India Country Risks in 2012

Indian organizations are in for a rocky ride in 2012 as darkening clouds hang over India growth story. In some ways it is a make or break year for India’s continuing successful journey for economic growth and power. The world is watching and India cannot afford to flounder. However, the risks in the economic environment are acting as tsunamis and volcanoes, wiping out past efforts swiftly. This year Indian organizations need to watch out for external risks and triggers carefully, as they can have huge impact on the bottom line of the company.

The prophets of gloom and doom predict that India’s GDP in 2012-2013 financial year will be between 6-7%. In light of prevailing political and economic environment this statement is a conservative realistic assessment. Hence, organizations to sustain and grow in 2012 need to conduct strategic risk assessment of India country risks. I am giving below my top four.

1. Political Paralysis

In 2011, Prime Minster Manmohan Singh’s reputation has nose-dived as the country was engulfed in corruption scandals. His continuance as Prime Minster till the end of term is widely debated in political circles. The Congress party is facing another crises due to Sonia Gandhi’s ill-health. Public is speculating that she has undergone surgery to treat cancer in USA. Hence, rumors are rife about Rahul Gandhi  taking over the reigns of the party. Moreover, senior Congress party leaders are having spats in public.

Last but not the least, Anna Hazare’s fight against corruption has awakened the middle class. Finally, they have lost their apathy and are demanding better governance.

Considering all aspects, there is little likelihood of a strong national party leading India in 2012. Moreover, political commentators are hinting about mid-term polls due to fishers in Congress party and it’s deteriorating credibility. Therefore, large organizations must manage political risks at national and local state level. Keep in mind sensitivities of various political parties otherwise their is a probability of getting caught in a tug of war. Also, adjust the growth plans for government ineffectiveness.

2. Financial Market Turmoil

Indian markets in 2011 have done badly on financial indicators. There is slowdown in growth and in October 2011 industrial output contracted by 5.1%. Fiscal and current deficit are expected to cross 3% and 5% of the GDP respectively in 2011-2012. The GDP growth forecast for the year was reduced to 7.5% on 10 Dec 2011.

Sensex on 16 December 2011 closed at 15,491, a 25 month low. Stock brokers predict that the market is not going to rise in a hurry.

Business Standard reported in its weekly report on 16 December that “The WPI inflation for the month of November came in at 9.11 per cent compared to 9.73 per cent in October. The market was looking at an inflation of below 9 per cent for November. Inflation for November 2010 stood at 8.2%. India’s food inflation eased to 4.35% in the year to December 3 — its lowest reading since late February 2008 — from an annual 6.60% rise in the previous week, government data showed today.

Further, On Thursday, the Indian rupee touched a record low of 54.30 to the US dollar on the back of sustained foreign fund capital outflows in view of the fall in the equity markets, coupled with a stronger dollar in global markets.”

The Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee recently commented in a meeting – “The present indicators show that both private consumption and investment sentiments have weakened and it is this weakening of sentiments that makes it necessary to shift our focus back to near term issues.

Moreover, Moody’s in November 2011, “downgraded the entire Indian banking system’s rating outlook from “stable” to “negative,” citing the likely deterioration in asset quality in the months ahead.” Additionally, aviation, telecom, commercial real estate and power utilities industries collectively owe banks Rs 5 lakh crore. These industries are most affected by the slow down.

The financial market situation is unlikely to improve in the short run. India will most probably not see a double-digit growth in GDP in 2012-2013. Companies need to risk adjust the financial growth numbers keeping in mind the prevailing situation. . Conservative estimates and cost control will steer the organizations in safe waters. Maintain good liquidity throughout the year as banks are not going to save organizations in a crunch.

3. Future Regulatory Reforms

The regulatory reforms came to a standstill in 2011. The business leaders came out strongly criticizing the political parties for hampering economic growth. The unhappiness of corporate world is evident that investments – domestic and foreign – are at an all time low.

