Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Personal Finance - Insurance, Debt and Pension

This post is in the continuity of the personal-finance series where earlier blog post: Personal Finance - Investment was published in May 2020.
RBI published a very important ‘Indian Household Finance Survey’ in August 2017. The report highlighted that:
  • The average Indian household holds 84% of its wealth in real estate and other physical goods, 11% in gold, and the residual 5% in financial assets. A disproportionately high share of wealth allocated to physical (i.e. non-financial) assets, such as gold. 
  • Under-investment in long-term insurance and pension products. Households can move up between 0.4 pp (percentage points) and 1.6 pp by taking on insurance to avoid the burden of emergency credit associated with medical costs
  • Disproportionally large reliance on unsecured debt, mostly from non-institutional sources (e.g. moneylenders).
The need to finance adequate consumption during retirement is a huge issue, and when combined with the low penetration of insurance, households appear vulnerable to adverse shocks later in life. Even the middle class doesn’t even recognize how bad public healthcare and costly private healthcare is for the bulk of the Indian population.

The basic rule for personal finance is - "Keep Insurance and Investments separate." The financial services industry is one black hole for retail consumers.The mischievous cross-selling at private financial institutions on the supply side, and consumers' lack of financial education on the demand-side compounds the problem to a great extent. 

Which financial products you need? Most people just need five simple products in life. Fixed Deposit as a Liquid Fund, Index fund, Home Loan, Term & Health insurance. All of the investments commences only after sufficiently covering oneself with sufficient Health, Life insurance cover, and liquidity to manage at least 6 months of living cost. For any financial product, keep a basic checklist: What is my investment? When?  If yes, put numbers and dates. When does the return start to come in? Is the amount guaranteed in writing? What amounts are expected and on what dates?  Is the return based on an assumption? What is that assumption?

Few insights can be used while taking decisions for pension and insurance.

1. Do NOT buy a bundled life insurance policy. Reasons: Poor life cover, Poor returns, and Heavy losses in case of withdrawal. Pensioners and new parents are the most vulnerable targets for the agents. Look for a Term Insurance with optimum cover i.e. 200 times monthly expense.

2. It is never too early to start saving for retirement. National Pension Scheme can be used to close this gap at the microscale. Under the scheme, The government of India contributed INR1,000 per year to each account, for individuals that contributed themselves between INR1,000 and 12,000 per annum. Equity investments are already discussed in the previous post on personal finance.

3.The medical inflation rate in India is around 15-20 % annually which is much above the general inflation level. This means that a single hospitalization can exhaust the lifelong savings! More can be read here. Summary:
  • Take Health Insurance
  • Reveal the right information and never hesitate to go for a medical test.
  • Avoid Third-Party Administrator and Copay clause while exploring health insurance plans.
4. Settling a debt must be the first priority. To debtors, creditors are like dictators. Always look for a lower interest rate and cut back big expenses.

5. Plan a Budget: When there is difficulty in managing the finance, a budget should be used as a tool for the allocation of the money according to the priorities both in good and bad times.

6. Emergency Fund: A family must have 3-6 months worth of living expenses stowed away in an immediately accessible bank account.

In a recent webinar with Monika Halan, an authority on personal finance in India, three questions were discussed in detail. How big should one’s retirement pot be at the age of 40, 50 & 60? How does one asset allocate one’s retirement across various physical and financial assets? How should one think about life insurance and health insurance in the context of his/her own long term savings plan? She told them in a concise manner that can be viewed on youtube. I will recommend the readers to read the book "Let's Talk Money" and weekly columns of Ms. Uma Shashikant to plan personal finance more carefully.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Who is a social intrapreneur?

Management is the noblest of professions only if it’s practiced well. There are deep rewards in building up people and businesses. I identify myself as a social intrapreneur based on behavior traits and initiatives displayed. What I lack is endurance to iterate and scale an impact model. I was a useful professional at what I do, was able to contribute decently, but not the man who carried the team. That changed in Rajasthan as I explored potential inside me and gradually a spark to siege the initiative.

Leadership at the top levels of not-for-profit organizations tend to steer towards monopolization and loyalty culture. And the time of the leaders is mostly consumed in raising funds rather than building robust programs. That is why leaders always try to handhold individuals who demonstrate an 'entrepreneurial mindset'. The answer to this particular problem is quite clear - to create intrapreneurs. This scenario gives ample place to managers who can manage as well as build the program.

