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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

RBI amends mode of payment and remittance norms for units of Investment vehicles

Permits FPIs and FVCIs to use Special Non-Resident Rupee (SNRR) account 

CS Burhanuddin Dohadwala| Manager, Aanchal Kaur Nagpal| Executive

corplaw@vinodkothari.com

The Reserve Bank of India (‘RBI’) vide notification dated October 17, 2019 had  notified the Foreign Exchange Management (Mode of Payment and Reporting of Non-Debt instrument) Regulations, 2019[1] (‘the Regulations’) governing the mode of payment and reporting of non-debt instruments consequent to the Foreign Exchange Management (Non-Debt Instrument) Rules, 2019[2] framed by the Ministry of Finance, Central Government.

RBI has recently vide its notification dated June 15, 2020 notified Foreign Exchange Management (Mode of Payment and Reporting of Non-Debt Instruments) (Amendment) Regulations, 2020[3] amending Reg. 3.1 dealing with Mode of Payment and Remittance of sale proceeds in case of investment in investment vehicles.

Let us discuss few terms to understand the recent amendments to the Regulations.

Investment Vehicles under FEMA:

According to FEMA (Non-Debt Instruments) Rules, 2019, investment vehicles mean:

Different types of account available under FEMA (Deposit) Regulations, 2016[1] (‘Deposit Regulations’)

The following are the major accounts that can be opened in India by a non-resident:

Particulars Eligible Person
Non-Resident (External) Rupee Account Scheme-NRE Account

Non-resident Indians (NRIs) and Person of Indian Origin (PIOs)

Foreign currency (Non-Resident) account (Banks) scheme – FCNR (B) account
Non-Resident ordinary rupee account scheme-NRO account

Any person resident outside India.

Special Non-Resident Rupee Account – SNRR account

Any person resident outside India.

A significant advantage of SNRR over NRO is that the former is a repatriable account while the latter is non-repatriable.

What is Special Non-Resident Rupee (‘SNRR’) Account?

Any person resident outside India, having a business interest in India, may open SNRR account with an authorised dealer for the purpose of putting through bona fide transactions in rupees. The  business  interest,  apart  from  generic  business  interest,  shall  include the  following INR transactions, namely:-

  • Investments made  in  India  in  accordance  with  Foreign  Exchange  Management  (Non-debt Instruments)  Rules,  2019  dated  October  17,  2019  and  Foreign  Exchange  Management  (Debt  Instruments)
  • Import of  goods  and  services  in  accordance  with  Section  5  of  the  Foreign  Exchange  Management  Act  1999 Regulations,   2019;
  • Export of  goods  and  services  in  accordance  with  Section  7  of  the  Foreign  Exchange  Management  Act  1999;
  • Trade credit   transactions   and   lending   under   External   Commercial   Borrowings   (ECB)   framework;
  • Business related  transactions  outside  International  Financial  Service  Centre  (IFSC)  by  IFSC  units  at  GIFT  city  like  administrative  expenses  in  INR  outside  IFSC,  INR  amount  from  sale  of  scrap,  government  incentives  in  INR,  etc;

Rationale behind the amendment:

Position under Master Direction – Foreign Investment in India by RBI

According to Annex 8 of Master Direction – Foreign Investment in India by RBI, investment made by a PROI was permitted with effect from 13th September, 2016. The provisions specify that the amount of consideration of the units of an investment vehicle should be paid out of funds held in NRE or FCNR(B) account maintained in accordance with the Deposit Regulations as one of the modes of payment.

Further it also specifies that the sale/ maturity proceeds of the units may be remitted outside India or credited to the NRE or FCNR(B) account of the person concerned.

Position under the erstwhile provisions of the Regulations

Schedule II of the Regulations (Investments by FPIs) stated earlier that of units of investment vehicles other than domestic mutual fund may be remitted outside India.

However, balances in SNRR account were permitted to be used for making investment only in units of domestic mutual fund and not in Investment Vehicles.

As discussed above, the NRO account is a non-repatriable account while the SNRR account is a repatriable account. Due to the above provisions, investment in Investment Vehicles could not be transferred to the SNRR account for repatriation resulting in ambiguity.

Owing to the above and to increase the inflow of foreign investment, the Government has amended the said provision and allowed FPIs & FVCI to invest in listed or to be listed units of Investment vehicle.

Brief comparison of the pre and post amendment is covered in our Annexure I.

Annexure-I

Comparison of the pre and post amendment

Schedule Post amendment Prior to amendment Remarks
Schedule II w.r.t Investments by Foreign Portfolio Investors A.     Mode of payment

1.       The  amount  of  consideration  shall  be  paid  as  inward  remittance  from  abroad through banking channels or out of funds held in a foreign currency account and/ or a Special Non-Resident Rupee (SNRR) account maintained in accordance with the Foreign Exchange Management (Deposit) Regulations, 2016.

