Impact of the Union Budget 2018 on MSMEs

MSME is an important sector for the Government, as it maintains a relentless focus on increasing GDP and employment. Formalization of MSME businesses is being undertaken on a massive scale after demonetization and the introduction of GST. The core focus of the Union Budget 2018 indicates the Government’s commitment to continue strengthening MSMEs from the base of the sector.

Lending a Hand to MSMEs

With the Union Budget 2018-19 in play, the refinancing policy and eligibility criteria under Micro Units Development and Refinance Agency (MUDRA) program will be reviewed to encourage easier financing of MSMEs by NBFCs.  The Government has set a target of ₹3,00,000 crores for loans to be provided under MUDRA in 2018-19. Specific measures to address NPAs of MSMEs were promised to ease the cash flow challenges that they face.  The tax burden on MSMEs has been reduced by axing tax rate to 25% for those with revenues of below ₹250 crores. Recapitalization of PSU banks will add an additional ₹5,00,000 crores to the available lending pool this year. A unique Aadhaar-like identity for each enterprise is planned for streamlining business identity. This measure can enable Fintech lenders to process eKYC of enterprises swiftly and offer working capital finance in a matter of minutes. Furthermore, the Finance Minister Arun Jaitley called out Fintech lenders in his speech and emphasised their importance in financing the development of MSMEs in India.

Operation Greens

A five-year tax holiday was granted to Farmer Producer Organisations (FPO) with a turnover below ₹100 crores to encourage post-harvest value addition. The Government has also promised a Minimum Support Price (MSP) crop of 1.5 times the production cost to farmers. In addition, several proposed measures related to the farm sector include – funds to develop agricultural markets, improve agricultural logistics, enhance rural connectivity, and distribute Kisan credit cards to farmers in fisheries and animal husbandry sectors. This sets the precedent for these sectors to create a digital footprint, facilitating them to receiving customized finance in the future from digital lenders like Capital Float.

The Finance Minister proposed to extend the tax relaxation period to 150 days to footwear and leather industry to boost the creation of employment at the grassroots level. An additional ₹10,000 crores have been allocated for fisheries, animal husbandry and aquaculture industries.  This is expected to aid more micro-segments in being included in the formal financial ecosystem

New Financing Avenues

In a bid to help start-ups and venture capital firms to attract foreign investments in niche areas, the Government will evolve a coherent and integrated policy for ODI (Outward Direct Investment) and hybrid instruments. The basket of eligible FDI instruments will be expanded to include these under certain conditions.

Taking a Position on Crypto Assets

The Government has reiterated that it is illegal to transact using cryptocurrencies, though it does not categorically state that it is illegal to hold these assets.  The Government will intensify its efforts to eliminate illicit transactions in cryptocurrencies. It also proposes to explore the use of Blockchain technology to enable more transparent payment mechanisms to boost the digital economy further. These efforts certainly forward the shift of business transactions from being paper-based to paperless, while adding clarity on which methods of digital payment are acceptable and which aren’t.

MSME – Key to India’s Industrial Growth

MSME sector plays a key role in India’s journey towards becoming the 5th largest economy in the world. Several measures to ease cash flow have been proposed which are likely to make lending more readily available to MSMEs. With Fintech lenders leading the charge on the financing front, MSMEs can be expectant to receive timely credit support to actualize their business ambitions and achieve remarkable growth this year. Several micro-segments are also expected to be absorbed into the formal financial system, as Fintech lenders like Capital Float continue to champion for the cause of financial inclusion in India.

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Implications of GST for Services

The new Goods and Services Tax (GST) is a unified tax structure that was implemented by the Government of India on 1 July 2017. The new regime has ushered a significant change in taxation levels and rules associated with it. On an average, we see the tax slab increasing from 15% to 18% for most of the services. While this may translate to higher cost of services to the end consumer, GST also presents a whole lot of opportunities, pushing ease of business.

Services Sector in India: An Overview

India is a strong services-led economy with the sector generating a significant chunk of employment opportunities and contributing to the GDP. It contributed around 66.1% of India’s Gross Value Added (GVA) growth in 2015-16, is the biggest magnet for Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), and an important net foreign exchange earner. Some of the core areas of service are IT and ITES, banking and financial services, outsourcing, research and development, transportation, telecommunications, real estate and professional services.