The government in December 2011 parliament session had a list of 50 Bills for approval. Some of the Bills presented were Companies Bill 2011, Banking Laws Amendment Bill 2011,Prevention of Money Laundering (Amendment) Bill,  Direct Taxes Code Bill, 2010, Forward Contracts (Regulation) Amendment Bill, 2010; Pension Fund Regulatory and Development Authority Bill, 2011, Securities and Exchange Board of India (Amendment) Bill 2009; Insurance Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2008 and Regulation of Factor (Assignment of Receivables) Bill, 2011, among others.

This shows the pending backlog of bills requiring approval in the parliament. Business leaders are likely to lobby for approval of these bills in 2012. Hence, risk managers need to be geared to manage numerous regulatory changes in 2012.

4. Skyrocketing Corruption & Bribery

In light of various scams – telecom, mining, land, etc, – the corruption perception index in 2011 has fallen to 3.1 from 2010’s 3.3. India’s world ranking in corruption has gone lower to 95 from a total of 183 countries assessed. This is not surprising as Indian’s in 2011 saw well known politicians and business owners implicated in scam cases.

The recently released report of Global Financial Integrity – Illicit Financial Flows from Developing Countries Over the Decade Ending 2009 – states that trade mis-pricing accounts over 80% of the illicit financial flows in Asia. India in the last decade lost US $104 billions in illicit flows and is ranked 15th highest among developing countries with China topping at US $ 2467 billion. Though in comparison to China, India doesn’t appear to be doing badly, but that is distorted reality. A couple of activists and whistle blowers lost their lives during the year for uncovering corruption cases.

In 2011, Anna Hazare initiated public rallies to force government to pass Lok Pal Bill. Although, parliament is expected to pass it in December 2011 winter session, the implementation will take some time. The government’s sincerity in eradicating corruption is questionable as the various anti-graft bills are being used to play political football. The UPA government to counteract Hazare’s war cry has presented three additional anti-graft namely –  Judicial Accountability Bill,  Public Interest Disclosure Bill (Protection to Whistleblowers Bill) and the Citizens’ Charter – in the parliament in December 2011. A step in the right direction but the road ahead is tough. Passing bills and implementing them are different ball games.

In light of the fraud cases, high-level prosecutions and political games, the Indian corporate world has become vary. In 2012, organizations must focus on implementing a code of conduct for employees and provide training to them on business ethics. The legal and reputation risks will be extremely high if these aspects are ignored.  The situation becomes more tricky for US and UK multinationals as they are governed by FCPA of their respective countries.

Closing Thoughts

Political deadlock, inflation and corruption have taken the air out of India’s growth story. 2012 will be the decisive year in assessing whether India can surmount these obstacles and accelerate economic growth or  go on a downward spiral. Organizations must maintain a balance between growth and risks. The downside risks can cost heavily and there may be no quick ways to turn around numbers. Hence, doing proper planning, implementation and cost effective operational execution are key for success.

References:

  1. Illicit Financial Flows from Developing Countries Over the Decade Ending 2009 – By Global Financial Integrity
  2. Corruption Perception Index
  3. Weekly Report: Sensex, Nifty hit 2-yr lows on growth woes – Business Standard
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Rs.300 Crore Citibank Fraud

NDTV

Shivraj Puri

Last week Citibank India filed a police complaint stating that Mr. Shivraj Puri, an employee of Gurgoan branch had siphoned of money from 20 high net-worth investors (HNI) amounting to Rs 300 crore (USD 67 million). Media updates of police investigation show that police are having some success in cracking the case. I thought let me provide the case details and the implications of the case to Citibank and other related parties.

 

Case Facts 

Here is a summary of case published to date. Mr. Shivraj Puri is a Senior Relationship Manager in Citibank Gurgoan branch. He used a forged notification of Securities & Exchange Board of India (SEBI) stating that few select clients would earn higher returns (18% to 20%) if they invested in his suggested schemes.  He invested the money obtained from HNI in the stock market in his personal capacity over a period of few months. Presently, information of the period of fraudulent activity is not available.

