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How will the GST Impact Financial Services Sector in India?

The Goods and Services Tax (GST) has been the biggest tax reform in India since 1947. Analysts also expect that it will have a huge impact on various sectors of the Indian economy, especially the service sector. Of the segment comprising banks and non-banking financial companies (NBFCs), the fund-related, fee-based and insurance services will witness significant impact as a result of GST implementation and will see shifts from the way they had been operating earlier.

What is really implied by financial services?

The term ‘financial services’ has not been specifically defined by the GST law. However, to understand the implications of this tax on the financial services sector, we need to consider the supply of goods and services that involve the extension of credit support. These services include but are not limited to:

– Loans
– Lease
– Hire purchase
– Conditional sales
– Securitisation or assignment of receivables
– Acquisition or sale of shares and securities

The compliance towards GST can take some effort in the above fields because of the nature of operations conducted by banks and NBFCs concerning credit products, lease transactions, hire purchase, actionable claims and other funds and non-funds-based services.

The GST rate on banking services and services provided by the NBFCs has been raised from 15% to 18% with the execution of this reform from July 01, 2017 onwards. The GST impact on financial services may further be classified into the following sub-sections:

1. Network of branches to be registered separately

Before the implementation of GST, a bank or NBFC with operations spread across India could discharge its compliance on service tax through one ‘centralised’ registration. After GST regulation, these institutions will be required to get a separate tax registration for each of the states they work in.

As a destination-based tax, GST has a multi-stage collection system. In such a mechanism, the tax is collected at each stage and the credit of tax that was paid at the last stage is available as a set off at the subsequent stage of the transaction. This transfers the tax incidence to different entities more evenly, and helps the industry through improved cash flows and better working capital management.

2. Leveraged and de-leveraged Input Tax Credit 

Earlier, banks and NBFCs had been majorly opting for the reversal of 50% of the Central Value Added Tax (CENVAT) credit that they avail against the inputs and input services, while the CENVAT credit on the capital goods was given without any reversal conditions. Under GST, the 50% of the CENVAT credit that was availed for inputs, input services and capital goods has been reversed. This leaves banks and NBFCs with a decreased credit of 50% on capital goods, and in turn raises the cost of capital.

However, this can be counterbalanced by the advantages posed by operating one’s business in the new taxation scenario. A unified domestic market can help with more opportunities for expansion and reduced production costs enhancing one’s profitability.

3. Evaluation and adjudication 

The impact of GST on banking services and NBFCs will also be felt in terms of evaluation procedures. Service tax was assessed by the particular regulators in the state where a branch is registered. In addition, every registered branch of the concerned bank or NBFC had to validate its position for the chargeability in the respective state and provide a reason for utilising the input tax credit in various states.

The GST assessment will involve more than one assessing authority, and each of them may have a different judgement for the same underlying issue. Although such contradictions can prolong the decision-making process for the financial institutions, the adverse effects of evaluation by one authority can be offset through decisions made by another assessor.

Impact of GST on banking sector – General services 

Banks in India have been levying service tax on most transactions enabled by their systems. These include but are not limited to digital fund transfers, issuance of ATM cards and chequebooks, and ATM withdrawals beyond a specific limit. With GST on financial services, these services will be taxed at the rate of 18% instead of the 15% service tax rate that was being charged earlier. For example, if you withdraw money from an ATM other than your bank’s ATM after exceeding the “free transaction limit”, you are typically charged Rs 20 plus a service tax, which comes to around Rs 23. With the imposition of GST, this amount will go up to Rs 23.60.

However, deeper analysis reveals that such an increase in cost should not be considered a negative GST impact on financial services sector. In the long run, banks will be able to transfer the advantage of input tax credit – enabled under GST – to the customers. Furthermore, services like fixed deposits (FDs) and other bank account deposits that were outside the circle of service tax will continue to remain outside the GST ambit.

A major advantage of GST on financial services and other sectors is that it is a transparent tax and has reduced the number of indirect taxes. It integrates different taxes and ensures that the tax burden is fairly divided between different entities involved in the system. In addition, GST is essentially technology based. The advanced software systems used in its calculation and filing works will reduce the chances of manual errors and will lead to better decision making.

Capital Float too experiences the effect of GST on banking and NBFCs. We find ourselves in the 18% tax bracket, and we maintain our statutory lending policies including low-interest rates and quick disbursement of funds. Taking into account the GST impact on financial services sector, Capital Float will continue to provide the best credit solutions to its clients, customized to adapt to the changes brought by GST on SMEs in various sectors.

Oct 24, 2018

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Tips to Improve Your Chances of Getting a Business Loan

Lack of adequate funds is one of the main reasons why enterprising individuals with innovative business ideas often struggle in materialising their projects. Even after a venture takes off and begins to grow, it will need extra funds at some point in its growth journey to enhance its operations and pay its suppliers. A business loan in India has been typically procured from banks, but over the past decade, though the number of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) has risen sharply, most of the SMEs who had applied for business loans remain unfinanced at large.

