Investment in technology key to CAMS growth: CEO

N.K. Prasad, Group CEO, CAMS

CAMS manages vast data for mutual funds, private equity, banks, NBFC, insurance companies and even brokerages. As mutual fund investments are long-term in nature, technology platforms business processes and controls are designed to protect the interest of investors.

This includes special processes for managing dormant investor accounts, minor accounts and transmission of investments. N .K. Prasad, Group CEO, CAMS Group, spoke to The Hindu on managing investor data confidentiality and processing risks.

What is CAMS role in the BFSI ecosystem?

CAMS, registered by SEBI as a registrar evolved over years as a technology enabled financial infrastructure provider. Several technology solutions and service innovations have helped improve investor trust, confidence in the new category of mutual funds, increased participation through expanded reach and facilitated cost efficient delivery of uniform investor service standards across the country. Consolidated account statement across various mutual funds, an original innovation of CAMS in 2008 has now become a securities market practice. CAMS’ initiatives in cost-efficient servicing of small ticket monthly systematic investments over the years have helped our clients grow this category to over 60 lakhs. This is significant because net inflows into equity mutual funds lend stability to capital markets.

Currently, CAMS provides unique combination of B2C and B2B services to asset management companies, venture capital firms, life insurance companies, general insurance companies, select banks and non-banking financial institutions.

Does your delivery meet the brand promise of each fund?

CAMS is an entity neutral service solutions partner to the mutual fund (MF) industry having no conflict with competing asset management companies (AMC) and competing intermediaries. Our company’s mission is to pursue growth of our clients, which in turn drives our growth.

As outsourcing partner we have aligned vision and purpose with each AMC and co-create service delivery model and customizations for each AMC.

Our management processes, governance systems are aligned to deliver brand promise of each client and protect strategic, reputational, operational risks associated with outsourcing. The real proof of this is long lasting relationships CAMS has with its clients over two decades who have started their MF business and grown manifold.

What are the benefits of investing in mutual funds?

MFs are a versatile financial investment option for retail investors as it brings the benefits of diversification for meeting individual investment goals, tax benefits, professional fund management, risk adjusted returns, instant liquidity and at no explicit costs to investors. It is a well-regulated product.

MFs have proven to be the route for long term wealth creation. There is a strong correlation of course between longevity of investment and return maximization.

Data shows schemes have returned an average 25 times to investors who have stayed invested for 15 – 20 years. Systematic Investment Plan (SIP) is particularly suitable for retail investors as a savings vehicle, bringing the benefits mentioned earlier even for a commitment of Rs.1,000 a month.

How does CAMS help in transitioning the mutual fund schemes?

CAMS has carried out many scheme mergers and has a mature processes supporting pre/post-merger communication, non-deduction of load during window period, non-applicability of relevant load/STT/TDS during mergers, printing of modified statements, administering brokerage post mergers, computation of capital gains, tax obligations.

Such mergers are done over week-end / non business days.

Can you comment on how MF investors comply with new tax norms?

CAMS has implemented online updation facility to submit the new requirements under FATCA and supplementary KYC.

Forms are also available at our service centers or can be downloaded from CAMS website or from AMC sites.

We have created a central database for FATCA compliance to facilitate one time submission of forms.

This immensely benefits the investor as he /she does not have to repeat the process while investing into a new fund.

What makes CAMS an attractive investment proposition?

CAMS is proud to have National Stock Exchange Strategic Investment Corporation Ltd (NSESIC) as a shareholder in its growth journey. NSE, India’s leading stock exchange, has brought about unparalleled transparency, speed and efficiency, safety and market integrity. CAMS has held market leadership in serving the Indian MF investors.

NSE’s stature would strengthen the Institutional character of our institution. CAMS and NSE have complementary capabilities for serving the securities market. Our market offers tremendous potential in channelling household savings in to productive investments to help grow the economy and helping investors achieve their financial goals.

Can you name some of the new technologies you deployed over the years?

Technology forms the backbone for our excellence in high volume transaction processing and services delivery. Our applications and infrastructure are all developed and maintained in-house. This gives us the flexibility, technology, domain capability and demonstrated scalability to handle any explosive growth in mutual funds volumes like what we witnessed in 2007-08. While the IT application suite has matured into a mini-ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) like ecosystem, the infrastructure landscape has evolved rapidly from rudimentary storage systems to SAN (Storage Area Network) based and now we have large scale enterprise servers and storage. We are early adopters of SSD (Solid-State-Device) technology and our applications have evolved to address today’s needs on social, mobile and analytics.

