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Large International Banks ask Many Indian HNIs to Close Accounts

Foreign Banks Asking Wealthy Indians to Close Overseas Accounts Understanding the Impact on Investors and Industries

Source: Article by ET Bureau published on Dec 29, 2023, in Economic Times titled “Large International Banks ask Many Indian HNIs to Close Accounts”

Analysis for a Layman

It seems that maintaining overseas bank accounts is becoming increasingly challenging for wealthy Indians. Many international banks are now closing the accounts of high-net-worth individuals (HNIs) who fail to meet stringent minimum balance or activity requirements.

Notably, banks such as Barclays, HSBC, and UBS have recently severed ties with several resident Indian customers. Additionally, some Emirati banks are demanding minimum funds of $1 million or approximately 4 crores.

Under Reserve Bank of India (RBI) regulations, Indians are allowed to remit $250,000 abroad annually for various purposes, including investments, property-related expenses, or family maintenance. However, any portion of these funds remaining unutilized in overseas bank accounts must be deployed within six months to comply with Indian regulations.

Many individuals who have moved surplus funds abroad are now facing challenges in making investments quickly, especially at sizes that suit their preferences. Letting funds remain idle violates Indian regulations.

Banks aim to discourage low-balance accounts that generate minimal fees while incurring costs. Therefore, imposing substantial minimum balance requirements essentially pressures customers into either seeking investment advice or simply closing their accounts.

This dual squeeze is forcing many HNIs to close their foreign accounts, despite having maintained these relationships for years. From a regulatory perspective, it enhances the monitoring of overseas assets. However, for individuals, it results in increasing complexity and restrictions.

Large International Banks ask Many Indian HNIs to Close Accounts

Impact on Retail Investors

For retail investors in the stock market, the trend of overseas bank account closures carries several implications for portfolio strategy:

1. Wealth Management Opportunities: Wealth management firms like IIFL, ICICI Securities, and Motilal Oswal have an opportunity to offer global investment products to resident Indians. These offerings may include overseas mutual funds, feeder funds investing in foreign stocks and ETFs, helping investors navigate the restrictions around offshore accounts.

2. Foreign Bank Relationships: The reduced incentive for domestic wealth management partnerships with foreign banks may impact certain wealth advisory services. However, prestigious names such as Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, and JP Morgan are likely to continue providing product access, albeit at higher minimum investment sizes. This leaves out mass-affluent investors from global investment opportunities.

3. Capital Control Awareness: The tightening of capital controls signals the RBI’s vigilance in monitoring capital movements abroad. Investors are now required to maintain sufficient domestic liquidity for repatriation needs rather than assuming easy access to overseas accounts.

4. Onshore Opportunities: India’s maturing capital markets offer ample diversification opportunities for most resident individuals and HNIs. While information asymmetry and costs persist, the need for offshore accounts solely for portfolio allocation purposes now appears to be more of a lifestyle preference than a financial necessity.

Therefore, as offshore banking and the Liberalized Remittance Scheme (LRS) guidelines become more stringent for resident individuals, the redistribution of investment demand towards onshore asset channels seems to be the likely shift over the next few years.

Impact on Industries

The restrictions surrounding foreign accounts can potentially influence industries operating in India:

1. Wealth Management: With reduced viability of global bank accounts, wealthy investors may shift their focus to domestic portfolio options, including equities, bonds, and real estate. This could boost business potential for local wealth advisory firms.

2. Investment Migration: Limitations on offshore banking may drive Indian HNIs to seek secondary citizenship or residency rights in financial havens. This may increase the demand for specialized immigration attorneys and consultants guiding relocation options.

3. Alternative Investments: Categories such as private equity, angel funding, and institutional placements may experience increased investor interest, compensating for the reduced access to offshore channels. Fund placement intermediaries, including investment banks, could benefit.

4. Bullion and Cryptocurrencies: Restrictions on overseas channels may lead to a renewed interest in traditional portable assets like gold and potentially even cryptocurrencies as hedges against systemic risks. This may encourage financialization in local markets for such emerging asset classes.

In summary, while constraints around overseas bank accounts for Indian resident HNIs are being tightened, the demand appears to be shifting rather than diminishing. Investment migration and onshore asset channels are likely to experience increased demand over the next couple of years.

