Sebi to the Rescue

This article was originally published in Postnoon on November 2, 2012

http://postnoon.com/2012/11/02/sebi-to-the-rescue/85039

Srikanth was clearly in a bad mood, when I met him outside my office. He was pacing up and down the corridor with a scowl and fists clenched. On seeing me, he smiled faintly. I led him into my office and asked, “what happened? Did you lose a lot of money in the stock market?”, for Srikanth was an active investor!

Srikanth: Yes I did. But I would not feel so bad if I had made a wrong call and invested in the wrong stock. I am feeling bad and I am upset because I lost money due to my broker’s mistake.

Nicky: Really? How? What happened?

Srikanth: I had placed a sell order for my holdings in a company, through my broker. But the shares were not sold on the same day. In fact they were sold two days later. In those two days, the stock price went down by about 6% and I ended up losing close to Rs20,000/-.

Nicky: Did you ask the broker for a clarification?

Srikanth (annoyed at the question): Of course I did. They said that there were some technical issues.

Nicky: Do you have a record or any documentation relating to when you placed the order?

Srikanth: You are not really helping me by asking these obvious questions. But, to answer you, of course I do. The records will be available in the ‘order history’ of my account.

Nicky: I am asking you these questions because I have a solution for you. Why don’t you complain to the Securities Exchange Board of India (SEBI)? SEBI has a cell dedicated for Investor Assistance and Education (OIAE), which also handles investor grievances. But before you go to them, you must file a complaint with the stock exchange against the broker. If the exchange’s response is not satisfactory to you, then you can go to SEBI.

Srikanth: Why should I unnecessarily get into litigation? My money is not going to come back.

Nicky: Well, it might! The stock exchange might pay you from their investor protection fund, or they might instruct the broker to pay you the amount of loss incurred by you. In case the exchange is not able to settle the case and you lodge a complaint with SEBI, then SEBI might get the exchange or the broker to pay to you.

Srikanth (finally getting what I was talking about): But how do I lodge my complain?

Nicky: Now you are asking obvious questions…Complain by writing to them through post, mail, hand deliver your written complaint or talk to them on their toll free number. All these details are available on the SEBI website.

Srikanth: Thank you professor. Yet again, your inputs were very helpful.

Will FDI in retail be good for consumers?

This article was first published in Moneylife Magazine and www.moneylife.com on October 25th, 2012

http://www.moneylife.in/article/will-fdi-in-retail-be-good-for-consumers/29272.html

Wal-mart or Tesco may fail in India but consumers must get a choice

At 6am on a Tuesday, the wholesale market for vegetables—Bowenpally Monda (Hyderabad)—is already humming with activity. When talking to a commission agent about their cornering a share of the farmers’ profits, the agent asks, “While statistics are available and the media quotes the number of farmers who have committed suicide or number of farmers who have become impoverished or their condition has worsened, does any government institution or any institution have statistics on how many intermediaries have gone bankrupt? How many people have entered the trading business and lost money and, hence, quit? How much bad debt is there in intermediation? If this statistic is compiled, one would realise that intermediation is not an easy job.” In this, and possibly other markets, the intermediaries or commission agents perform a very important function—that of taking financial risk.

Others from his trade join in to ask: “Why should a farmer worry about what the others are getting? If a farmer gets Rs2 and he has invested only Re1, it’s good business. He makes 100%-200% return on his investment. Any project should be measured on the basis of return on capital. Intermediaries do not make money on each transaction. They make money once in a while. That’s part of the game. Sometimes, they make a killing; on other days, they barely break even or make losses. Volumes bring them money. Their average margins are wafer-thin.

Across the country, debate is raging over foreign direct investment (FDI) in retail and the entry of larger players like Wal-Mart and Tesco. The traders do not seem to be concerned about this. One of the agents asks me, “How is a Reliance or an ITC less smart than Wal-Mart?”

Reliance has the deepest pockets in the country and did hire the best talent in the world for its retail operations. But Reliance Retail has been a fiasco. While one can argue that Reliance has always operated in the industrial arena and does not have a mindset for retail, what about ITC? ITC is a thoroughly farm-consumer market company with deep pockets and deep understanding of the entire value chain. They have worked with farmers at the grassroots level for over 100 years in India. Yet, their fresh retailing business has not been successful.