What has been the response to myCAMS mobile app?

Mutual fund investors are taking up to digital channels pretty actively in the last couple of years. Investor’s appreciation of the digital convenience is evident in the 50 per cent increase of online transactions and 400 per cent increase in mobile transactions.

CAMS powers the websites, portals and apps of mutual funds to enable real time transaction acceptance. CAMS digital initiatives, such as myCAMS platform available as mobile app and online version has nearly 200,000 registered users with a high engagement index. GoCORP is our online portal for institutional investors, with features that meet corporate investor needs.

What has your experience been handling mergers?

CAMS has extensive experience and track record in managing merger of MFs, merger of schemes. CAMS managed many such mergers including a complex acquisition of a twenty-year-old MF by one of our AMC client, couple of years ago. This complex merger was accomplished over a week end, assuring data integrity, assuring business continuity for AMC and access to funds by the investors.

How do you manage costs in a challenging environment?

All our major cost elements – people, infrastructure and technology are inflation prone. CAMS focuses on technology based automation, process innovations and productivity improvements to manage the cost pressure. CAMS deploys about 4,500 people across 3 delivery centres and has a pan-India network of 272 service centres.

Technology and continuous improvement has helped us deliver end-to-end investor services at a fraction of the cost of that of other investment accounts. For example, we manage the entire life cycle of the investor including access and reach, transaction acceptance and execution, records maintenance, reconciliation / movement of funds, dividends processing, account statement issuance and confirmations, on a platform originated and owned by us. MF RTA (Registrar & Transfer Agent) performs this holistic while in case of secondary market the same is executed by multiple agencies viz stock exchange, depository, depository participant (DP), broker, clearing house and RTA resulting in a high cost account maintenance compared to MF.

Is it possible to throw some light on innovative technology enablers?

CAMS has believed in investing ahead of business needs with the premise that availability and access will lead to category growth. RTAs have been the face of MF industry in most of the towns in India. While a typically large AMC might have presence in 80 to 100 locations, we have presence in about 272 locations. In parallel, CAMS pioneered an electronic platform called FundsNet for IFAs.

In 2014, CAMS launched a suite of digital solutions “Anytime Anywhere Mutual Funds” for 2G/3G enabled devices that can be used by mutual fund sales persons, myCAMS for individual investors and GoCORP for institutional investors. Our app for distributors will be launched soon.

Comcast, Dish, AT&T Pay-TV Hikes Coming In 2016

Cable TV, of course, did not predate Benjamin Franklin. But had technology evolved faster, the American statesman and scientist could have said only three things are for certain: death, taxes and rising monthly cable TV bills.

That’s right, cable TV bills are going up again, says a Bloomberg report, which surveyed Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA), Time Warner Cable (NYSE:TWC) and Cablevision Systems (NYSE:CVC), as well as satellite TV broadcaster Dish Network (NASDAQ:DISH) and AT&T (NYSE:T).

Pay-TV companies continue to hike prices amid the rise of “cord-cutting” — disconnecting cable TV service and substituting Internet video — as well as cord-shaving, in which consumers buy smaller packages of TV shows. Rising programming costs, especially those for live sports, have been passed onto consumers.

According to Bloomberg, here’s what’s coming next year:

Time Warner Cable is raising its sports programming fee by $2.25 to $5 per month and its broadcast programming fee by $1 to $3.75.

Comcast, the biggest U.S. cable company, will increase its broadcast fee by $1.75 to $5 and its regional sports fee by $2 to $3. Overall, Comcast customers’ bills will increase on average by 3.9% in 2016.

Dish subscribers will pay $2 to $8 more per month on TV packages.

AT&T’s U-Verse customers will see a monthly increase of between $2 and $4, while satellite-TV provider DirecTV, bought by AT&T this year, will increase its monthly bill between $4 and $8.

At Cablevision, bills will go up by 2.9% on average.

Startups get $8.4 bn funding in 2015; Nearly 1,000 deals inked

Untitled-1 copy

Making it a year of startups, Indian and foreign investors have pumped in a whopping USD 8.4 billion in new ventures including e-commerce platforms in 2015 through close to 1,000 deals, even as questions have begun to be asked about their hefty valuations.

Those opening the purse for Indian start-ups included industry titans like Ratan Tata and N R Narayana Murthy as also marquee global investors like Alibaba and Softbank.

According to data compiled by domestic technology and startup blog trak.in, as many as 936 deals worth over USD 8.4 billion have been inked this year — up from 304 deals worth USD 5 billion that took place in 2014.