Up to now the main client affected by the fraud is Hero Honda group and the amount diverted is to the tune of Rs 200 crore (USD 44.67 million). Mr. Sanjay Gupta, Assistant Vice President in the accounts office of Hero Corporate Services was arrested yesterday. Mr. Sanjay Gupta is purported to have formed two finance companies BG Finance and G2S Consultancy and diverted Hero group promoter funds in these two companies. These funds were then fraudulently invested by Mr. Shivraj Puri of Citibank. Mr. Sanjay Gupta has allegedly taken Rs 20 crore (USD 4.46 million) as commission from Mr. Shivraj Puri for diverting these funds.  It is suspected that Mr. Sanjay Gupta was aware of the forged SEBI letter but recommended the investment to a number of people.

Other details reveal that funds were transferred to Mr. Puri’s wife, other relatives account and some benami (fictitious accounts). Mr. Shivraj Puri used Religare and Bonanza brokerage firms for investing the money in stock market. Religare stated the Mr. Puri has been a client since December 2009.

SEBI investigators have commenced investigating Mr. Puri. RBI has demanded a fraud report and impact from Citi and may take an independent review of Citi operations.

 An Analysis of Issues

Impact on Profits: As per the audited financial statements as on March 2010 the net profit of Citibank India was Rs. 860 crore (USD 192 million). If Citibank has to absorb the loss of the fraud and payback to the clients, its profitability for the year will be impacted negatively. Presently, since the main loss is of Hero Honda group, and its employee is involved in the fraud, the whole burden may not be on Citi. The second aspect being stated is that the shares held in various demat accounts by Mr. Puri will be identified and the accounts frozen (19 accounts have been frozen till date). This will enable partial recovery of the estimated fraud loss.

Segregation of Duty: The Relationship Manager of Citibank as per the details available on Citi website is a “one point contact with the Bank”. The Relationship Manager is “backed by a team of experts in the fields of investments, insurance, treasury and foreign exchange services”. There appears to be lack of controls and supervision on the activities of the Relationship Manager. From the looks of it, the Relationship Manager is selling the investment concept, obtaining funds, investing them and monitoring the accounts. This shows that there is no segregation of duty for the different functions. SEBI and RBI could both question the investment management department functioning.

Know Your Customer (KYC): Both SEBI and RBI have issued guidelines for Know Your Customer. KYC procedures mandate that asset management companies should review cases of clients “where the source of the funds is not clear or not in keeping with clients apparent standing /business activity”. If in this case, funds from Citi customer accounts were being diverted to accounts in Citi (for example, Mr. Puri’s relatives or other fictitious accounts) then there should have been checks in place to question the business validity of the transactions. On the other hand, the brokerage firms, Religare and Bonanza should have questioned the source of funds of Mr. Puri as he is a salaried employee. Although, they are stating that KYC procedures were followed.

Suspicious Transaction Monitoring: According to RBI and SEBI guidelines, a bank is required to have systems in place to monitor suspicious transactions and there is special emphasis on high net-worth investors (HNI). For HNI the nature of activity of the customer should be monitored by the bank and suspicious transactions reported to RBI if money laundering is suspected. In this case, questions can be raised on the nature of systems and procedures in place to monitor suspicious transactions. SEBI and RBI could raise questions on the accuracy and validity of suspicious transactions monitoring reports submitted by the bank.

Functioning of Risk Management Departments:  RBI guidelines specify that banks should have proper fraud monitoring, compliance and risk management functions. The responsibility for establishing and maintaining the fraud risk function rests with the CEO. In this case, the fraud was perpetuated over a few months (specific dates not available) and the fraud department was alerted by the customer complaints. This raises questions on fraud detection and monitoring procedures implemented at the bank. The bank could face some tough questions from RBI regarding the fraud and compliance department functioning.

Citi definitely is in a soup and as the investigation unfolds, we will know the full story. I am expecting a few more skeletons to topple out. Will definitely keep you updated on the happenings. Share your opinion about the case here.