What is the problem? And can Wal-Mart and others handle it? The CEO of a company, who does not want to be named, which is into large-scale commercial farming, says, “Either the market is more efficient than is believed or the market has not evolved to a point where models of large retail chains can be absorbed in the system.”

It is often said that in India 30%-40% of the fresh produce gets wasted. I once heard Damodar Mall, director of strategy-food at the Future group, which pioneered organised retail business in India, say that in a country like India where people make serious living out of rag-picking, nothing is thrown away. Nothing is wasted. “Yes, the value of the produce can be better preserved. But the cost of retaining that value through refrigeration or pre-cooling, etc, versus the value saved is not financially viable.”
The natural chain is far more efficient. Apples are a classic example where cold chain can be applied. They are produced only in one part of the country and consumed across the country. Concentrated production and distributed consumption. Companies like Adani and Concor, have invested heavily in the cold chain. Yet, cold chain has not become entirely successful.

The marketing and distribution channels have designed themselves in such a way that it is very close to ‘Just-in-Time’. In the US, food habits are more or less uniform throughout the country. In India, every 300km, eating habits are completely different, determined by production in the local catchment which, in turn, depends on the soil, agro-climatic conditions, etc. So the production and consumption is more localised. While there are products like paddy and wheat which are produced in one part of the country and consumed across the country, fruits and vegetables, especially vegetables, are localised. Except for onions and potatoes, few products move further than 300-400km in the country.

When asked about the impact of FDI on the mom-and-pop kirana stores, the CEO, who prefers to be called a farmer, says “Mom-and-pop stores will flourish. They will not go anywhere. In fact, in places where the retail chains set up shop, the mom-and-pop stores will become even more efficient. The Indian trader is very smart. There are several instances where when organised retailers like Reliance run a promotion on tomatoes, for, say, Rs5 per kg, the corner shop vendor comes and buys 10kg and stocks it in his shop. These promotions result in losses for organised retailers and gains for the small shops.”
The guidelines for FDI in retail impose limitations too. Outlets can be opened only in cities with a population of one million and above; 50% of the investment should be for backward linkages. These are tough conditions to meet.

Also, the regulatory and procedural hurdles are not going to be easy for foreign investors to manoeuvre around. Even a simple food-processing unit needs anywhere between 15-20 licences/permissions from agencies/authorities such as electricity, pollution control, labour, fire safety, panchayat, taluka, weights and measures, etc. They are needed and should be there. But the way they are monitored and the way the system operates, it is very difficult to start and operate a project.

The retail pie is obviously very big and everyone can benefit from it. But it’s only fair to give the consumers a choice. If a Wal-Mart or a Tesco is more efficient and offers cheaper products, then why should the customer suffer? Whether they will be able to do so is a big question; but it is worth giving them a chance for the sake of the consumer.

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Make best of deft NEFT

This article was originally published in Postnoon on October 26th, 2012, Co-Author: Anuj Hetamsaria

http://postnoon.com/2012/10/26/make-best-of-deft-neft/82944

A few days back, I had counseled Mr. Mukherjee about mobile banking, in the context of transferring funds from one account to the other. Today he came to me with further questions with regards to funds transfer.

Mukherjee: Professor, the relationship manager at the bank told me that funds could be transferred via NEFT. What is this NEFT?

Nicky: NEFT stands for National Electronic Funds Transfer and it facilitates the transfer of funds across different branches of the same bank or different banks. It is easy, cheap, safe and fast.

Mukherjee: I am sure it comes with its own set of requirements!

Nicky (smiling at the cynicism): Oh yeah! You will need to provide to your bank, the Account Number and name of the beneficiary, the name, address and IFSC (Indian Financial System Code) of the beneficiary’s branch.

Mukherjee: Where do I get all these details from?

Nicky: The person to whom you want to transfer the money to, that is, the beneficiary, should be able to help you with this. All these details will be found on the cheque book of the beneficiary. IFSC code can also be found out on RBI website and from the bank branch. Care must be taken to ensure that these details are provided to your bank correctly, to avoid transaction errors.