The industry is looking at a promising 2016, though experts and even the investors anticipate correction on the valuation side. The sectors to watch out for include financial technology, healthcare and enterprise technology among others.

Also, the focus might shift a bit away from e-commerce companies towards some new areas including agriculture.

This year, the e-commerce sector, led by e-retailers like Flipkart and Snapdeal, and the taxi-hailing app Ola, dominated the startup investments space.

Many of these firms commanded very high valuations, with marquee investors like Softbank and Alibaba among others doling out top dollar.

“The technology and e-commerce sectors have been in the limelight in 2015, and our country is the fastest-growing startup ecosystem in the world, right now,” Indian Angel Network (IAN) president Padmaja Ruparel told PTI.

“Eleven of the 68 ‘unicorns’ globally, (companies that are valued at over USD 1 billion) are of Indian origin,” she added.

However, a debate has begun over the high valuations at which many companies have received funding.

Several industry titans including former Tata group chief Ratan Tata, Infosysfounder NR Narayana Murthy and techie-tuned angel investor TV Mohandas Pai, have questioned the high price e-commerce companies are commanding for parting stakes.

Tata, who himself has personal investments in more than a dozen startups, took a dig earlier this year at the fledgling sector, saying “valuations” and not “evaluations” are driving the play.

Pai also believes that only about 10 per cent of the startups will succeed over the next few years, and about 25 per cent will stay afloat, while the rest are bound to fail, leading to consolidation.

Ruparel pointed out that following the meteoric rise in the first half of 2015, valuations have become more grounded in the second half, and investors are also more keen to find out the business parameters before backing a company.

The year has also seen several startups crumble after being pushed to scale up rapidly due to investor pressure.

Food-technology startups like Zomato, TinyOwl and Housing.com, which had to shut down operations in some cities and fire hundreds of employees, are among those having faced the pressure.

“Still, start-ups are set to emerge as a major job creator if the government evolves an enabling policy environment for them,” Pai said.

Currently, India is home to over 18,000 startups valued at USD 75 billion and employing 300,000 people. This makes India the world’s second largest startup ecosystem while the growth rate is estimated to be highest here.

Right policies can help startups could grow over fivefold in numbers over the next decade, Pai says.

On the regulatory side, the markets watchdog Sebi has eased rules for initial share sale by startups to allow investors to cash in on the e-commerce boom and to prevent such companies from going abroad for listing.

While there has been a slow take-off for such listings, three e-commerce companies including Infibeam, Matrimony.com, QuickHeal have got the regulatory go-ahead to raise money from the capital markets, which is now likely to happen early next year.

“Several policy initiatives like Digital India, as also easing of taxation, labour and registration norms for startups will help the entrepreneurs tremendously,” Ruparel said.

Industry observers expect some churn in the sector going forward with some sector rotation happening on the funding side.

Sharad Sharma of technology and startup thinktank iSpirt believes that growth will shift away from metros to small towns.

“We can expect consolidation, and a correction in valuations as well, though we cannot predict a hard-landing or a soft-landing,” Sharma said.

“An interesting trend for 2016 will be a huge opportunity for startup entrepreneurs to innovate and kick-start and empower the Digital India programme by providing the building blocks to develop consumer-centric apps,” Sharma added.

Since the consumer market is very large, technology startups could open up many new avenues of opportunities in financial services, healthcare and education sectors of the economy, he said.

High-Tech Means Higher Sales for Many Small Retailers


NEW YORK (AP) — An independent retailer may not look like the cutting edge of technology, but these small businesses increasingly turn to apps and sophisticated software to connect with customers.

Small retailers use high-tech innovations to build relationships with customers; they often can’t compete with big chains on prices, so they aim at better, individualized service. Some of the technology is designed for smaller companies, while some retailers find ways to turn a widely-used computer program or app to their advantage. They’re also able to implement technology faster than many giant retailers because they’re not operating hundreds or thousands of stores.

“Using technology enables the small business to cater to a customer’s needs,” says Michael Moeser, a retailing executive with Javelin Strategy & Research, a consulting company based in Pleasanton, California.

One example: an app called Belly that lets shoppers accumulate rewards points at thousands of small businesses. It helps create an emotional connection between the store and shopper, Moeser says.

Another app called Dolly helps a retailer arrange for merchandise to be picked up from a store and quickly delivered to a customer, saving the shopper from lugging home big packages.