Very simply put, individuals who display self-awareness, innovate within an organization, and take the initiatives to solve a particular problem are termed as social intrapreneurs. They can be termed as change agents who use existing infrastructures and organizational capabilities as levers to deliver social value on a large scale.

Traits of Social Intraprenuer

1. Social intrapreneurs tend to lead with facts and data when they communicate. They are more business-oriented when dealing with others. They maintain a loose affiliation with the organization and often raise their voice when trying to make a point.

2. Social intrapreneurs are avid learners. They are eager to explore new opportunities and try new things. They struggle with issues to stay focused in their initial years and& are not always effective in managing their time.

3. Social intrapreneurs possess an ability to pivot at the right time and adapt to a changed market situation.

Evolution Path

Rather than rewards and punishments, influencing social intrapreneurs requires more elaborate strategies. For a budding intrapreneur to be molded with instructions from superiors, it requires providing information and arguments in support of such requests. The journey of social intrapreneur can be mapped in these five phases:
  • Domain Generic Activity: Productivity enhancement and System establishment
  • Technical competency development and Building networks of similar minded
  • New Project under portfolio through a pilot-scale program
  • Effectively leveraging partnerships and scaling up the program and
  • Building a team and mentoring the next generation
An organization should think over innovations that solve a problem, simplify service, and reduce costs. And if there is an inability to integrate them into the existing portfolio a social intrapreneur can create a separate program that has a real chance to captures the imagination of the people.

Nudge the organization towards personal vision

Successful adaptation of entrepreneurial attitudes and strategies inside of a non-profit/ profit organization is a tough task due to their bureaucratic structures. Also, organizations are biased for action hence time and attention of the top management is tend to be more limited, and decisions are made quickly.

To tackle this problem, social intrapreneur uses a hybrid model of assertiveness in pitch and, creating a business case with shreds of evidence. A lot depends on the culture of the organization rather than business models, and strategies. Hence, a social intrapreneur invests time in dialogue with the stakeholders. It requires patience to build a case as stakeholder consultation on disruptive changes means iteration with the original idea. Pushing a big idea is a rather complex and delicate process and it doesn’t happen by just sharing a presentation. The cultural understanding helps in aligning personal vision with the voice of advocates of systems change. 

This is followed by the creation of concept notes, financial implications, targeted donors, and refining the same presentation several times, before rolling out in public. Yet a new program can have transformative effects positive and negative and can bounce in unexpected directions. The journey to positively impact the lives of fellow humans is more rewarding than financial rewards, the promise of daily joy or intellectual adventure.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Personal Finance - Investment

As reading and writing are essential to participating in society, a person has to be financially literate today to plan for the future. This is essential without indulging deep into technical and jargon-filled financial concepts. The ability to save and the power of compounding is not quickly understood by many people. Investment can be done in various asset classes like equities through mutual funds and stocks, Bonds through mutual funds, Gold, P2P crowd-lending, National Saving Certificate, Public Provident Fund, Fixed Deposits through Banks, NBFC (HDFC Ltd.), Post Office, Real Estate and Currency.

I have started my career in the shadow of the 2008 financial crisis and have been at the receiving ends of the global recession of 2020 due to Covid-19. Both catastrophes have revealed that we could all benefit from a clearer understanding of how markets work. Let us look at the 2007-2010 period for the fall and rise of Sensex. The meltdown in the global financial system proved to be the best time for a stock investment and by March 2009 began the greatest rally seen in equities seen this century.

Companies having good corporate governance and sustainable long-term growth across market cycles recovered from the 2008 crisis. Investment and saving for future shocks take discipline that even middle-income class struggle with. I am hereby sharing the insights before investment:

Checklist for Investment:

1. Systematic Investments (SIPs) are just a methodology to invest, not a winning formula. They are the best means to accumulate. Worst Performing Mutual Funds will deliver poor returns despite the method of investment. And the reality is that not all these investments will generate the expected returns.

2. Don't be a compulsive asset class investors. E.g. a person who loves equity will keep on investing in equity no matter the results. If returns on assets (short or long term) are unconvincing, then there is no point sticking to it. Yet, it is advisable to have a portfolio with different asset classes instead of any single asset class.

3. Get-rich-quick and guaranteed-upside schemes are incubated daily. Investment isn't a poker game! Please do avoid investment in schemes promoted by online marketing companies (Speakasia) and multi-level marketing company (QNET). Whilst investing is not the same as human life, for most people, risk of losing their hard-earned savings can be no less tragic. The moral seems to be that any approach to money-making in the stock market which can be easily described and followed by a lot of people is by its term too simple and too easy to last.

4. IPO is always released in the seller's market with a lot of buzzes and probably have overpriced valuation. Business is not a popularity contest. Avoid hype around a company that didn't even have a basic business model in place. And investment bankers to wealth managers to the media are paid to create hype.

5. Most of the high yield bonds are junk bonds. A combination of macro liquidity and market illiquidity is a time bomb. It always leads only to volatile flash crashes and sudden changes in bond yields and stock prices.

6. The mutual fund market is flooded with multiple schemes: real estate, infrastructure, pharma, technology, close-ended, mid-cap, small-cap, multi-cap, growth, value, and so on. Please do check the last 5 years' performance, exit load factor, and locking period before investment. The investment can be done through direct and distributor in mutual funds.

7. One must find a sound advisor to lay down goals according to their priority and lay emphasis on life goals such as marriage, kids, higher education, and retirement. The fees charged by the advisor should be from you rather than trail end commission from the companies.

8. Public Provident Fund (PPF) is among the best long term investment schemes available in the market. It offers tax-free benefits with an initial lock-in period of 15 years.

Demystifying Stock Investment:

1. Trading is not the same as Investing and its speculation for the majority of the people. Trading is beneficial for the broker by service fee and government through GST. Investing isn't about beating others at their game, it's about controlling yourself at your own game. The right investing process and the ability to hold on for the long term is the way to wealth creation. Not chasing fancies.

2. An individual should own between 10 to 20 stocks as this is an adequate number and avoid excessive diversification. The number can be based on the capital, risk profile, and investment objective. The financial risk lies mostly within ourselves with our habit of feeling restless or relishing a complicated intellectual challenge.

3. We all now know how prominent public and private sector banks in India fudged their NPA figures for years on end until the RBI’s Asset Quality Review forced them to come clean. The same problem exists with several companies exposing them to accounting risk. Most accounting frauds usually come to light when the stock market is tanking and the access to capital starts drying up. Hence, companies with clean management are of paramount importance for investment.

4. A sustainable competitive advantage is a mantra for a successful business. The company’s competitive advantage is the reason for domination in its industry and generates returns much higher than its cost of capital. The sustainability of the competitive advantage enables the company to maintain its dominance and free cash generation ability for long periods. Read about Nestle.

5. Nifty index is not a good representative index. The over-representation of the capital heavy sectors like Power, Construction, Metals, Telecom, Real Estate, and Oil in the Nifty is a key reason for its sluggish performance. The sluggishness of the Nifty makes it relatively easy for reasonably competent PMS managers to outperform the index and unjustifiably claim the presence of skill.

6. Never buy a stock for dividend income alone. Company management and business must be solid and its stock price must be reasonable. If a stock is good 3 months earlier with solid underlying business, it's good now also.

7. Gambling is inherent in human nature. Speculating stock (assumed multi-bagger) should not be more than five percent of the total investment money. Never succumb to the certainty that any industry (eg IT) will outgrow others in the future.

8. There are two methods of investment in the stock market either: dollar cost averaging or buying an undervalued share and simply buying shares of premium companies in a bear market.

10. Don't invest in the sectors in which there is too much government interference (aviation sector). Better to invest in US stock exchange (S&P 500 and NASDEQ) through index funds.

“Invest in businesses that buy commodities and sell brands” is a powerful idea for long-term investing propagated by Warren Buffet. For geeks who want to test this idea, I will share the process (found on the internet )of assessing a stock into a checklist (step 1: check accounting quality; step 2: check the consistency of ROCE generation and revenue growth over the past 15 years; step 3: read the last 15 years of annual reports to assess capital allocation; step 4: assess sustainable competitive advantages, etc)

Footnote: Those have read with patience can get list of companies to invest compiled with limited knowledge.

