Strengthening India-UK cooperation in the financial sector

Strengthening India-UK cooperation in the financial sector
Strengthening India-UK cooperation in the financial sector

An Indian industry leader highlights FinTech, infrastructure finance, financial inclusion, insurance and the bond market as key areas for India-UK. India and UK have a long-shared history and our bilateral relations have continued to be healthy, spanning wide areas of cooperation, trade and investment. Even as Brexit ensues going forward, I firmly believe the Indo-UK relationship will only further strengthen. This was evident even in this year's Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in London. In fact, India got a special invite when Prince Charles personally invited Prime Minister Modi for the event during his visit to India last year. Various agreements and MoUs were also signed between the two countries when PM Modi met Prime Minister Theresa May on the side-lines of CHOGM. A critical area of cooperation between India and UK is the financial services sector. An institutional mechanism has been in place for this in the form of the UK-India Economic and Financial Dialogue (EFD). This year marks the 10th anniversary of the EFD and brings to light several areas of cooperation and mutual learning in the financial sector for both the countries. While the list of potential areas of financial cooperation is huge, I would like to emphasise five specific areas. These have seen rising focus among the two countries, both at the industry as well as government levels, and enhancing mutual cooperation in these areas will be a win-win for both countries.

FinTech

Among the several agreements signed between the two sides in April this year, India and the UK have decided to establish a FinTech dialogue to discuss further opportunities for financial services collaboration, including policy coordination. The sector has huge potential in both countries and opportunities exist for strengthening collaborations in this field. The UK has in fact prepared a
Strategy for UK-based financial and professional services, wherein strategic drivers have been identified to boost growth in the FinTech sector and to facilitate promotion of exports and investments in the field. A collaboration with a similar Indian set-up would be highly beneficial. FinTech is growing at a rapid pace in India and there is a huge market opportunity that can be explored through joint collaborations between UK and Indian FinTech enterprises. Moreover, the experience of the UK FinTech sector can provide important lessons for Indian FinTech companies and growth of this sector. The UK has also established “FinTech Bridges” with countries such as Singapore, South Korea, China, and most recently with
. These bridges enable regulators to share information about financial services innovation in their respective markets. It then helps scaling up of domestic FinTech companies internationally. The feasibility of establishing a similar bridge with India can also be explored as a part of the UK-India FinTech dialogue.

Infrastructure Financing

It is a known fact that India has huge
financing requirements. Infrastructure development remains a priority area for the Indian government and there are plans for transforming the infrastructure landscape of the country through the creation of world-class highways, railways, ports, etc. As per conservative estimates, India requires around £167 million annually for infrastructure development, of which only 53 per cent (around £88.5 million) is possible through public investments sources and the remaining 47 per cent would have to come from private sources. The
has shown a successful track record in private financing of infrastructure investment. It has in the past successfully used the PPP model of infrastructure financing to its advantage and was able to reduce late delivery of projects from 70 per cent and 24 per cent and reduce cost escalation from 73 per cent to 22 per cent of the projects. Clearly, there are lessons to be learnt from this for India, especially in terms of regulation, contract formulation, operational mechanism, etc. The two sides can also consider collaboration between the proposed advisory body 3P India and UK's Infrastructure and Projects Authority.

Financial Inclusion

For a developing country like India, financial inclusion is among one of the key sustainable development goals. There has been significant progress in recent times, with the government working on providing basic access to finance to all households on a mission mode via the Jan Dhan Yojana. However, India needs to do a lot more. Out of India's current adult population of 930 million, around 53 per cent own a financial account. In contrast, in China, eight out of 10 adults had a bank account in 2015 itself. Moreover, for those with access to a basic savings account, the next step is to provide them access to other financial services, such as credit, investments, insurance, etc. Here, we need to draw lessons from the experience of the UK, especially with respect to access to affordable finance for MSMEs, housing credit for households, etc. P2P lending can be another tool for enhancing the financial inclusion initiative. In-fact, the UK government provides a tax relief on income earned through lending on P2P platforms. The Reserve Bank of India has indeed come up with directives for P2P lending platforms in India and going forward, a two-way dialogue on such subjects between India and UK can help in growth of such alternative financing mechanisms.

Bond Market

Broadening and deepening of the Indian Corporate Bond market is an immediate policy challenge for the Government of India. A healthy and active bond market will provide an alternative financial tool and reduce dependence on the banking system. In contrast, the UK bond markets have matured and India can learn a lot from them. One of the key highlights of
in recent times has been the establishment of the UK as the world's leading centre for off-shore rupee bonds. The UK bond markets have attracted
to the tune of over £2.86 billion, with the UK hosting the first Indian Masala Bond from the Housing Development Finance Corporation, first government backed and
from the National Thermal Power Corporation and the largest Masala Bond from the National Highways Authority of India. Even the Indian Renewable Energy Development Agency's Green Masala Bonds have been launched to the tune of £221 million, along with many other private and multilateral organisations. The robustness of the London market provides ample opportunity for future issuances of Masala Bonds.

Insurance and Re-insurance

Insurance penetration in India is low at 3.49 per cent in 2016, of which life is 2.72 per cent and general 0.77 per cent, as against global insurance penetration of 3.47 per cent for life and 2.81 per cent for the non-life segment in 2016. Likewise, India's insurance density is at $55, way below the global average of $621. India needs to take more steps to transform the sector into a modern and progressive one. This would require not only policy changes but also the development of a robust re-insurance platform. In the UK, London has emerged as the centre of the insurance and re-insurance market. It is primarily a broker-driven market, where the world's 20 largest re-insurance groups are represented, giving the City of London a clustering effect. London has also largely benefitted from the strong and robust regulatory guidelines and macro-prudential supervision in order to maintain financial stability, with no direct powers over individual institutions. Taking a leaf out of London's insurance and re-insurance market experience, India should gradually but firmly shift from a rules-based regulatory agenda to a principles-based regulatory approach. We should also consider the development of a risk management agenda on a PPP basis, which will help reduce potential losses. In conclusion, I would say that India offers huge unexplored potential to collaborate and cooperate with financial service providers in the UK for the mutual benefit of both countries, and investors and policymakers on either side should not miss this golden opportunity.
Rashesh Shah, C
hairman and CEO of the Edelweiss Group,
is President of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI).
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