The gap between this demand and supply for loans is gradually being closed by new age FinTech lenders. By providing quick loans without collateral, FinTech companies are helping entrepreneurs in harnessing the full potential of their business ideas. However, the competition in this field continues to be huge, and applications for business finance are still approved based on creditworthiness.

If you are grooming your entrepreneurial venture for more success and plan to apply for business loans online, here are some tips to improve your chances of approval:

1) Create a neat business plan – You must have chalked out a business plan before foraying into a field of your interest, but if there are no formal documents in its support, it is important to prepare them. A formal business plan must include the objective of the project, the way it plans to earn revenue, the development strategy and the marketing methodology. It should also have copies of financial statements and the data on cash flow projections.

If you do not have an official business plan, you may be asked to demonstrate a solid record of revenue generation with at least one year in business. To get the application for an unsecured loan approved, it is important to prove that you are capable of repaying the loan amount without default.

2) Include a documented plan on the intended use of the loan – When you need a loan for business, you must also be able to tell the lender about its exact purpose. Be it a bank or a FinTech company, the lending institution will determine the credibility of your application on the basis of the reason for which you need the loan. While all organisations have their own unique requirements, the most common grounds for loans are business expansion, raw material or inventory purchase, administrative expenses and capital investments. You can also borrow from a digital lender to refinance or pay off old debts.

3) Know what kind of loan will suit your needs – Even after you describe the purpose of your loan, you may be faced with multiple loan categories that you can apply for. It is good to know the details of each – in terms of interest, tenure, payback plans and documents necessary to procure them. Banks and digital lenders often categorise their loan products for the ease of disbursement and management. While some credit products help in quick invoice financing, others may be more beneficial to buy inventory. Consult the lender to borrow profitably.

4) Double-check your cash flow projections – When a business does not have a high credit rating or a strong history of generating revenue, it typically gets saddled with a high interest rate on unsecured loan. It is therefore important to assess your cash flow projections. You must have a good knowledge of your ability to pay back and ensure that you will soon have adequate funds to clear off your debt.

5) Be aware of the risks that lenders assess – Lending institutions in both public and private sector evaluate loan applicants on a scale of risk. If a business is considered a ‘risky borrower’, there is a high chance that its loan may not be approved. The traits that make a business look risky are as follows:

– Very small owner’s equity
– Poor credit history or defaults in payment of previous loans
– Poor revenue earnings
– Very short period in the industry
– Weak accounting system
– Questionable management

6) Leverage your personal creditworthiness – Usually a business is a different entity from its owners. Even a sole proprietorship is a separate legal entity for accounting purposes. However, when it comes to getting a business loan without collateral, even a clean personal credit history can help you in obtaining the amount you seek. The strategy is to make payments on any outstanding personal debt and credit card bills as much as you can afford. This will give your lender more faith in your business and assure them that you are not burdening yourself with unpaid debts. You can personally guarantee for your business loans by proving your ability to repay them.

7) Research extensively for lenders – If you were denied a loan for business by a bank or a traditional lending agency, do not consider it the end of your search for funds. A FinTech company offering unsecured business loans evaluates your creditworthiness using parameters different from those used by banks. If you can successfully prove your expertise in business, FinTech lenders will provide adequate financing for your immediate working capital needs. So, think beyond the conventional platforms and apply for finance online using those documents that demonstrate your ability to pay back in time. Digital lenders also grant short-term loans, the amount being disbursed in a few minutes post the approval of the loan application.

The online lending industry has shown that getting a business loan need not be a frustrating process for SMEs anymore. FinTech companies are willing to grant loans and the application process can be effortless. All you need to do is start preparing early (in lieu of the competition from other similar applicants) and collate the minimum essential documents in support of your application.

At Capital Float, the basic premise is that all applications for getting a business loan will be evaluated with speed, efficiency and favour. The products for business loan in India are custom-fit for SMEs and include Term Finance, Online Seller Finance, Pay Later Finance, Merchant Cash Finance, Supply Chain Finance and Taxi Finance.

Oct 24, 2018

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The SME Lending Puzzle: Why Banks Fall Short

Let us consider the following hypothetical scenario:

ABC & Co., a small services firm, began operations in mid-2011. It reported a 40% jump in annual turnover from Rs. 5 Cr in FY 2012 to Rs. 7 Cr in FY 2013. As a startup, the company has not yet broken even and reported losses for consecutive years. The promoter is well educated, previously worked in organizations of repute for over a decade before deciding to float this venture. The short-term finance requirement of ABC & Co is about Rs. 40 lac for 90 days, but does not have any physical collateral to offer as security. At this stage, the promoter of ABC & Co. decides to approach banks and NBFCs in the market to fund this debt gap.

What would this promoter’s experience be in today’s scenario? Would he be successful in securing the necessary funds?