Friday, May 8, 2020

Acumen Bootcamp - 8th Week Reflection

Part 0123 , 45 , 6 and 7 of Acumen virtual bootcamp series can be found here. This is last part of the Acumen Bootcamp series

I had completed all sessions of the bootcamp. And, the interaction with people helped me to define what is leadership. Leadership is an influence. Leadership is born when competence meets character, practical skills meet moral imagination and urgency meets action. I would recommend people to article: Crucibles of Leadership

The last session was reflection exercise by the participants and moderators on the whole 8 week journey. I was introduced to rich network of social-sector leaders from across the world a.k.a Community of Social Innovators. The decline of what sociologists call ‘secondary associations’, where people come together to search and inquire, is one of the processes of atomisation which lead to people being isolated and facing this mass of information alone. I hope a new association can help to navigate me complex and gradually painstaking journey of social change. There is Acumen Academy also, a school dedicated for social change. The goal is to learn and escape from becoming prisoner of my own rhetoric, which makes it even more difficult to adapt new realities.

Feedback: The internal reflection as a leader and a person was the fulcrum of the course. Yet, more time could have been devoted to adaptive leadership in my opinion. The crucible experience was a trial and a test, a point of deep self-reflection that forced participants to question who we are and what mattered to us. Four hours per week is a minuscule time in comparison to the time that is wasted throughout the week. That may be called as a lack of rigor in the whole 8 week sessions. Investment of at-least 8-10 Hours per week would have better returns for fellows and moderators. Thanks to my peers for profound discussions and especially Abbas for moderating interactive session

Monday, May 4, 2020

Asia Landscape - Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on agricultural value chains

VCB-N has launched a series of Webinars on the COVID crises to offer a platform for learning and exchange about the current situation. This is the summary of the webinar on impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on agricultural value chains by VCB Network.

1. Mr. Barua Kaushik, Country Director IFAD Cambodia & Mr. Fabrizio Bresciani, Regional Economist IFAD Rome - IFAD perspectives
2. Anirban Bhowmik, Country Director, Swisscontact, Bangladesh – the smallholder farmers and the informal sector perspectives in Bangladesh
3. Mr. Andrew Wilson, Regional Coordinator Market Systems, HELVETAS – The market perspective
4. Prof. Liu Yonggong, China Agricultural University (CAU)- The market perspective from China


1. The COVID crisis does negatively impact households in three inter-connected areas i) food security ii) income and iii) investment ability. In rural areas, the down-fall of prices has diminished the investment ability thus working capital of smallholder farmers which will again affect the production thus income and broader food security in the mid-term. The decreased ability to invest in next season’s crops is further deteriorated by the insecurity about next season’s markets. Farmers are falling back on local food systems and traditional production and solidarity mechanisms to deal with the crisis.

2. IFAD is using Rural Poor Stimulus Facility having 4 main pillar: i) safeguarding access to inputs and basic access for production purposes ii) facilitating access to markets incl. support to logistics, storage etc. iii) targeted funds to assure access to services mainly through existing programmes and iv) funds to develop / disseminate digital services / tools to farmers. This will help actors to overcome both Income shocks and Asset shocks.

3. Upstream actors like traders and retailers saw their income flow diminishing with falling business volumes and are short of liquidity which hampers their ability to pre-finance inputs for smallholders. Ability to extend credit line to farmers will be reduced for next season as traders are getting hit.

4. Food production chain especially fish will face big trouble in Bangladesh. April and May are the peak season of stocking of fish and many smallholders are not going to stock due to poor transport, price and availability of inputs. Hatcheries are only able to supply at least 50% of their total production and struggling to keep these all fish fry in their limited area.

5. International value chains for non-perishables like the trade in food ingredients are less affected by the logistical complications. As their exists a 6 weeks lag between shipment and retail at destination markets the real impact on trade volumes is still unclear.

6. “Stress reveals the cracks” : Structural weakness of agriculture value chain related to access to finance along the chain (production and forward market linkages) has been exposed in the current food systems.

7. Policy Narrative- Fiscal and Non fiscal: Non fiscal interventions must focus on production support with timely supply of seeds, fertilizers and pesticides. Fiscal support must be given to the farmers to manage their debt and allow them to invest in future production cycles.

8. Technology based entrepreneurs are not enough and form minuscule part of supply chain. Investments should be balanced along the VC (farm-level, storage, processing, logistics, and market access) to avoid bottlenecks which can be a "time bomb" for commodity prices, and farmers' income in the end.

9. Responses at company level should typically include software (adapted procedures, regulations) as well as hard-ware (protective gear etc.).

10. Responses as applied in China might be difficult to duplicate in other countries that lack the mechanisms for direct support to producers or financial reserves to apply similar support measures.