Sucheta Dalal :At last AMFI ups the ante against mutual fund mis-selling
Sucheta Dalal

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At last, AMFI ups the ante against mutual fund mis-selling  

April 8, 2010

 The Association of Mutual Funds in India (AMFI) has finally woken up to the messy game of assets under management (AUM) transfer and rampant mis-selling of mutual funds by banks and national distributors.

The industry body has sent warning notices to HDFC Bank, HSBC Bank, Kotak Mahindra Bank and NJ India Invest to stop this practice, reports CNBC TV18. AMFI has also sent a stern signal that if they don’t comply with the guidelines, AMFI will consider withdrawing their licenses.

Interestingly, Moneylife had first reported this practice on 2 February 2009. Post the implementation of the trail commission norms, AUM transfer by unethical means was gaining traction, and distributors and investors were being duped into signing dubious letters. (See here and here).

In the first article, we had identified HDFC Bank and NJ India Invest as among those distributors who were indulging in this practice. Now AMFI has acted against these two entities. AMFI is also in the process of issuing notices to other such entities.

Ironically, according to some smaller distributors, KN Vaidyanathan, executive director, SEBI, had addressed a gathering of distributors at the Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE) earlier this year where he had said that they should follow the practices of NJ India Invest and openly lauded the “ethical services” provided by NJ India Invest.

According to sources, NJ India Invest has a dedicated team for encouraging switchover of assets. In some cases involving national distributors, investors are duped into signing letters which eventually leads to a change of distributor, without the knowledge of the investor. The ban on no-objection certificates (NOCs) was supposed to ease investor woes while changing a distributor, but some players continued to demand an NOC from investors.

The entry of bank distributors in the MF distribution game is unlikely to end mis-selling of MFs. (See here). Recently, the State Bank of India has trained 18,000 employees to sell MFs through its banking channel. After SEBI allowed MF units to be traded through the exchanges in December 2009, brokerage houses have started providing free demat accounts to earn trail commission. Sources reveal that while converting physical MFs into demat forms, investors are made to sign a change of distributor. (Read here).

A Pune based certified financial planner K V Balaji  recounts his experience with ICICIdirect: “I have received an SMS from ICICIdirect, offering a 'free service of converting offline mutual fund investments to online investments'. On calling the number, the person spoke about ICICIdirect offering a free service. When I asked how will ICICIdirect garner any revenue from this 'free' service, he didn’t talk of the trail. Instead, he stated that ICICIdirect would manage yearly maintenance fee of Rs500 per account holder from its demat accounts.”

However ICICIdirect denied having any such scheme which provides a free or even a discounted demat account based on mutual fund conversion.


Our email queries sent to HDFC Bank, Kotak Mahindra Bank, NJ India Invest and ICICIdirect remained unanswered till the time of publishing this piece. — Ravi Samalad

-- Sucheta Dalal