Indian regulators contemplate exemptions amid concerns over recent AIF investment rules

In response to inquiries, an SBI spokesperson affirmed that the bank is assessing the impact on its AIF portfolio in light of the RBI guidelines and emphasized a commitment to ensuring compliance.

In response to unintended consequences stemming from tightened regulations on bank investments in alternate investment funds (AIFs), India’s central bank and market regulator are reportedly considering exemptions, according to sources familiar with the matter.

Last month, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) implemented rules barring banks and non-bank lenders from investing in AIFs with holdings in their current or recent borrowers. The move aimed to prevent the practice of “evergreening” bad loans. The RBI directed financial institutions to sell existing investments within a month or make provisions against them. However, industry insiders argue that these regulations could impede growth, affecting approximately $8-10 billion worth of investments, as highlighted by the Indian Venture and Alternate Capital Association (IVCA), a lobbying body for AIFs.

Srini Sriniwasan, Managing Director of Kotak Investment Advisors, mentioned that the inadvertent impact of the RBI circular could lead banks and non-bank finance lenders to refrain from investing in AIFs due to the fear of violating regulations.

Sources, requesting anonymity, revealed that regulators are contemplating exemptions to address valid concerns raised by the industry. Two specific exemptions are reportedly being sought: one for AIFs established to invest in distressed assets and another for funds managing stressed and stalled residential projects and small enterprises.

The State Bank of India (SBI), for instance, operates two significant funds impacted by these rules, targeting distressed residential projects and small enterprises. The question of whether funds investing in distressed companies should be exempted is currently under active consideration, according to one source.

Emails sent to both the RBI and the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) for clarification on these potential exemptions remained unanswered. In response to inquiries, an SBI spokesperson affirmed that the bank is assessing the impact on its AIF portfolio in light of the RBI guidelines and emphasized a commitment to ensuring compliance.

Banks are reportedly seeking more time to exit such investments or requesting permission to stagger the provisions they need to make. Two sources mentioned that the 30-day deadline for compliance with the regulations is deemed unrealistic, particularly as the industry faces substantial haircuts, with some reaching as high as 80% of the net asset value due to regulatory mandates.

Siddarth Pai, Co-chair of IVCA’s regulatory affairs committee, emphasized the industry’s plea for at least one year to execute the necessary exits.

As the regulators weigh potential exemptions and the industry calls for more realistic timelines, the financial landscape awaits clarity on the path forward for AIF investments in India, with significant implications for the affected funds and the broader financial ecosystem.