HFCs) to Reserve Bank of India

[3] Review of extant regulatory framework for Housing Finance companies (HFCs) – Proposed Changes

[4] Review of regulatory framework for Housing Finance Companies (HFCs)

[5] Master Direction – Non-Banking Financial Company – Housing Finance Company (Reserve Bank) Directions, 2021

[6] Master Circular – The Housing Finance Companies (NHB) Directions, 2010

[7] NHB Notification dated June 17, 2019

 

Our Other Related Write-ups can be viewed here-

 

RBI directs NBFCs to limit fresh investments from FATF non-compliant jurisdictions to 20% of voting rights

Our article as published in moneylife can be accessed through the link below:

https://www.moneylife.in/article/nbfcs-asked-to-limit-fresh-investments-to-20-percentage-of-voting-rights-from-fatf-non-compliant-jurisdictions/62964.html

Presentation on scalar regulatory framework for the NBFC sector

The video of “Round table discussion on RBI’s proposed regulatory framework for NBFCs” can be viewed here 

Our write-up on the topic titled “Scalar regulatory framework for the NBFC sector” can be viewed here

 

About time to unfreeze NPA classification and reporting

-Siddarth Goel (finserv@vinodkothari.com)

Introduction

The COVID pandemic last year was surely one such rare occurrence that brought unimaginable suffering to all sections of the economy. Various relief measures granted or actions taken by the respective governments, across the globe, may not be adequate compensation against the actual misery suffered by the people. One of the earliest relief that was granted by the Indian government in the financial sector, sensing the urgency and nature of the pandemic, was the moratorium scheme, followed by Emergency Credit Line Guarantee Scheme (ECLGS). Another crucial move was the allowance of restructuring of stressed accounts due to covid related stress. However, every relief provided is not always considered as a blessing and is at times also cursed for its side effects.

Amid the various schemes, one of the controversial matter at the helm of the issue was charging of interest on interest on the accounts which have availed payment deferment under the moratorium scheme. The Supreme Court (SC) in the writ petition No 825/2020 (Gajendra Sharma Vs Union of India & Anr) took up this issue. In this regard, we have also earlier argued that government is in the best position to bear the burden of interest on interest on the accounts granted moratorium under the scheme owing to systemic risk implications.[1] The burden of the same was taken over by the government under its Ex-gratia payment on interest over interest scheme.[2]

However, there were several other issues about the adequacy of actions taken by the government and the RBI, filed through several writ petitions by different stakeholders. One of the most common concern was the reporting of the loan accounts as NPA, in case of non-payment post the moratorium period. The borrowers sought an extended relief in terms of relaxation in reporting the NPA status to the credit bureaus. Looking at the commonality, the SC took the issues collectively under various writ petitions with the petition of Gajendra Sharma Vs Union of India & Anr. While dealing with the writ petitions, the SC granted stay on NPA classification in its order dated September 03, 2020[3]. The said order stated that:

In view of the above, the accounts which were not declared NPA till 31.08.2020 shall not be declared NPA till further orders.”

The intent of granting such a stay was to provide interim relief to the borrowers who have been adversely affected by the pandemic, by not classifying and reporting their accounts as NA and thereby impacting their credit score.

The legal ambiguity

The aforesaid order dated September 03, 2020, has also led to the creation of certain ambiguities amongst banks and NBFCs. One of them being that whether post disposal of WP No. 825/2020 Gajendra Sharma (Supra), the order dated September 03, 2020, should also nullify. While another ambiguity being that whether the stay is only for those accounts that have availed the benefit under moratorium scheme or does it apply to all borrowers.

It is pertinent to note that the SC was dealing with the entire batch of writ petitions while it passed the common order dated September 03, 2020. Hence, the ‘stay on NPA classification’ by the SC was a common order in response to all the writ petitions jointly taken up by the court. Thus, the stay order on NPA classification has to be interpreted broadly and cannot be restricted to only accounts of the petitioners or the accounts that have availed the benefit under the moratorium scheme. As per the order, the SC held that accounts that have not been declared/classified NPA till August 31, 2020, shall not be downgraded further until further orders. This relaxation should not just be restricted to accounts that have availed moratorium benefit and must be applied across the entire borrower segment.

The WP No. 825/2020 Gajendra Sharma (Supra) was disposed of by the SC in its judgment dated November 27, 2020[4], whereby in the petition, the petitioner had prayed for direction like mandamus; to declare moratorium scheme notification dated 27.03.2020 issued by Respondent No.2 (RBI) as ultra vires to the extent it charges interest on the loan amount during the moratorium period and to direct the Respondents (UOI and RBI) to provide relief in repayment of the loan by not charging interest during the moratorium period.

The aforesaid contentions were resolved to the satisfaction of the petitioner vide the Ex-gratia Scheme dated October 23, 2020. However, there has been no express lifting of the stay on NPA classification by the SC in its judgment. Hence, there arose a concern relating to the nullity of the order dated September 03, 2020.

The other writ petitions were listed for hearing on December 02, 2020, by the SC via another order dated November 27, 2020[5]. Since then the case has been heard on dates 02, 03, 08, 09, 14, 16, and 17 of December 2020. The arguments were concluded and the judgment has been reserved by the SC (Order dated Dec 17, 2020[6]).