Some of the positive impacts of GST on service providers are:

Clear distinction between goods and services: The old regime does not clearly distinguish between goods and services, leading to many instances of double taxation. For example, software is often treated as a good and as a service. The new regime clearly distinguishes goods from services, and also defines principal supply, composite supply, and mixed supply separately. For example, when an individual books a Rajdhani train ticket which includes meals, it involves a composite supply wherein the ticket and the meals cannot be sold separately. Since the transportation of the passenger is the principal supply, the rate of tax will only be charged on the ticket. Alternatively, for items that can be sold separately, but are sold together, like a hamper of snacks and aerated drinks, the rate of tax applicable on the higher product will be levied on the composite supply. There are also separate definitions for supply of software, works contracts, and leasing transactions to bring in more clarity and transparency on their taxation rules.

Streamlining of taxation for intra-state service providers: Due to the state level taxes being subsumed, it will become easier for service providers that operate within the state to know their tax obligations better. Such companies can move away from multiple tax calculations. For example, a CD with software incurs Excise, Service Tax, and VAT under the old regime; this is simplified to one unified rate under GST, making tax calculations and administration easier for intra-state service providers.

Input credit facility: VAT payment under the old regime was not eligible for setting off against output liabilities. The input credit facility is now made available to service providers as well, wherein tax paid on any inputs can be claimed and adjusted against tax paid on output. This will result in direct cost savings for service providers and may even offset the expected rise in end pricing. For example, an AC fitter who paid tax on the raw material for AC fittings (pipe, tape, solder etc.) will be able to claim that tax, and end up spending less on the cost of fitting the AC. This cost advantage can spill over to the customer as well.

Regularised return filing: The old service tax system required two half-yearly returns for services businesses. Under GST, this has been replaced by a number of returns provisions, depending on the type of taxpayer and the type of business:

Return Type of tax payer Timeline of filing return
GSTR 1 For outward supplies of sale (for registered taxable person) By 10th of the next month
GSTR 2 For inward supplies received by a taxpayer (for registered taxable person) By 15th of the next month
GSTR 3 Monthly return for registered taxable person (except for Compounding Taxpayer) By 20th of the next month
GSTR 4 Quarterly return for Compounding Taxpayer/Composition Supplier By 18th of the next month
GSTR 5 Periodic return by Non-Resident Foreign Taxpayer By 20th of the next month
GSTR 6 Return for Input Service Distributor (ISD) By 13th of the month succeeding the quarter
GSTR 7 Return for Tax Deducted at Source (TDS) By 10th of the next month
GSTR 8 Annual Return for e-commerce operator By 10th of the next month

While a shorter timeline for filing returns might seem overwhelming, regularisation in return filing will result in better streamlining of taxes. Since all these returns are required to be submitted online through a common portal provided by GSTN, the process is simplified and will help the government weed out regular defaulters. This in turn will result in a major boost in the contribution of the Service sector to the GDP.

Service providers, however, are concerned about the following aspects:

  • State-wise registration will be required: In the old regime, a service provider could operate with a single place of registration, since services were taxed only by the Central government. For example, if an IT services provider was present across states, they could carry out tax and delivery transactions from the main location. However, now a service provider that is offering services across states must register each place of business separately in each state. This is because the new GST regime entails taxation of services at “location of service recipient”, which will differ for different states. This means service providers will need to register afresh in new states and then carry out tax transactions separately in each state. For example, an IT company like TCS that has a widespread presence across states will need to decentralise service delivery.
  • Decentralised reporting will add to costs: Under GST, the “location of service recipient” is the key criterion for how a service will be taxed. Tax considerations will be related to the place the service is being delivered, and even a pan-India service provider with several “locations of service” will need to maintain state-wise records of input credit, audits, service consumption, etc. For example, earlier a service provider like TCS would enter into a single contract with the client, based on its main location, and then would discharge service tax based on the single-service tax registration model. GST will decentralise service delivery models, ensuring various TCS units adopt their own tax reporting and tax management. While this need for decentralised tax tracking and processing is an immediate cost to service providers, it presents a very real opportunity to streamline reporting and compliance measures for the future.