Mukherjee: What is this IFSC? I have never heard of it before?

Nicky: According to wikipedia.com, IFSC is an alphanumeric code that uniquely identifies a bank branch for participating in NEFT system. It is an 11-character code with the first 4 alphabetic characters representing the bank and the last 6 characters (usually numeric, but can be alphabetic) representing the branch. The 5th character is 0 (zero). IFSC is used by the NEFT system to route the messages to the destination banks / branches.

Mukherjee: So I can transfer funds using NEFT at any time of the day or night and any day of the week?

Nicky: Not really. You cannot transfer funds on bank holidays, like public holidays and Sundays. From Monday to Friday, the facility is available between 9 AM and 7 PM and on Saturdays, between 9 AM and 1 PM. There are eleven hourly settlements between 9 AM and 7 PM on all weekdays and five hourly settlements between 9 AM and 1 PM on Saturdays. The money will be credited to the beneficiary’s account on the same day or at the most next day in case the message is sent during the last batch of settlement. If the amount is not credited within the specified time then the same must be reported to the banking authorities and proper follow up of the same to be done.

Mukherjee: You did tell me that it is cheap. But can you offer some specifics on charges?

Nicky: Well…My bank changes Rs5/- per transaction if the amount is less that Rs 1 lakh and Rs 25/- if the transaction amount is more than Rs. 1 lakh.

Mukherjee: Hmmm, that’s really not much. Thank you Prof.

Mobile Banking

This article was originally published in Postnoon on October 19th, 2012, Co-Author: Anuj Hetamsaria

http://postnoon.com/2012/10/19/mobile-banking/81448

Mukherjee was pacing furiously at the lounge of our building when I arrived after a long day. He generally waited for me there when he wanted to ask me something. He was an impatient man and I knew from experience that I did not have a choice. I will have to answer his questions before I was allowed to proceed to the elevator. Reluctantly, I asked him the reason for his anger.

Mukherjee: I had to transfer money to my daughter studying in Delhi for her college fees. It was urgent. I went to the bank so that I could take out cash from my account and deposit it in her account.

There was a long queue at the teller’s counter. At 1pm the teller got up and went for his lunch. I waited for half an hour for him to return. After he came back and when my turn came, he refused to let me withdraw cash with my PAN card as the amount was more than Rs50,000. I was not carrying my PAN card. By the time I came back home, took my PAN card and reached the bank again, the bank had closed. My daughter is furious with me. I am furious at the teller. Overall, I am very upset.

Nicky: Why do you need to go to the bank to transfer the money? Aren’t you registered for mobile banking?

Well you must get registered for it then. This time, you don’t have a choice. You will have to go to the bank again tomorrow morning and deposit the amount in your daughter’s account. But you must immediately apply for the username and password for mobile banking. In future, you can transfer the money to her through your mobile.

Mukherjee: Really? Is it simple? What are the things that I can do using mobile banking?

Nicky: Ofcourse. Mobile banking is becoming popular by the day. You need not wait in the queue. You need not confront any rude tellers. You can transact sitting anywhere and at anytime. You can check your account balance, see transaction history, transfer money, pay bills, etc.

Nicky: Mobile banking is very safe, if not 100 per cent. But then, nothing is 100 per cent safe! Once you register, you will get a Mobile Money Identifier (MMID). It is a unique user ID which the bank gives you. You also have a Mobile PIN, that is, a password. This MPIN needs to be changed at regular intervals for safety purposes. There are always issues like viruses attacking your mobile. But they are rare occurrences.

Mukherjee: Will this work on my mobile?

Nicky: I don’t know that. You must have a phone that is compatible with the software/application that your bank uses. The customer care of the bank will help you download the necessary software and will also be able to guide you on compatibility issues. Your phone number will be linked to your bank account number.

Mukherjee: Is it free? Or is mobile banking free?

Nicky: Well… mostly its free. Only a few may charge a small fee. But even if there is a small fee, its worth it because it saves time and effort or physically going to the bank.

