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Saturday, September 17, 2011

Are Mutual Fund trustees neglecting their duties?

As anybody conversant with the functioning of an AMC would know, there are ways to circumvent the statutory caps on fund management charges, expense ratio and brokerage. Till SEBi intervened, the practices were going on unabated, with the 'trustees' being passive onlookers rather than standing up and earning their fee. Atleast, independent directors of companies do resign when the mismanagement gets too much, but the esteemed mutual fund 'trustees' presided over
  1. Inflating advertising/marketing expenses of AMC to give under the table commissions to star MF agents. While this hit the AMC bottomline(as the overall expense ratio stayed fixed), the trustees should have scrutinized the expenses, which they did not
  2. Not ensuring that soft dollars benefit goes to the mutual fund. Agreed that SEBI regulations are silent in this regard, but soft dollars(non monetary credit for AMC expenses like research) offset against brokerage business, allow the AMC to post a lower expense ratio than justified, because it is paid for in higher brokerage rates(which affects net return but does not show up!). While SEBI regulations against concentration of broking business of MF somewhat contain this practice, it does go on unabated. 
  3. Championing NFOs Till SEBI intervened to stop the practice of simply relaunching existing mutual funds as NFOs, no trustee/AMC director(to my knowledge) put their foot down and refused to allow the practice. And why would they? Their fees would be endangered.
  4. Allowing opaque valuations of debt funds:- The FMP valuation controversy was whether illiquid securities were properly valued or not. Trustees should have ensured this, but nothing happened. 
MF trustees are expected to play the equivalent role to independent directors, but the extent of legal codification is much lesser for those 'trustees', who can therefore get away with laxity. While this post does not tar all MF trustees with the same brush, one must be wary before placing much reliance on their supervision.

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