Category Archives: India

Transparency in Mutual Funds

Open letter to SEBI by Personalfn.com, a financial planning initiative. It can be reached at info@personalfn.com. I have their permission to reproduce the article.

Dear Mr. Chairman:

The fact sheet of a mutual fund scheme that is released by its Asset Management Company (AMC) is a vital source of information for investors. However, in our view, the information provided by AMCs in these fact sheets is often inadequate and/or incoherent.

At Personalfn, we have always championed the cause of investors. To that end, we present a wish list for disclosure of information in mutual fund fact sheets.

1. Expense ratio The ratio represents the expenses charged by the AMC to the mutual fund for various purposes like investment fees, marketing and selling expenses including agents’ commission and transaction costs among others. These expenses eat into the returns clocked by the investor; expenses in fact have a very significant impact on long-term returns of the scheme. Given its importance, the expense ratio should be published in the fact sheet every month. At present only a handful of AMCs follow such a disclosure policy.

2. Portfolio turnover ratio The portfolio turnover ratio is a measure of how frequently stocks have been bought and sold by the fund manager. The same can offer investors an insight into the fund manager’s investment style. Of course, a higher ‘churn’ also has an implication on the expense ratio. There is a need to ensure that AMCs disclose portfolio turnover ratios in the monthly fact sheet. More importantly, the same needs to be computed in a standard manner. Among the AMCs that choose to reveal portfolio turnover ratios, some make use of a rolling 12-Mth period for the computation, while others consider the financial year as the starting point.

3. Average portfolio maturity It is common to find debt fund fact sheets mentioning the portfolio’s average maturity. As the name suggests, the figure denotes the time to maturity for all the debt instruments in the fund’s portfolio expressed as an average. Conversely, there are others which simply mention the duration (the unit for which is a time period i.e. days/months as well). However, duration (albeit vital) is a distinct measure from the average portfolio maturity. Duration is the tenure for which a portfolio of bonds or a bond must be held, for the investor to be immune to interest rate changes. There is a need to ensure that all debt funds disclose both their average maturities and durations in their fact sheets. Also a standard computation method must be followed so that investors can conduct a meaningful comparison between like schemes across fund houses.

4. Fund manager profile The fact sheets should unambiguously declare the fund manager responsible for every mutual fund scheme along with his profile. Similarly, the period for which he has been managing the given scheme should be mentioned as well. This will prove particularly relevant in situations wherein a successful fund manager, who was responsible for an impressive performance, has been replaced by another fund manager. Investors who are about to get invested in the scheme based on its track record, should be made aware that a new fund manager is now in charge.

5. Is the fund manager invested in the scheme? It is always comforting for consumers to know that the “cook eats his own cooking”. Similarly, a fund manager investing in a fund managed by him can be source of confidence for investors. The monthly fact sheet should have a disclosure in terms of whether or not the fund manager is invested in the scheme.

6. Unambiguous investment objectives Investment objectives like “to achieve log-term capital appreciation” are commonplace in the mutual funds segment. Such objectives are inconclusive and offer no aid to a prospective investor who is contemplating investing in the fund. An ideal investment objective must be unambiguous and comprehensive.
For example, the objective could read, “a growth-styled fund, the fund aims to achieve long-term capital appreciation by investing predominantly (at least 70% of assets) in stocks from the large cap segment. Long-term being defined as at least 5 years and companies with a market capitalisation of over Rs 50 bn (Rs 5,000 crores) at the time of investment qualifying as the large cap segment. The fund can also invest upto 30% of its assets in debt/money market instruments for defensive considerations”.

A rigidly defined investment objective ensures that the investor is decidedly aware of the investment proposition offered by the fund and can make an informed investment decision. The regulator should make this mandatory. Furthermore, the Board of Trustees can at preset time intervals (say semi-annually) offer their comments on the AMC’s adherence/success in achieving the stated investment objective.

7. Portfolio disclosure AMCs have increasingly stopped disclosing entire portfolios in their fact sheets (the printed versions, which are sent to investors). For example, in the case of equity funds most fact sheets simply reveal the top 10 stock holdings. So the fact sheet for an equity fund which holds say 50% of net assets in the top 10 stock holdings doesn’t reveal half the portfolio. Similarly there is also a case for more meaningful disclosure. Related sector holdings can be clubbed to reveal the true diversification levels in the fund’s portfolio. For example, holdings in related sectors like Auto and Auto Ancillaries can be clubbed and shown under a common heading i.e. Auto.

The regulator should make it mandatory for schemes to disclose their complete portfolios and also to follow a standardised classification of companies into sectors.

We believe that the inclusion of the aforementioned disclosure norms will go a long way in furthering the cause of investor empowerment.