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According to a recent statistic, 33% of companies operating in the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises sector have access to banks and financial institutions, while the rest remain excluded and are compelled to raise money through informal channels.

This debt gap is alarming especially in the backdrop of the fact that SME segment contributes nearly 10 percent of the country’s gross domestic product and 45% of all industrial output.

Till date, banks and NBFCs have not been able to finance this debt gap effectively. What has prevented or restricted them from profitably penetrating this sector? Is it due to inherent credit risk in the segment, lack of collateral, government regulation and laws, or simply because there are greener pastures elsewhere to lend money?

Lets us understand the debt requirement of the SME segment (both early-stage as well as mature entities) before we try to further dissect this issue. In our example, ABC & Co. could require financing for primarily two reasons:

1) Capex, i.e. medium to long-term finance for business expansion, product diversification, renovation of business premises, or purchase of machinery.

2) Working Capital i.e. to cover short-term immediate cash flow needs arising from day-to-day business operations.

To cater to this demand, banks and financial institutions already have specific products (both fund and non-fund based) that can be broadly categorized into two categories for the sake of simplicity:

1) Simple lending products, which would typically cater to the first requirement of SMEs for Capex. These are medium to long-term financing products in the form of equipment and machinery loans, high yield unsecured business loans, Loan against Property etc.

2) Specialised lending products, which typically include factoring, trade finance, cash management services, project finance, bank guarantee, or letters of credit, which typically cater to the second requirement of working capital finance.

As is evident from the above, it is not the lack of “products” that explains the under-penetration of finance flowing to the SME sector. Rather, it is in the design, applicability and administration of these products to the SME sector that banks have fallen short.

In an effort to go deeper, we can identify four key reasons among others, for this shortfall:

1)  Sole Focus on Financials: The current approach to SME lending in most institutions is still heavily dependent on business financials- i.e. looking at historical data to predict future creditworthiness. Typically this involves a lot of paper work and many visits to the applicant.

This approach has not been very successful in the SME sector to-date due to the fact that the financials provided by the applicant are often opaque given the cash nature of business transactions and incentives to under report income to save on taxes. ABC & Co., on this parameter alone (aside from business vintage) would be filtered out as the current financial position reflecting business losses would not be very appealing to most financiers.

2)  Bureau Reporting: There are two kinds of credit bureau reports that can be generated by member banks and NBFCs – Individual and Corporate. While individual records are provided by most bureaus, only CIBIL currently provides reports for corporate entities in India. Valid records for SME entities are still not very evolved in the country. And while the bureaus can provide data on credit worthiness of the individuals involved in any given company, they cannot give relevant insights about an applicant who is a first time borrower.

Since ABC & Co. is newly established, there would not be any bureau record on the company. The application would then have to be judged on the strength of the individual records for the promoter as well as the business viability of ABC & Co.

3)  Selective Segmentation: The implication of the above two factors is that only the “upper layer” of the medium to large enterprise segment is able to pass through banks’ and NBFCs’ credit assessment parameters, leaving aside the major chunk of “small” entrepreneurs and entities whose need for adequate finance is more pronounced. These small entities could be major links in the supply chains of large players, and their inability to access finance could have the ripple effects across the value chain.

4)  Lack of Collateral Security: Lending in India traditionally has relied on taking adequate collateral as a “risk mitigant” to cover the credit risks associated with SME lending and the ambiguity around appraising this segment. The Loan to Value ratio (LTV) becomes the yardstick to segregate and approve or reject cases based on risk. This ratio is inversely proportional to the risk perception of the applicant.

Since ABC & Co. does not have any physical collateral such as property or machinery to offer and the promoter has pitched in whatever money he had in the form of initial capital into the business, his application would be rejected by most banks and NBFCs in the market today.

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This problem of access to finance for SMEs in India is even more accentuated for early-stage companies or startups such as ABC & Co. In their case, past financial performance would be not a correct indicator of the future potential of the enterprise. After initial round of equity funding from family and friends or seed investors, working capital requirements or ad-hoc needs for short term finance would inevitably kick in and must be dealt with in a timely manner to keep the firm operational.

To conclude, traditional lending to the SME sector in India can best be described as a “One Size Fits All Approach.” The risk management techniques used by banks and other financial institutions today are invariably more suitable for medium and large corporate entities. The same set of rules when inadvertently applied to small and early-stage enterprises result in a faulty output, i.e. the systemic rejection of most SME loan applications like ABC & Co. Given the intense nature of competition in the lending industry today, the consequence is that too many banks and financial institutions end up chasing the same set of “good” customers, leaving aside a much larger untapped segment of SMEs in the process.

Watch this space for more articles on the subject as well as suggested ways to underwrite “small” and
“early-stage” entities in the SME sector.

(Image credit: http://blog.directcapital.com/misc/small-business-loan-video/) 

Oct 24, 2018