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Comments on the RBI's Consultation Paper on Peer to Peer Lending

The Reserve Bank of India published a Consultation Paper on Peer to Peer Lending on April 28, 2016, and invited comments from the public. CIS submitted the following response, authored by Elonnai Hickok, Pavishka Mittal, Sumandro Chattapadhyay, Vidushi Marda, and Vipul Kharbanda.

 

1. Preliminary

1.1. This submission presents comments and recommendations by the Centre for Internet and Society (“CIS”) on the Consultation Paper on Peer to Peer Lending (“the consultation paper”) by the Reserve Bank of India (“RBI”) [1].

2. The Centre for Internet and Society

2.1. The Centre for Internet and Society, CIS [2], is a non-profit organisation that undertakes interdisciplinary research on internet and digital technologies from policy and academic perspectives. The areas of focus include digital accessibility for persons with diverse abilities, access to knowledge, intellectual property rights, openness (including open data, free and open source software, open standards, open access, open educational resources, and open video), internet governance, telecommunication reform, digital privacy, and cyber-security. The academic research at CIS seeks to understand the reconfiguration of social processes and structures through the internet and digital media technologies, and vice versa.

2.2. This submission is consistent with CIS’ commitment to safeguarding general public interest, and the interests and rights of various stakeholders involved. The comments in this submission aim to further the concerns of citizens’ and users’ rights in the context of products, services, and transactions facilitated by digital media technologies, the , the principle that regulation should be defined around functions of the acts concerned, and not the technologies of delivery. Our comments are limited to the clauses that most directly have an impact on these concerns.

3. Response

3.1. Whether there is a felt need for regulating peer to peer lending platforms?

3.1.1. Peer to peer (“P2P”) lenders are platforms serving as marketplaces for the lenders and the borrowers of funds to connect. Their very business model does not render them as a provider of finance, as they aspire to function as pure intermediaries to enable lending and borrowing.

3.1.2. The Section 45I.(f)(iii) of the RBI Act, 1935 [3], provides RBI the authority to classify any financial institution as a non-banking financial company (“NBFC”) “with the previous approval of the Central Government and by notification in the Official Gazette.” Since the P2P lending platforms do not provide any finance themselves, undertake acquisition of financial instruments, deliver financial and/or insurance services, or collect financial resources directly, the only ground for classifying such companies as “financial institutions” [4] appears to be their involvement in “managing, conducting or supervising, as foreman, agent or in any other capacity, of chits or kuries as defined in any law which is for the time being in force in any State, or any business, which is similar thereto” [5]. P2P lending platforms can be considered to be brokers and thus there are other aspects that merit scrutiny such as antitrust issues, obligations of either party, company activities and the transactional system involved, as we will discuss in this document.

3.1.3. The consultation paper itself states that the balance sheet of the platform cannot indicate any borrowing / lending activity, which entails that the platform cannot itself provide finance or receive any funds for the provision of loans to others. Platforms are not allowed to determine the interest rates as they are not a party to the transaction. Neither would they be liable in cases of default by the borrower. These rules, standard for P2P platforms in other jurisdictions as well, confirm the assumption that the platform itself is not providing finance and thus, cannot be entrusted with any liability, obligation from the transaction.

3.1.4. Further, with RBI raising the threshold asset size for an NBFC to be considered systemically important (NBFC-ND-SI) from Rs. 100 Crores to Rs. 500 Crores [6], and Economic Times reporting that one of the biggest Indian P2P lending platform’s enterprise valuation (which can be taken as indicative of its net assets) is Rs 50 Crores [7], we may assume that most P2P lending platforms will have net assets worth less than 500 crore, at least in the near future; although there is a possibility for exponential growth with some companies.

3.1.5. Given the limited sphere of operation, restricted ability (by design) of these platforms to shape interest rates and other features of financial instruments, and their generally non-systemically-important nature, we would submit that the regulation of such P2P lending platforms are kept to an absolute minimum, so that their economic viability is not undermined, and at the same time the key risks associated with their operations are addressed by RBI.

3.2. Is the assessment of P2P lending and risks associated with it adequate?

3.2.1. CIS observes that the following are the key risks involved with the operations of the P2P lending platforms, and these are being respectively addressed by, or can be addressed by RBI in the following manners.

  1. Insufficient information about the conditions of lending, leading to defrauding of the borrower: The borrower may not receive appropriate information about the terms of the loan, and/or the P2P lending platform may not act in a “fair” manner (say, in case of collusion between the P2P lending platform and the lender, or the lending platform and the borrower), which may lead to defrauding and/or economic loss of either party. By classifying P2P lending platforms as NBFCs, RBI will ensure that these companies follow the Guidelines on Fair Practices Code for NBFCs [8], which extensively addresses concerns related to this type of risks.

  2. Insufficient information about the borrower, or her/his ability to repay the loan, may lead to non-repayment and economic loss of the lender: If the P2P lending platform allows the lender to offer loans to borrowers without acquiring and/or providing sufficient information to the lender about the borrower’s credit history and/or ability to repay the loan, modes of formulating security for loans, this may heighten the risks of non-repayment of loans. By classifying P2P lending platforms as NBFCs, RBI will ensure that these companies follow the Master Circular – 'Know Your Customer' (KYC) Guidelines – Anti Money Laundering Standards (AML) - Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002 - Obligations of NBFCs [9], which extensively addresses concerns related to this type of risks.