More ways that small retailers use technology:

GO WHERE THE CUSTOMERS ARE

Some small retailers sell on online marketplaces that specialize in one type of merchandise. The sites are similar to Etsy, the marketplace that focuses on goods like jewelry and clothes made by artisans.

Cream City Music sells more than 1,800 items from guitar picks to vintage instruments on Reverb.com, a musical equipment marketplace. The retailer began selling on Reverb.com two years ago.

“People on that website are specifically looking for (musical) products,” says owner Brian Douglas, whose company is based in Brookfield, Wisconsin.

Cream City Music has a brick-and-mortar store and a website, but wants to take advantage of any sales opportunity it can. It’s getting results, Douglas says. Sales from Reverb.com are growing by double digit percentages each month.

AN ONLINE PERSONAL SHOPPER

Soon after online shoppers land on the websites for O’Neill Clothing and Metal Mulisha, the retailers’ software starts suggesting products to buy. The recommendations aren’t random; the software, a computer program called Reflektion, finds out where the shopper is located, and a few clicks on surf or motorbike clothes tells the system enough to start suggesting more merchandise. The more a customer clicks, the more information the system gathers, and the more likely O’Neill and Metal Mulisha are to make a sale, says Daniel Neukomm, CEO of the retailers’ parent, Irvine, California-based La Jolla Group.

The software is more advanced than programs on other sites that make suggestions based on a shopper’s order history, Neukomm says. If a shopper is looking at garments designed as active wear rather than fashion, the software will take that into account. If someone from Wisconsin visits the site, the software is likely to suggest hoodies rather than surfing shorts.

The number of visits to O’Neill and Metal Mulisha that result in sales has increased 25 percent because of the software. The more time a shopper spends on the sites, the more likely the program is to select an item a customer will buy, Neukomm says.

“Like a good wine, it gets better with age,” he says.

TEXT YOUR WAY TO A SALE

Tara Mikolay and her sales staff send hundreds of individual texts to her jewelry store’s customers each week. About half lead to a purchase.

Mikolay, owner of Desires by Mikolay in Chappaqua, New York, tailors each text to a particular customer, sending reminders to husbands about their wives’ upcoming birthdays and including photos with suggestions about what they might buy. She texts women customers with photos of new merchandise that fit their style.

While individual texts are labor-intensive, they’re more effective than mass texting would be, Mikolay says. Even when a customer doesn’t immediately make a purchase, they’re likely to buy when the next big occasion like an anniversary comes around.

“I could place full-page ad in a newspaper, but my chances for making a sale are next to none,” she says. “But I spend time manually doing texting and get great results. It’s a no-brainer.

How to Invest in Wearable Technology

Digital Life Review Smartwatches

Even that cartoon-strip cop Dick Tracy, with that fancy two-way wrist radio in 1946, could never have envisioned that folks would be trotting around 70 years later with digital fitness devices and miniature computers strapped around their arms.

“You don’t have to look far to catch a glimpse of someone wearing the latest wearable technology, such as an Apple watch (ticker: AAPL) or Fitbit (FIT),” says Terence Pitre, an accounting professor at Saint Mary’s College of California. “It’s logical to wonder just how good of an investment in this technology would be.”

Then again, that’s not exactly an issue your tech bauble can surf the Internet to answer – not even Apple’s over-the-top watch, complete with a 38 mm, 18-karat yellow gold case and bright red belt buckle that retails for $17,000. (But there’s free shipping!)

No matter how many of those fly off the shelves, or waddle pretentiously, it takes a different measure to determine how watches and fitness devices in the 21st century translate to value for the companies that make them. And a good place to start is with Fitbit, which got into the game well before anyone, in 2007. Its pantheon of products, which track data including steps walked, sleep quality and heart rate, helped the company go public in June.

Apple and Fitbit are at the top of the heap. Fitbit controls almost a quarter of the wearable tech market, according to Pitre. And that slice of the pie has been mirrored by solid Wall Street performance. Since going public, Fitbit has seen its share prices jump more than 20 percent.

One appeal of Fitbit is that its products work with Android or Apple devices, whereas the Apple Watch … well, you know the drill. “Additionally, firms like Fitbit have since added text capability and music to their products, thus rendering both models comparable in functionality,” Pitre says.

Yet Apple’s new gizmo, which starts at $349, hasn’t been a flop, either. For the year, Apple’s revenue grew an astounding 28 percent to nearly $234 billion, after its fiscal fourth quarter profit rose 31 percent. And in its earnings statement, CEOTim Cook singled out the Apple Watch as part of the recent success.

