A minute for your Feedback please

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Converting Capex to Opex-can infrastructure lessons work in finance?

During my Transport Infrastructure(TI) classes here at IIM-A, Prof G Raghuram introduced the class to a framework of analyzing infrastructure as three distinct segments, each with its own risk-return tradeoffs, competition characteristics and investment rationale. They are Terminals/Right of way/Rolling stock. This is further elaborated below(note that essentially they have the principle that specialist operators take over capex headache, and charge opex to the users).
  1. Right of way:- Getting the license to lay cables/fly airlines/build towers. Typically, this involves liasons with regulators/local authorities/government. Usually a legal monopoly, and if a private sector player gets it, it becomes a natural monopoly due to the poor economics of duplication.
  2. Terminals:- These are the fixed departure/termination points between which rolling stock(vehicles etc) moves. They supply all the operating infrastructure and deftly schedule competitors. 
  3. Rolling Stock:- Planes, buses, coaches, wagons, ships fall in this class. They are the actual revenue earning assets, which depend on the first 2 segments for being able to operate. There is no voluntary open access at all here, and maximum customization/differentiation is possible. Usually unregulated(wrt returns) and the sweet spot for private players due to low cost of entry, low entry barriers etc. 
 The above framework applies to nearly all infrastructure sectors whether it be telecom(laying wires/towers/handsets-spectrum), rail(tracks/stations/coaches), ships(flags/ports/ships). The underlying principle at play is that asset ownership/operation, and asset utilization require drastically different competencies. While fixed asset management would need maximum utilization(open access), efficient cheap service etc; its utilization would depend on competitive dynamics and the ease of entry for market players. Earlier, regulators used to bundle the license('right of way') with the necessity to set up one's own physical infrastructure('terminals'/'rolling stock'), but now the realization has set in that operating the asset may not need physical assets-sharing agreements can take care of that. Hence we have toll collection companies, MVNOs etc, who bring their expert skills to get the best out of the infrastructure.

In case of banking/finance, this paradigm is slowly getting in place. Take the following examples:-
  1. Hedge funds can now use their intellectual capital('rolling stock') to access the prime broking infrastructure of their investment banking competitors
  2. Insurance companies/mutual funds can piggyback on their banking partners to sell products, instead of taking the pain to set up branches. 
  3. For expanding the access of retail banking, RBI suggests bank agnostic banking correspondents, who will have machines able to operate any bank's account.
  4. The idea of intraprenuers within organizations/financial supermarket in a retail bank branch, hinges on the idea that creative ideas/cross selling can best utilize the infrastructure already in place. 
  5. ATMs('terminals') are now nearly open access due to the number of free transactions(5/month) for ALL banking customers. Hence, new banks(aka 'rolling stock'!) can devote less resources to this aspect and focus on customer service and innovation
  6. Incubation centres/Industrial parks/business centres/single window clearances(presently non banking scenario only) focus on this same principle of relieving headache of the formalities/heavy investments. 
  7. Outsourcing trend seen in financial services(IT/Manpower/office space/accounting) and elsewhere, is reflective of this trend,\
This post IS a bit random but should hopefully spark some thinking

No comments: