Last month, the Pension Fund Regulatory and Development Authority (PFRDA) issued revised guidelines for the registration of the Pension Fund Managers (PFMs). These guidelines are for the PFMs to manage the National Pension System (NPS) in the non-governmental and private sector. See here. The NPS was implemented in 2004 for all government employees and later extended to the private sector in 2009. The guidelines bring about the following changes in the NPS:
- No limitation on the number of PFMs – Under the previous system, the number of PFMs was predetermined and bidders would then fill up these slots. There are seven PFMs in the NPS.
- No bidding process – In the earlier system, interested parties had to go through a bidding process to become a PFM. The lowest bidders would be appointed the PFMs. However, the new guidelines have done away with the bidding system. Any player interested in becoming a PFM can now do so by fulfilling certain eligibility criteria laid down by the PFRDA.
- No uniform fee to be charged by all PFMs – The PFMs earlier had to charge a fixed fee amount, which was uniform for all the PFMs. The new guidelines states that the PFRDA would lay down an overall ceiling and the PFMs would be at liberty to prescribe their own fee provided it is under this overall ceiling.
Although NPS was made accessible on a voluntary basis to non-government employees and those working in the private sector since 2009, the subscription to the schemes under NPS was lower than expected. In August 2010, a committee was set up under the chairmanship of Mr. G.N. Bajpai to review the implementation of NPS in the informal sector. The Committee noted that since NPS was opened to the general public there were only 50,000 private sector subscribers until May 2011. According to the Committee, the low subscription was due to the low-to-negligible distribution incentive to the PFMs to distribute the different schemes to the subscribers to invest their funds. The Committee thus recommended that PFRDA should consider revising the structure of the NPS so as to increase subscription. It suggested making the fee structure dynamic for PFMs. The Committee had also suggested that there should be some revision in the bidding as well as the selection process for the PFMs to increase competition and thereby incentivise them to distribute the schemes. These changes, as suggested by the Bajpai Committee and now notified by the PFRDA, are different from the original design of the NPS. The Old Age Social and Income Security (OASIS) Report of 2000, which had initially suggested the establishment of pension system for the unorganised sector in the country, had recommended a low-cost structure for the pension system. The Report had stated that the choice of PFMs should be based on a bidding process where the lowest bidder should be made a PFM under the NPS. The rationale for the auction base for the PFMs was that it would provide a system to the subscribers whereby they could make investments for their old age by paying a minimal fee. A set uniform fee was meant to eliminate the large marketing expenses which would ultimately get passed on to the subscibers. In addition, the intent behind keeping the fund managers from the distribution and marketing of the schemes was to prevent any mis-selling (misleading an investor about the characteristics of a product) that may happen. Recent newspaper reports have raised doubt if these new rules would help in increasing the penetration of the NPS in the markets. However, the chairman of PFRDA, Mr. Yogesh Agarwal, in a recent interview explained that it was important to bring about changes in the structure of the NPS. According to him a scheme which was mandatory for the government sector could not be expected to perform as well in the private sector (where it is voluntary) without any changes made to its structure. He also stated that the NPS should be able to compete with other financial products such as insurance and mutual funds in the market. See here for the PRS Legislative Brief on the PFRDA Bill, 2011. Notes: The seven PFMs are LIC Pension Fund Ltd., UTI Retirement Solutions Ltd., SBI Pension Funds Pvt. Ltd., IDFC Pension Fund Management Co. Ltd., ICICI Prudential Pension Funds Management Co. Ltd., Kotak Mahindra Pension funds Ltd., and Reliance Capital Pension Fund Ltd..