 

2.       Unless otherwise  specified in these regulations or the  relevant Schedules, the foreign  currency  account  and  SNRR  account  shall  be  used  only  and  exclusively for transactions under this Schedule.

 

 

 

A.     Mode of payment

1.       The amount of consideration shall be paid as inward remittance from abroad through banking channels or out of funds held in a foreign currency account and/ or a Special Non-Resident Rupee (SNRR) account maintained in accordance with the Foreign Exchange Management (Deposit) Regulations, 2016.

Provided balances in SNRR account shall not be used for making investment in units of Investment Vehicles other than the units of domestic mutual fund.

2.       The foreign currency account and SNRR account shall be used only and exclusively for transactions under this Schedule.

 

 

The erstwhile provisions restricted use of SNRR account balance for making investments in investment vehicles other than mutual funds.

As a result FPIs could not use their SNRR account and had to resort to other types of accounts for investment in investment vehicles such as REITs, and InViTs. The recent amendment has removed this restriction.

The amendment has been made to provide for the amendment made in Schedule VIII dealing with Investment     by     a     person resident outside India in an Investment Vehicle.

B.     Remittance of sale proceeds

The sale proceeds (net of taxes) of equity instruments and units of REITs, InViTs and domestic mutual fund may be remitted outside India or credited to the foreign currency account or a SNRR account of the FPI.

B.     Remittance of sale proceeds

The sale proceeds (net of taxes) of equity instruments and units of domestic mutual fund may be remitted outside India or credited to the foreign currency account or a SNRR account of the FPI.

The sale proceeds (net of taxes) of units of investment vehicles other than domestic mutual fund may be remitted outside India.

To align with the amendment made in Schedule VIII dealing with Investment     by     a     person resident outside India in an Investment Vehicle.
Schedule VII w.r.t Investment by a Foreign Venture Capital Investor (FVCI) For Para A(2):

Unless otherwise specified in these regulations or the relevant Schedules, the foreign currency account and SNRR account shall be used only and exclusively for transactions under this Schedule.

For Para A(2):

The foreign currency account and SNRR account shall be used only and exclusively for transactions under this Schedule.

 

The insertion has been made to align with the amendments proposed in Schedule VIII dealing with Investment     by     a     person resident outside India in an Investment Vehicle.

Schedule VIII w.r.t Investment     by     a     person resident  outside  India  in  an Investment Vehicle A.     Mode of payment:

The  amount  of  consideration  shall  be  paid  as  inward  remittance  from  abroad through  banking  channels  or  by  way  of  swap  of  shares  of  a  Special  Purpose Vehicle   or   out   of   funds   held   in   NRE   or   FCNR(B)   account   maintained   in accordance with the Foreign Exchange Management (Deposit) Regulations, 2016.

Further,  for  an  FPI  or  FVCI,  amount  of  consideration  may  be  paid  out  of  their SNRR  account  for  trading  in  units  of  Investment  Vehicle  listed  or  to  be  listed (primary issuance) on the stock exchanges in India.

A.     Mode of payment:

The amount of consideration shall be paid as inward remittance from abroad through banking channels or by way of swap of shares of a Special Purpose Vehicle or out of funds held in NRE or FCNR(B) account maintained in accordance with the Foreign Exchange Management (Deposit) Regulations, 2016.

 

Further, it is clarified that the SNRR account may be used for trading in units of listed as well as to be listed units of investment vehicles and the sale/ maturity proceeds can be credited to the said account.

B.     Remittance of Sale/maturity proceeds:

The  sale/  maturity  proceeds  (net  of  taxes)  of  the  units  may  be  remitted  outside India or may be credited to the NRE or FCNR(B) or SNRR account, as applicable of the person concerned.

B.     Remittance of sale/maturity proceeds

The sale/maturity proceeds (net of taxes) of the units may be remitted outside India or may be credited to the NRE or FCNR(B) account of the person concerned.

 

 

Link to our other articles:

Introduction to FEMA (NDI) Rules, 2019 and recent amendments:

http://vinodkothari.com/2020/04/introduction-to-fema-ndi-rules-2019-and-recent-amendments/

RBI rationalises operation of Special Non-Resident Rupee A/c:

http://vinodkothari.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/RBI-rationalises-operation-of-SNRR-Account.pdf

 

[1] http://vinodkothari.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/RBI-rationalises-operation-of-SNRR-Account.pdf

[1] http://egazette.nic.in/WriteReadData/2019/213318.pdf

[2] http://egazette.nic.in/WriteReadData/2019/213332.pdf

[3] http://egazette.nic.in/WriteReadData/2020/220016.pdf