Discipline and Dispute in Credit Cards

This article was originally published in Postnoon on October 5th, 2012, Co-Author: Anuj Hetamsaria

http://postnoon.com/2012/10/12/discipline-and-dispute-in-credit-cards/79604

Two days after our conversation on credit cards, once again there was a message from Sethu, blinking on my desktop. I put my coffee down with one hand and clicked on the Gtalk tab with the other. Even though taking a credit card is mostly harmless if one is disciplined in its use, Sethu is so suspicious about anything even remotely modern, that he is difficult to convince. He has more doubts before he applies for a credit card.

Sethu: I have heard that some of the shopkeepers charge an additional percent if the payment for purchases is made by credit card. Is it true?

Nicky: While most shop keepers or service providers do not charge anything extra, a few do charge about 2.5% extra if you pay by credit card. Also, some of them may not accept payment through credit card if the bill amount is very small, typically below Rs250 or Rs200. So, the ideal thing is to pay by cash if the shop keeper or the service provider charges an extra fee for payment through credit card.

Sethu: Hmmm…what about payments to online stores? Do they charge anything extra? Are they secure?

Nicky: Most of them don’t charge anything extra. Site like flipkart.com, ebay.co.in or irctc.co.in have very secure payment gateways and credit cards are immensely helpful in making online payments. However, you have to be very careful with your credit card details like card number, cvv code, expiry date etc. Because, anyone who has these details, can make a payment online. It is a good practice to take benefit of services like mobile alerts. This will help you identify any payment that you did not make, immediately. You can then report misuse of the card to the bank and block your card to prevent further misuse.

Sethu: All this is fine. But don’t you think that credit card encourages people to buy things they don’t need?

Nicky: No. I don’t think so. You cannot blame credit cards for lack of planning and discipline.

Sethu: You are right. But what if there is a dispute regarding either the credit card bill or charges or benefits?

Nicky: All banks have a well established grievance redress mechanism. Small issues can be settled at the customer care officers level. For the others, you may approach the bank branches, or write to the appellate or banking ombudsman. However, you too have to be careful about not signing any blank application forms or documents, provide correct details to the bank officials, take everything from the bankers in writing about the charges and the benefits, keep copies of all documents that you submit to the card issuer for your future reference, don’t share your card pin or password.

Sethu: Thank you Nicky. I feel more comfortable now regarding applying for a credit card.

Smart users stand to gain

This article was originally published in Postnoon on October 5th, 2012, Co-Author: Anuj Hetamsaria

http://postnoon.com/2012/10/05/smart-users-stand-to-gain/77924

I have known Sethu since at least a decade. A manager at a Multi National Company, Sethu always had strong opinions against the growth of internet, internet banking, credit cards etc. He is the kind of person who feels that these developments compromise on security and lack personal touch. I was surprised when he recently pinged me on Google talk to discuss credit cards! He was contemplating taking up a credit card finally.

Sethu: Nicky, I know you are going to say that I have finally converted. Well you can say so. Credit cards have become so popular now a days that I am forced to rethink my beliefs. And honestly, I have also started to feel that it is safer to carry a credit card than cash. Since you carry many credit cards, I thought you would be the best person to tell me a bit more about them.

Nicky: You are right. Credit cards are not only safer, but they also provide credit facility for as much as 50 days if you time your purchases well. A number of banks also offer cash back, discount, bonus and reward benefits on the purchases using their card.

Sethu: The banks offer either VISA or MATER CARD mostly. Isn’t there an Indian gateway?

Nicky: Ah…the swadesi! You are in luck. The National Payments Corporation of India launched the indigenous RuPay in March 2012. You can take up a RuPay card through banks like SBI, BoB, BOI, Axis Bank, etc. RuPay is all set to give tough competition to VISA and MASTERCARD in India and abroad.

Sethu: Oh that’s nice. But how do I decide the bank?

Nicky: Compare factors like joining costs (if any), annual maintenance cost, interest rate on rollover, cash withdrawal limits and charges, reward points, special benefits etc. Credit limit being offered by the bank may also be a deciding factor. Different banks adopt different policies in calculating limits extended to the customers. Steady income, income range, good credit history, etc. are some the factors the banks look at.