GST offers clear benefits to the services sector, and while some of these measures entail additional cost and effort in the short term, businesses can look forward to simpler operations with the new taxation laws.

All in all, services industries must gear up for better ways to manage business. Now is the time for them to equip themselves with the right people, processes and technologies, and emerge as service providers of the future.

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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

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Credit changes hands as Digital Lending takes shape

A wave of change is sweeping across the nation, transforming accessibility of credit at an individual and institutional level. As stated by the World Bank in 2014, nearly 47% of Indian adults are disconnected from formalized financial systems, increasing their dependency on informal credit channels. The nature of these informal channels and the environment fostering their sustenance make these modes of funding exorbitantly expensive. These channels typically provide immediate funding but debilitate the borrower’s sustainability and competitiveness in the long-term. Usurious rates of interest, loans terms disconnected from business fundamentals and delayed-decision making shackle entrepreneurs armed with ambition.

The apprehensions involving credit-access notwithstanding, SMEs find themselves lucratively placed in the timeline of the Indian economy, wherein Governmental and capitalistic forces are aligning in order to further SME progression in the country. Centre-led initiatives and evolutionary processes set up by tactful corporates are becoming building blocks to facilitate economic development through SMEs.

SMEs central to India’s economic development

The Government of India has identified the significant role SMEs play in shaping and developing the economy. The ‘Make in India’ initiative was launched last year to attract foreign and local investment to the country’s manufacturing sector. SMEs are required to participate actively in making this initiative a success. The pro-manufacturing stance of the Government provides these businesses with the opportunity to scale and grow at an accelerated pace.

India destined to become an e-commerce superpower

Similarly, e-commerce companies in India are in the golden phase of technological advancement. According to Goldman Sachs, India’s e-commerce market will cross the $100 billion mark by FY20[1]. A study by PWC indicated that the e-commerce industry is expected to grow from $16.4 billion in 2014 to $21.3 billion in 2015[2]. Alibaba.com, the B2B division of the world’s largest e-retailer Alibaba Group recently announced that India is the second most important market for the company globally [3]. A whopping majority of the e-commerce space presently comprises of e-tailing and e-travel companies. Alibaba is likely to provide B2B companies the much-needed platform to establish their presence.

Credit now just a click away

Several factors could hinder SMEs from expanding at a geometric rate. Possibly the most critical of these is credit. Companies are queuing to alter the perception and approach to credit, with many organisations attempting to transform finance from a function to a service.

A recent article on YourStory mentioned that over 500 financial technology start-ups in India have received $1.4 billion in funding since 2012[4]. These are not merely in the credit services sector but also include companies in the mobile payment services sector. With 90% mobile phone penetration in the country and smartphone sales expected to reach 500 million units in the next five years, digital engagement with consumers will be higher than ever before.

Pioneer with purpose

Capital Float, the pioneer in digital lending for SMEs in India, is spearheading this digital revolution. We understand the crippling effects collateral-based loans have on business progression and the inherent anxiety they cause. Our expertise in big data, decision sciences proficiency and technological prowess gives us the edge to provide specially tailored financial services to small and medium businesses across the country. Competitive interest rates make us relevant and digital platforms increase our reach. Gone are the days when SMEs toiled to acquire credit. Digitized processes have bridged the gap between the borrower and capital, the two now being separated by a few clicks of the mouse.

Digital Lending will gradually replace conventional credit channels. In response to the altering financial landscape, traditional organisations are revisiting their work-flows and are attempting to revitalize processes to become felicitous options.

SMEs are evolving at a rapid rate and it’s not surprising that access to finance too is changing simultaneously.

Author – Rajath Kumar, Marketing Manager, Capital Float.

[1]http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/industry/services/retail/indias-ecommerce-market-to-breach-100-billion-mark-by-fy20-goldman-sachs/articleshow/49532128.cms
[2]http://www.pwc.in/assets/pdfs/publications/2015/ecommerce-in-india-accelerating-growth.pdf
[3]http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2015-12-08/news/68865727_1_indian-smes-alibaba-com-indian-sellers
[4]http://yourstory.com/2015/10/digital-finance-revolution/

Oct 24, 2018