Fidelity’s exit and the Indian mutual fund industry

Fidelity Mutual Fund, which started its India operations in 2004, recently announced its decision to quit the Indian Mutual fund industry. L&T Finance, a subsidiary of L&T Finance Holdings Ltd., is likely to acquire Fidelity’s India business. The new entity is likely to have a 2% market share and 13th position in the industry in terms of asset base. This will be L&T’s second acquisition in this market after the acquisition of DBS Chola Mutual Fund in 2010. India’s mutual fund industry has witnessed many such exits by market participants at different points in time, but this is perhaps the most high profile case of an internationally established major player deciding to shut down its India operations. In India the mutual fund industry has been heavily dominated by the corporate segment, unlike other countries where retail investors account for most of the industry assets. Fidelity had a very high proportion of its business coming from the retail and the HNI segments. As a result equity investments accounted for bulk of Fidelity’s assets as the focus was on meeting clients’ long term financial goals. Therefore the Fidelity L&T deal has been priced much higher (5-6% of asset) as compared to other such deals in the Indian industry which are usually valued at 1-3% of assets under management. Fidelity’s decision to quit the industry comes in the backdrop of its accumulated losses, driven mainly by a high cost structure. In 2010-11, the company’s staff cost grew around 50% over previous year and was around 90% of its revenue, while staff cost accounts for only 13% for some of its competitors in the industry. This decision has once again brought to the fore issues relating to the regulation of India’s mutual fund industry and its impact on firms’ profitablity. Many argue removal of entry load and limiting payment of upfront commision to distributors (to prevent misselling of products) is hurting fund houses’ ability to sell more and grow the top line at a time when costs are rising rapidly. At the same time it needs to be said that a recent study found that ‘among 15 of 46 AMCs operating in the fund industry, which collectively manage 85-90 per cent of the entire industry’s assets und­er management,10 large AMCs registered net profit in FY11 and 12 AMCs had positive accumulation of net profits over the years till FY11’. This then raises the question if the Indian Mutual Funds industry is more favourable to the larger players and what is the critical asset base a fund house must garner to break even or become profitable, especially in the changing economic scenario. This also raises the question if the new regulations are affecting the smaller players more than the larger players. In this evolving scenario when growth has been hit, regulations are changing fast and firms are increasingly finding hard to stay competitive, some Indian fund houses are looking to partner with global players to attract global funds, investors as well as expertise. In such arrangements, the local expertise of domestic firms complement the supeerior knowledge and capabilities of global partner to create a win win strategy for all.