Depending on these, they will offer to you an appropriate card. It could be gold, platinum, titanium, classic, world, etc

Sethu: I have heard that the rollover facility come with very steep interest rates?

Nicky: That’s right. But you should not use your credit card as a means for longer term loans. You must have the discipline to pay on time. Also, you should not use your credit card for cash withdrawals. As the free credit period is not available on cash withdrawals and interest is charged on them from the day of withdrawal, till it is paid back in full. These facilities are available, but they should be used only in the event of an emergency requirement, not regularly.

Sethu: Thanks Nicky. I think I am now ready to apply for a credit card, albeit, after some research!

Magical or Menace

This article was originally published in Postnoon on September 28, 2012

http://postnoon.com/2012/09/28/magical-or-menace/76337

Dr. Raghuram G. Rajan, former chief economist of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and currently the Chief Economic Advisor (CEA) in the Ministry of Finance, Government of India, a proponent of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), supported the  recently announced 51% FDI in retail by the Indian ruling government, calling it (FDI) the ‘safest form of financing’ because it is ‘long-term’ and brings in ‘competition’. He is also hopeful that the FDI would result in improvements in the logistical infrastructure.

The ruling United Progressive Alliance government has also claimed that the FDI in retail will change the supply chain and infrastructure at the farm level and will reduce wastages. On the other hand, the opposition claims that the FDI in retail will wipe out the so-called mom-and-pop store.

The infrastructure is needed. But, the so called proposition that the infrastructure landscape will change due to FDI, it’s a misnomer.  Why is it that the large retail chains like Reliance and the Aditya Birla group have not been able to do it? They have deep pockets and the best talent in the world. The answer lies in the bottlenecks and the systemic problems that are there in the sector. Such infrastructural projects are not financially viable.

The cost of funds are typically around 16-17% for such projects. At this cost, a simple agricultural warehouse, without land, costs between Rs 400-500/- per sqft to construct. And the going rentals are Rs5-7 per sqft. The return is less than the cost of funds. How will investment come into this sector? And this is without land. If you don’t have land, if you include the cost of land, the costs will go up to Rs1200-1300sqft. Even if you take the best of rentals (10-15 sft) at the most prime locations, it is still a negative NPV project.

It is often said that food is being wasted due to lack of infrastructure. Yes, the food does rot in the Food Corporation of India’s (FCI) warehouses. Have you seen any trader’s stock rotting? No. That’s because FCI has a populist mandate. FCI is supposed to be a trading organization. It is supposed to buy the grains depending on the capability to sell, based on the demand from the Public Distribution System. It should have storage space, only then buy. They don’t do it and hence the grains get damaged.

The mom-and-pop stores too will survive. They offer a different kind of paradigm and value proposition in comparison to the large stores. Another allegation is that the foreign retail companies have very deep pockets and can afford to make losses for 3-5 years. By then they will wipe out the mom and pop stores and then they will monopolize the market. It seems baseless. While the theoretical possibility is there, the cultural and systemic nature of India makes it a very remote possibility.

Well, the reality is that FDI is neither a magical wand, nor a menace. It is about giving choice to the people of this country.

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CRR and Repo explained

This article was originally published in Postnoon on September 21, 2012

http://postnoon.com/2012/09/21/crr-and-repo-explained/74537

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI), announced on Monday, that they with keep the policy repo rate unchanged at 8% and cut the Cash Reserve Ratio (CRR) by 0.25%, to 4.5%. What does this mean for you (the readers)?

The repo rate is the rate at which RBI lends money to the commercial banks. Using this rate as the benchmark, the banks decide their Prime Lending Rate (PLR). PLR is the rate at which a bank lends to its most credit worthy customers. They add basis points (one basis point is 0.01%) to PLR, if a customer’s credit worthiness is lower.

The credit worthiness of a customer is determined by the repayment capacity of the customer, repayment of both interest and principal. It is also determined by the past record of the customer with respect to payments. For example, does the customer pay his credit card bills on time, does he pay his loan installments on time etc. There is an agency called Credit Information Bureau (India) Limited (CIBIL), which assigns a credit score to each individual depending on the past payments records. Banks use this score when determining the creditworthiness of an individual.

