Retail Investor Confidence & Trust

YET ANOTHER INVESTOR ISSUE

A headline on TOI drew my attention, when I read that a firm had allegedly illegally raised several hundred crores from the unsuspecting public, some 55,000 of them. I was initially surprised, then stunned, and  finally shocked at the article, and its implications. For starters, how did a company raise 600 Crores from the public, all of 55000+ people – without having the requisite approvals? This was stunning beyond measure. Where are the famous checks and balances?

This news, and other such news titbits, introduce an element of needless risk in the minds of the people untouched by this event; it introduces doubt and uncertainty. Unitech isn’t a small company, in that it is quite well known and high-profile, with forays in Real Estate as well as Telecommunications. How does an investor trust any private company offering, regardless of size? There are mechanisms in place, of that I am aware – but are these enough? And, more critically, are these well known – not to the business managers, but to the investing public at large?

ACTION ON THE GROUND

The issue I am raising isn’t the core safety of the money; I am not aware of the specifics of this investment, and further, all investments are subject to market risk. The point is straightforward – as per the news article, a company raised money without approval, which is a shocker to be frank. How did this come about? This is by no means a normal occurrence, one to which answers are urgently needed. The article goes on to state that many investors have approached the National Company Law Tribunal, which passed orders for refund of the money. These orders were not fulfilled.

That brings me to the second aspect : despite orders being passed for refund, nothing was done. Where is law and order? Where is compliance? To be fair, the company appealed for time, and reduction of the payable interest rate. This appeal was rejected, and as on date, the money is still outstanding, with investors still doing the rounds hoping for their hard-earned money to be given back to them. One can only hope that at least these investors get back their dues from the company.

THIS ISNT THE FIRST ONE

If the above statement sounds sarcastic or morose, there is a whole history, a deeply personal history behind it. A history related to another very well known Indian Company, a household name almost. This company shall remain anonymous, but the story is telling. My father invested a large percentage of his savings {almost 25%+} in this well-known company’s division. The intermediary was an ex-employee, well known to and related to us {blood relative}, a senior employee now retired. Dad went ahead and invested. That was the last we saw of that money, and the end result was a shock for my poor Dad, and a house we had to forego as the investment failed, and no money was available. It has been decades since then, and we still haven’t seen hide nor hair of that money.

Of sure, all of the above happened. We and others complained; orders were passed – in our case, timely repayment in installments and all of that. To the best of my knowledge, only 1 installment was ever paid, at least to my Dad. We still have to recover well over 1 Lac plus interest from them. Will that money ever be recovered? I don’t think so. It was in that light of that sordid history that I made the above sarcastic and morose comment : one hopes these investors get their money back!

ADDRESS THE ISSUES, PLEASE

This latest is just another case of a corporate getting its hands dirty. We have an excellent system in operation, we have the laws governing this system that are, by and large, followed. That is something to be proud of, and repose trust in. Any system has loopholes; that isn’t the issue. Sadly, such things will happen; witness the Subprime issue and its proximate causes. That is the world we live in, sad to say. The problem is that once these issues come to light – they should be addressed on a war footing

RETAIL INVESTOR CONFIDENCE AND TRUST

The reason is that each such happening undermines the investor confidence and trust in the system; and that we in India can ill-afford. As it is, retail investor participation in markets is very low indeed. And given that we Indians have no social security system in place, we need returns on our investments that are higher in returns to enable an independent old age. Such repeated happenings only serve to exacerbate the problems, and ensure that the retail investor keeps participation at a low level… which we need to increase

What we need is urgent and effective speedy redressal in order to deepen the markets, which will serve as an additional safety valve, as an informed investor class will be created. It is a no-brainer that more actively participating investors will be better informed, more proactive in analyzing companies and investment avenues, will have greater options to choose from etc. This will in turn make it far more difficult for “operators”, as well as spread the investment, as investors will be less likely to invest large percentages into one avenue of investment…

Will this happen? I hope so, but I fear not…. 

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