Sunday, January 6, 2008

Should Banks be Held Liable For Excesses Of Recovery Agents?

These posts have hitherto been talkin about the macroeconomic policies that India ought to follow. So, this post I take a break and talk about a problematic issue in microeconomic area.the problem of recovery agents and the excesses they commit in the course of recovery of loans from retail borrowers has been in news of late. Recently, the National Consumer Commission delivered a verdict that held a reputed private bank responsible for the excesses committed by its recovery agents. the Bank was held responsible for "deficiency in service". the media generally welcomed the judgment and the general consensus was that it was a welcome step that struck a blow for consumer movement in the Country.

this post I look at whether banks should be so held responsible for the excesses committed by its recovery agents. Of Course, if we take a " law as principle" approach inspired by worthy notions like justice, there are no two ways about it. the judgment puts the onus on the banks to ensure that recovery practises are fair; and indeed the liability is rightly , a few would argue, upon the person who has the resources to avoid the damage.
Scratch the surface however and a different pixture would emerge. here's how!

Banks and other financial Institutions forever grapple with the Problem of "sticky assets". Loans that go bad and do not pay returns. The problem is compunded by the fact that the country has no proper restructuring mechanisms and there is government intervention by way of compulsary priority Sector lending. Couple that with the fact that the CRAR ratio-the Capital Adaquecy ratio that they have to maintain is 9%- 1 % higher than the Basel standards that are globally accepted.

let us look at the fall out of this judgment-
banks will be ultra conservative in lending practices. Credit would not be cheap; so,if you are a 20-sth. looking to buy that first house, you buy credit at a higher rate. and you need collaterals and guarantors. The Sub Prime class in India that currently buys credit with the interest rates that range from 25-60% would be the worst hit. I have a belief that these borrowers would be denied credit absolutely. Already poor in terms of income, they would have no recourse to capital.

Additionally, holding banks responsible for the excesses of their agents has reputation costs. Retail borrowers would be less inclined to approach banks for fear of recovery agents; and also because, they are any way not entertained there. They would then look to specialised loan providers like say housing finance Companies and other less prudent entities to finance their needs. these institutions are not diversified (hence risky) and rely on specific sectors for asset creation. Increased sub prime load on their balance sheets mean they become prone to failures themselves.

Thus, while banks have responsibility in ensuring that fair recovery practices are followed, the problems compound when they are held liable. the problem needs policy instruments like Securitisation and more leeway to banks in terms of managing their port folios. Hap hazard innovations by the judiciary will only stall the momentum of the India growth story!

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