Now back to repo rate. So when repo rate goes up, our loans get more expensive as the banks will raise the PLR and if the repo rate goes down, our loans will get cheaper. RBI has kept this rate unchanged at 8% this time.

CRR is the percentage of money that the banks are supposed to keep with the RBI to meet the withdrawal demands for fixed deposits or any other time liabilities. The CRR is a percent of the Net Demand and Time Liabilities (NDTL) of the bank. When CRR is high, banks have lesser money with them to lend out. On the other hand, when CRR is reduced, the banks have more money with them to lend. This brings in more money supply in the market. Since RBI has reduced the CRR, the money supply should go up in the market.

What is meant by money supply going up? It means that the banks will have more money to lend, and hence more people may be able to get loans. This means that more money will be circulating in the economy. A few banks may decide to decrease the interest rates for auto or home loans. Though it is unlikely as the repo rate is same.

Why did the RBI not reduce the repo rate as well? That’s because they are being cautious. They are worried about inflation. If the repo rate is reduced, people will be able to borrow money at a cheaper rate. This will encourage them to borrow and spend. If they borrow and spend, the demand for goods and services will go up. If demand goes up, prices will further go up.

Hence, the RBI has kept the repo rate unchanged.

Is Inflation Good for Growth?

Published in the business section of www.rediff.com on 21 September, 2012

http://www.rediff.com/business/slide-show/slide-show-1-column-is-inflation-good-for-growth/20120921.htm

 In a G-24 Policy brief (2012), Anis Chowdhury (UN-DESA) and Iyanatul Islam (ILO) sum up the Inflation Targeted as well as non-targeted)-Growth debate. From their brief, it can be said that monetary policies targeting inflation may not result in better growth than countries that do not have a policy of targeting Inflation.

They quote Friedman (1973): “Historically, all possible combinations have occurred: inflation with and without [economic] development, no inflation with and without [economic] development”.

A little bit of Inflation is good. But too much is bad. Empirical Analysis of inflation and growth over the past 50-60 years, in multiple nations, have concluded every possible combination of the two variables is possible, which ratifies Friedman’s statement.

The monetary policy announced on Monday, left the interest rates unchanged at 8%. However, in a surprise move, the cash reserve ratio (CRR) of scheduled banks were reduced by 25 basis points from 4.75 per cent to 4.50 per cent of their net demand and time liabilities (NDTL) which according to RBI is expected to infuse approximately Rs170 billion of primary liquidity into the banking system. While the move will give greater freedom to the banks to lend, the unchanged policy repo rate, may not bring in many takers for the loans.

The Reserve Bank of India has maintained that Inflation is too high for their comfort. The point to note here is that the correlation between interest rate and inflation, in India, in the past 10 years, taking September to September rates, is a very small 0.16 only. On the other hand, they are highly correlated with GDP (-0.31) and stock market performance (-0.60).

In a research done by Muneesh Kapur and Harendra Behera (2012), who were both with the RBI at the time of doing the research, they concluded, “ the evidence for both India and other countries suggest that the impact of monetary policy actions on inflation is modest and subject to lags… Despite the monetary tightening by Reserve Bank of India during 2010 and 2011, inflation remained high and this could be attributed to the structural component of food inflation as well as the surge in international commodity prices beginning the second half of 2010 and continuing into the first half of 2011“.

Inflation can be controlled by controlling budget deficits and by easing bottlenecks to improve supply, as well. But burgeoning subsidies expenditure by the government and inefficiencies have resulted in an expected fiscal deficit of more than 7%; and if the government fails to raise money by divesting the proposed public sector undertakings in the coming year, it will be a reality.

Because of this, the entire onus of controlling the inflation has fallen on the RBI. Which is having an impact on the growth rate.

The stock market rejoiced on Friday, with the benchmark index (SENSEX) moving up by 443 points as the government, led by Dr. Manmohan Singh, announced a subsidy cut on Diesel and easing the FDI norms for the retail and aviation sectors. Monday was not to be the icing on the cake.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Reply

Corruption and Money Laundering

This article was first published in Moneylife on September 20th, 2012, co-authored with Khemchand H Sakaldeepi

http://www.moneylife.in/article/corruption-and-money-laundering/28564.html

First the Gandhian, Anna Hazare and then the yoga guru, turned social activist, Baba Ramdev; India has witnessed two major voices against corruption in the last year. While Anna and his team’s movement primarily focused on bringing a strong Lokpal Bill, Baba Ramdev has been crusading to bring back the black money stashed away in Swiss banks, to India.

Corruption has assumed unprecedented proportions with the Coalgate allocation scam running into billions of dollars and everyone from the erstwhile Bhartiya Janta Party government (now the main opposition party), led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee to the current United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, led by Dr. Manmohan Singh, being under the scanner. The Indian parliament hardly worked in the monsoon session, with the ruling party and the opposition at loggerheads with each other.

A ray of hope, in the midst of the political circus, seems to be the Indian banking system, that has been resilient in the past, conservative and cautious. The recent cases of laxity in vigilance and violation of regulations at the HSBC and the Standard Chartered banks, have resulted in trillions of illicit money gaining access to the US markets. This raises questions about the steps taken towards the prevention of money laundering by countries across the globe.

India became a full-fledged member of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an inter-governmental body which works towards combating money laundering and terrorist financing in the year 2010. Since then, India has been co-operating with the other member nations in sharing information regarding suspicious, money laundering and terrorist financing activities.

According to FATF, “corruption has the potential to bring catastrophic harm to economic development, the fight against organized crime, and respect for the law and effective governance”. Early this month, both NSE and BSE, the leading stock exchanges of the nation, urged the investors to exercise caution in dealing with entities linked to Iran, following warnings from FATF.

The question is, being a member of FATF and at the same time struggling with corruption at home, is India doing enough to combat money laundering? A survey on Anti Money Laundering by KPMG in India (2012) revealed that about 11 percent of the respondents find that more than 25 percent of their SWIFT messages have incomplete originator information. The survey also finds that more that majority of respondents found the client screening, handling of filter hits and maintenance of sanction lists was either moderately challenging or challenging. And less than 50 percent use either internal or external sophisticated IT systems to identify potential money laundering cases.

In the US there exists a list of Specially Designated Nationals and a list of Countries identified which should be screened for identifying potential risky transactions, better known as OFAC (Office of the Foreign Asset Control) List. US people and companies are banned from dealing with entities in this list.

In India too, Financial Intelligence Unit – India (FIU-India) along with the RBI, has been working towards making the screening system more rigorous. If the processes are implemented in letter as well as spirit, financial companies like Banks, NBFCs and Insurance companies, who collectively control the flow of money in the economy can directly hinder the plans of rogue elements by making their financial life miserable.

Also, there exists Know Your Customers (KYC) and Customer Due Diligence (CDD) guidelines in India, which can be easily flouted due to the multiple ways in which one can fulfill these requirements. India still does not have a single identity for its citizens, on the lines of the US Social Security Number. Same person can have multiple address and identity proofs in the form of state issued passport, driving license, ration card, or the most recent being the Aadhar card.

Going by the KPMG report, while India is taking baby steps in the right direction, there are major milestones to be covered in terms of training, reporting and technology to be able to use some of the most sophisticated algorithms involving abnormality detection, predictive models and social network analysis. In fact, it is said that if Facebook was a country then it would be the 3rd biggest in the world. The combination of data from social network and technology can help us create sophisticated bad behavior detection tools.

The recent technological advances have helped many institutions to harness the power of large datasets. The companies can process and collect data at close to real-time and with the help of certain algorithms, classify and detect malicious behavior instantly. This is like any other antivirus system found on computers, but different in terms of target units i.e. money laundering and terrorist financing.

The existing systems in India have clearly not prevented black money and the proceeds of corruption from leaving the country. Hopefully the next generation revolutionaries can actually use technology to bring about the change we want to see instead of relying on the old fashioned political rhetoric. Next time when someone says “Hum bahar ka paisa vapas layenge” (Read: Baba Ramdev claiming to bring back the black money stashed in Swiss banks) then we must ask “What’s your analytics quotient?”