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Saturday, August 6, 2011

Retail investors face more risks than while driving cars-so make entry test mandatory?

Umpteen studies prove the same point-that investors have a very low chance of beating the market. Whether professional fund managers or amateur retail investors, they more often than not fail to beat the market. For every Warren Buffet out there, there are millions of losers(losers financially-not counting the risk lovers, education gained etc). This is more true for the derivatives market, where leverage magnifies the exposure at risk. While SEBI now insists on brokers collecting income proofs of their clients/getting clients to sign risk disclosure documents, there is nothing to ensure that investors understand the 'rules of the financial road'-risks/common mistakes/financial planning/financial literacy tenets etc, before investing. One needs a license even to drive a Rs 1 lakh nano, but not for investing lakhs in the stock market.

For financial intermediaries, NISM(and NCFM) have successfully scaled up curriculum and tests to ensure a basic level of knowledge, commensurate with the risks/products sold. But for investors who often commit a good chunk of their savings to the market, there is no such mandatory testing. One may argue that interested investors will learn from newspapers/financial press/magazines/internet etc, but they may be mislead by the wrong sources, also it may be 'too little too late'. While financial literacy is spreading via CBSE curriculum/RBI comics/investor talks/NSE tieups with colleges etc, one needs to deliver a big-bang training, to ensure that people know-and more importantly acknowledge-the various details/risks of their decision to do active investing.

Such a test could be made compulsory for those with broking accounts, private wealth management coverage etc, and then rolled out to all. Exemptions are not desirable-because often even commerce graduates may not have the right concepts. The format could be a MCQ test with caselets, in multiple languages(Hindi/English/State language), with the expense borne by the investor protection fund of the stock exchanges. It could cover the basic NCFM modules content + awareness of frauds/dangers in common investor actions like day trading, margin trading, blank POAs etc. The benefits of this are
  1. Lesser chance of 'noise traders'
  2. Brokers will be happy as arbitrations become easier('investors cannot claim ignorance')
  3. Financial planners prospective client base will go up
  4. Basic financial products(index funds, pension funds, term insurance) become more popular. 
  5. General financial education level improves.
If brokers do this voluntarily(say sponsor client NCFM test), then overall benefit would happen, in my view. But that being unlikely, that regulatory prod seems necessary.

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