  3. Credit-related information of the lenders and the borrowers collected by P2P lending platforms may not be made available to other financial institutions and that will lead asymmetry in credit information available across various actors in the sector: Credit information, related to both lending and borrowing practices of entities using the platform concerned, is a key asset of the P2P lending platforms. Lack of sharing of such information with Credit Information Companies, for economic reasons or otherwise, may however, lead to information asymmetry within the financial sector, which will structurally weaken the entire sector (with pieces of credit information being distributed across actors and not being shared internally). By classifying P2P lending platforms as NBFCs, RBI will ensure that these companies follow the Credit Information Companies (Regulation) Act, 2005 [10], which extensively addresses concerns related to this type of risks.

  4. P2P lending platforms diversifying their financial operations without informing RBI and hence without appropriate regulatory control: It is possible that P2P lending platforms may decide to diversify their activities. There have been similar examples in other related sectors, say e-commerce marketplaces, that have started their own product re/selling companies that use the same online marketplace concerned. By classifying P2P lending platforms as NBFCs, RBI will ensure that these companies provide RBI with detailed and regular reports of their economic activities and investments, which is expected to address concerns related to this type of risks.

3.3. Are there any other risks which ought to be addressed?

3.3.1. CIS observes that as part of the usual transaction related activities of the P2P lending platforms, the companies will come into possession of what has been defined as “sensitive personal data or information” by the Information Technology (Reasonable security practices and procedures and sensitive personal data or information) Rules, 2011 [11]. The concerns related to this type of risk is directly addressed by the Rules concerned, and may not require additional attention from the RBI.

3.3.2. CIS observes that as borrowers and lenders start using specific P2P lending platforms, the data regarding their credit histories and/or “financial reputation” will be owned by these companies. While such information might be shared internally within the financial sector through the Credit Information Companies, the borrowers and lenders themselves may not get direct access to such data. Hence, the borrowers and lenders will not be able to move easily and smoothly to a new P2P lending platform and make use of their existing credit information and/or “financial reputation” when accessing services offered via the new P2P lending platform. In other words, the borrowers and lenders may face a service provider lock-in, and inability to move between P2P lending platforms easily, without explicit access to their own credit history/reputation, and will not have the ability to migrate such information from one P2P lending platform to another (or to any other agency, for that matter). CIS submits that RBI must provide a mechanism to allow users to migrate between platforms as it has not been discussed in the consultation paper.

3.4. Is the proposed approach to regulating these platforms adequate?

3.4.1. CIS observes that while classification of P2P lending platforms will appropriately address key risks associated with their operations (as listed in 3.2.1. A-D), it will not address a major risk emerging out of their operations that is unique to the technological basis of the business concerned (as mentioned in 3.3.2.), and further, it will impose substantial financial and management obligations that have a very high probability of undermining the economic viability of this emerging and niche sector of intermediated direct lending and borrowing.

3.4.2. CIS observes that these financial and management obligations may involve the following topics among others discussed: 1) minimum net worth requirement for registration, 2) minimum investments required to be made government securities, 3) transferring of minimum percentage of net profits to RBI, 4) guidelines regarding corporate governance [12], etc.

3.4.3. Given this, CIS submits that instead of classifying P2P lending platforms as “Misc NBFCs,” a new sub-classification is created under the category of NBFC for such platforms, that directly addresses the key risks associated with businesses of P2P lending platforms, and protects lenders as well as borrowers while enhancing transparency in operations. This new sub-classification of P2P lending companies should also be divided into systemically-important and non-systemically-important like other NBFCs, and requirements regarding financial operations and corporate management should only be enforced for the former category of P2P lending companies.

3.5. Any other relevant issues pertaining to P2P lending

Beyond the issues already discussed above, CIS seek clarity from the RBI around the following aspects:

  1. Transactional system pertaining to P2P lending:
    1. What are the requirements and prerequisites for mandating the collection of user identity?
    2. Establishing a maximum sum that can be transferred per transaction.
  2. Company activities:
    1. Fees that can be charged by platforms.
    2. How data security can be best addressed.
    3. How the financial transactions are brokered.
    4. Modes of redressal.
    5. Restitution to users if something goes amiss in the transaction.
    6. Insurance that the company has to buy or capital on hand to support.

 

Endnotes

[1] See: https://www.rbi.org.in/scripts/bs_viewcontent.aspx?Id=3164.

[2] See: http://cis-india.org/.

[3] See: https://rbidocs.rbi.org.in/rdocs/Publications/PDFs/RBIA1934170510.pdf.

[4] See Section 45I.(c) of RBI Act, 1923, last amended on January 07, 2013.

[5] See Section 45I.(c)(v) of RBI Act, 1923, last amended on January 07, 2013.

[6] See: https://rbidocs.rbi.org.in/rdocs/content/pdfs/PNNBFC200315.pdf.

[7] See: http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/small-biz/startups/faircent-com-raises-pre-series-a-funding-of-250k/articleshow/47630279.cms.

[8] See: https://rbi.org.in/scripts/NotificationUser.aspx?Id=7866.

[9] See: https://rbi.org.in/scripts/BS_ViewMasCirculardetails.aspx?id=8168.

[10] See: http://www.incometaxindia.gov.in/Pages/acts/credit-information-companies-act.aspx.

[11] See: http://deity.gov.in/sites/upload_files/dit/files/GSR313E_10511%281%29.pdf.

[12] See: https://www.rbi.org.in/scripts/BS_NBFCNotificationView.aspx?Id=3706.

 

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Author

Sumandro Chattapadhyay

As a Director at CIS, I co-lead the [email protected] programme, and engage with academic and policy research on data governance and digital economy. I can be reached at sumandro[at]cis-india[dot]org.