As per the live media coverage of the hearing by Bar and Bench on the subject matter, at the SC hearing dated December 16, 2020[7], the advocate on behalf of the Indian Bank Association had argued that:

It is undeniable that because of number of times Supreme Court has heard the matter things have progressed. But how far can we go?

I submit this matter must now be closed. Your directions have been followed. People who have no hope of restructuring are benefitting from your ‘ don’t declare NPA’ order.

Therefore, from the foregoing discussion, it could be understood that the final judgment of the SC is still awaited for lifting the stay on NPA classification order dated September 03, 2020.

Interim Dilemma

While the judgment of the SC is awaited, and various issues under the pending writ petitions are yet to be dealt with by the SC in its judgment, it must be reckoned that banking is a sensitive business since it is linked to the wider economic system. The delay in NPA classification of accounts intermittently owing to the SC order would mean less capital provisioning for banks. It may be argued that mere stopping of asset classification downgrade, neither helps a stressed borrower in any manner nor does it helps in presenting the true picture of a bank’s balance sheet. There is a risk of greater future NPA rebound on bank’s balance sheets if the NPA classification is deferred any further. It must be ensured that the cure to be granted by the court while dealing with the respective set of petitions cannot be worse than the disease itself.

The only benefit to the borrower whose account is not classified NPA is the temporary relief from its rating downgrade, while on the contrary, this creates opacity on the actual condition of banking assets. Therefore, it is expected that the SC would do away with the freeze on NPA classification through its pending judgment. Further, it is always open for the government to provide any benefits to the desired sector of the economy either through its upcoming budget or under a separate scheme or arrangement.

THE VERDICT

[Updated on March 24, 2021]

The SC puts the final nail to almost a ten months long legal tussle that started with the plea on waiver of interest on interest charged by the lenders from the borrowers, during the moratorium period under COVID 19 relief package.  From the misfortunes suffered by the people at the hands of the pandemic to economic strangulation of people- the battle with the pandemic is still ongoing and challenging. Nevertheless, the court realised the economic limitation of any Government, even in a welfare state. The apex court of the country acknowledged in the judgment dated March 23, 2020[8], that the economic and fiscal regulatory measures are fields where judges should encroach upon very warily as judges are not experts in these matters. What is best for the economy, and in what manner and to what extent the financial reliefs/packages be formulated, offered and implemented is ultimately to be decided by the Government and RBI on the aid and advice of the experts.

Thus, in concluding part of the judgment while dismissing all the petitions, the court lifted the interim relief granted earlier- not to declare the accounts of respective borrowers as NPA. The last slice of relief in the judgement came for the large borrowers that had loans outstanding/sanctioned as on 29.02.2020 greater than Rs.2 crores. The court did not find any rationale in the two crore limit imposed by the Government for eligibility of borrowers, while granting relief of interest-on-interest (under ex-gratia scheme) to the borrowers.[9] Thus, the court directed that there shall not be any charge of interest on interest/penal interest for the period during moratorium for any borrower, irrespective of the quantum of loan. Since the NPA stay has been uplifted by the SC, NBFCs/banks shall accordingly start classification and reporting of the defaulted loan accounts as NPA, as per the applicable asset classification norms and guidelines.

Henceforth, the CIC reporting of the defaulted loan accounts (NPA) must also be done. Surely, the said directions of the court would be applicable only to the loan accounts that were eligible and have availed moratorium under the COVID 19 package. [10]

The lenders should give credit/adjustment in the next instalment of the loan account or in case the account has been closed, return any amount already recovered, to the concerned borrowers.

Given that the timelines for filing claims under the ex-gratia scheme have expired, it is expected that the Government would be releasing extended/updated operational guidelines in this regard for adjustment/ refund of the interest in interest charged by the lenders from the borrowers.

 

 

[1] http://vinodkothari.com/2020/09/moratorium-scheme-conundrum-of-interest-on-interest/

[2] http://vinodkothari.com/2020/10/interest-on-interest-burden-taken-over-by-the-government/#:~:text=Blog%20%2D%20Latest%20News-,Compound%20interest%20burden%20taken%20over%20by%20the%20Central%20Government%3A%20Lenders,pass%20on%20benefit%20to%20borrowers&text=Of%20course%2C%20the%20scheme%2C%20called,2020%20to%2031.8.

[3] https://main.sci.gov.in/supremecourt/2020/11127/11127_2020_34_16_23763_Order_03-Sep-2020.pdf

[4] https://main.sci.gov.in/supremecourt/2020/11127/11127_2020_34_1_24859_Judgement_27-Nov-2020.pdf

[5] https://main.sci.gov.in/supremecourt/2020/11127/11127_2020_34_1_24859_Order_27-Nov-2020.pdf

[6] https://main.sci.gov.in/supremecourt/2020/11162/11162_2020_37_40_25111_Order_17-Dec-2020.pdf

[7] https://www.barandbench.com/news/litigation/rbi-loan-moratorium-hearings-live-from-supreme-court-december-16

[8] https://main.sci.gov.in/supremecourt/2020/11162/11162_2020_35_1501_27212_Judgement_23-Mar-2021.pdf

[9] Compound interest burden taken over by the Central Government: Lenders required to pass on benefit to borrowers – Vinod Kothari Consultants

[10] Moratorium on loans due to Covid-19 disruption – Vinod Kothari Consultants; also see Moratorium 2.0 on term loans and working capital – Vinod Kothari Consultants