Long Term Benefits

Over a 5+ year horizon, the constraints on overseas bank accounts for Indian resident HNIs can positively transform local wealth ecosystems:

1. Deepening Onshore Markets: Redirecting investment flows from offshore accounts to domestic equities and bonds can deepen capital markets. This competition can better retain Indian capital and talent.

2. Spurring Financial Innovation: With traditional wealth management models falling short of global HNI expectations, new fintech-driven business models using technology and partnerships can unlock adjacent opportunities.

3. Encouraging Responsible Risk Management: Encouraging investors seeking global exposure to evaluate structured products before direct offshore allocations can foster a better understanding of risk factors like currency fluctuations.

4. Curbing Tax Evasion Incentives: Discouraging the parking of large dormant deposits in overseas accounts not only discourages suspected black money but also guides funds back into financial instruments, fostering compliance within the local economy.

However, overregulation risks capital flight and the loss of investor liberties. Therefore, guidelines should be periodically reviewed to balance control with market friendliness.

Short Term Positives

In the short term (1-2 years), the tightening of overseas account norms for resident Indians can yield several positive outcomes:

1. Growth of Forex Reserves: With unused outward remittances now capped at a six-month window before mandatory conversion back to Indian Rupees (INR), RBI forex reserves are bolstered, reducing settlement risks.

2. Enhanced Data Monitoring: The systematic tracking of idle account balances within the Liberalized Remittance Scheme cumulative limits enables regulators to more closely monitor potential fund diversion towards illegal assets or activities abroad.

3. Portfolio Flow Optimization: The requirement for unused funds to be deployed within the country incentivizes investors to seek higher-yielding assets locally, including debt, equity, and real estate, rather than dealing with administrative hassles overseas solely for geographical diversification.

However, forced repatriation of funds risks limiting households’ financial autonomy and flexibility, as regulations may overshadow financial prudence. Allowing periodic enhancements to remittance limits, aligned with income growth, can balance oversight with wealth creation freedom, supporting India’s economic aspirations.

Companies Impacted by International Banks Closing HNI Accounts

Indian Companies Potentially Gaining:

  • Domestic Private Banks: ICICI Bank (ICICIBANK:NS), HDFC Bank (HDFCBANK:NS), and Axis Bank (AXISBANK:NS) could benefit from HNIs shifting their wealth management needs back to India due to difficulties with overseas accounts. Increased deposits and potential investments in wealth management products could boost their fee income.
  • Indian Wealth Management Firms: Companies like Motilal Oswal (MOTILAL:NS), Edelweiss Wealth Management (EDELWEISS:NS), and IIFL Wealth Management (IIFLWM:NS) could attract HNIs seeking alternative wealth management solutions within India. They might see increased demand for services like portfolio management and investment advisory.
  • Real Estate Developers: If property purchases under LRS decrease due to account closures, Indian developers focused on the domestic market could benefit. Companies like Godrej Properties (GODREJPROP:NS), Oberoi Realty (OBEROIREALTY:NS), and Sobha Developers (SOBHA:NS) might see higher demand for their projects.

Indian Companies Potentially Losing:

  • Remittance Service Providers: Companies like Western Union (WU), MoneyGram (MGI), and Transfast could see a decline in remittance volumes if wealthy individuals face challenges sending funds abroad under LRS.
  • Indian Subsidiaries of International Banks: The news could damage the reputation of Indian arms of global banks that are closing accounts. This could impact client trust and potentially affect their wealth management and other business lines.

Global Companies Potentially Gaining:

  • Wealth Management Firms Focusing on Domestic Indian HNIs: Global firms with existing operations in India, like UBS, Credit Suisse, and Nomura, could potentially gain market share from international banks that are closing accounts. They might need to adapt their offerings to cater to the specific needs of domestic HNIs.

Global Companies Potentially Losing:

  • International Banks Closing HNI Accounts: The news highlights the challenges faced by these banks in attracting and retaining high-net-worth clients from India. This could impact their profitability and reputation in the region.

Market Sentiment:

  • Mixed for the Indian financial sector, with potential benefits for domestic players and negative implications for those associated with international account closures.
  • Increased focus on regulatory compliance and clarity around LRS rules.
  • Potential shift in wealth management preferences towards domestic options.

Note: This analysis is based on the provided information and may not be exhaustive. Other companies could be impacted depending on their specific business models, client base, and exposure to the wealth management and remittance sectors. The actual impact will depend on the evolution of regulations, market conditions, and investor behavior.

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