That said, the stock bounce factor is harder to measure for behemoth companies where a watch or fitness device represents one in a large line of products. “Even if it’s a hot product, they often make up a minuscule percentage of the total sales,” says Will Hsu, managing partner of Mucker Capital, a venture capital firm in Los Angeles.

In fact, sales of the Apple Watch will create three to four times as much revenue as Fitbit models. But as Pitre points out, “The financial impact to Apple will barely register the proverbial blip on the radar screen. … Investing in Apple or Samsung (SSNLF) because of their presence in the wearables market would be like buying a hamburger for the lettuce.”

Looking ahead. As for taking a tasty bite of the future, “We’re just beginning to scratch the surface of what’s possible, says M.S. Krishnan, professor of technology and operations at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business. “The key is going to be how relevant these applications are going to be.” Krishnan predicts innovations in the health care market could arrive first – and indeed, that could be a very profitable frontier in the years ahead.

“The next big step for wearables will be a shift toward medical grade sensors for health care,” says Carla Kriwet, CEO of Philips Patient Care and Monitoring Solutions “Today’s devices are able to successfully track data, but this alone is not enough to improve patient outcomes and won’t lead to broader, healthier changes overall – as these devices are not yet helping meet the very real medical needs of patients who would benefit most.”

But there have been advances. Healthwatch Technology, for example, has come out with a shirt that employs electrodes to monitor vital signs for patients with cardiac issues and interfaces with a smartphone app. It promises to not only help hospital patients and outpatients, but also drive sales.

“The greatest benefit will be the fact vital information can be collected over time, allowing health professionals a better view into potential problems of the patient using actual data points and trends,” says Eric Spackey, CEO of Bluewater Defense, a company that mass produces combat apparel and equipment for the Department of Defense.

Already seeing a top? Some experts already spot tech fatigue settling in among everyday consumers.

“We are starting to see performance degradation in favor of feature-rich devices,” says TJ Dailey, national products manager at TCC, a retailer of Verizon premium wireless products. “Where is the tipping point, and when is too much connectivity too much?”

“One of the challenges with wearables is whether or not someone will actually wear it,” adds Joel Evans, vice president of mobile enablement at Mobiquity, a professional services firm in the mobile and digital sectors.

So let’s say you already wear a Seiko or Timex “dumbwatch” you love. Chronos is expected to release $99 smartwatch disc in the spring. “It attaches to the back of the watch you already like to wear, lasts 36 hours and brings many of the features that a traditional smart watch will bring, even responding to taps and gestures,” Evans says.

But whether that propels Chronos to an initial public offering is another story. And not all wearables have caught on. Some major companies that tried wearable technology in athletic clothing have tanked, including Adidas (ADDYY) and Under Armour (UA), says Steven LeBoeuf, president and co-founder of Valencell, a provider of biometric sensor technology in fitness gear.

That said, things could get exciting over at your favorite consumer electronics store. “Be on the lookout for ‘hearables,’ smart wearables worn at the ear,” LeBoeuf says.

Or if you prefer: Keep your ear to the ground.

Market Wrap: S&P 500 Scores Best Week in Nearly a Year

Financial Markets Wall StreetNEW YORK — Wall Street racked up a solid week Friday, with health care, technology and consumer stocks making gains and investors looking beyond a widely expected December interest rate hike.

The S&P 500 ended its strongest week in almost a year, while the Dow Jones industrial average erased its year-to-date loss, led by a 5.5 percent jump in Nike (NKE), which announced a $12 billion share buyback and a 2-for-1 share split.

The sporting goods-maker helped send the consumer discretionary sector up 1.2 percent, making it the top gainer among the 10 major S&P sectors.

There’s more risk now that if they don’t raise in December, then people will worry that we’re still not out of the woods.

Health care rose 0.7 percent, led by Allergan’s (AGN) 3.5 percent increase. The drugmaker rose on reports that the U.S. Treasury’s new tax inversion rules were unlikely to thwart its proposed deal with Pfizer (PFE).

Minutes from the Fed’s October meeting, released Wednesday,hardened expectations of a December interest rate hike and hinted at a cautious approach after that.

Many on Wall Street believe that raising rates next month will be interpreted as a sign of confidence in the U.S. economic recovery.

“There’s more risk now that if they don’t raise in December, then people will worry that we’re still not out of the woods,” said Jerry Braakman, chief investment officer at First American Trust, in Santa Ana, California, which manages $1 billion.

With little inflation on the horizon, the Fed is likely to raise borrowing costs only gradually next year, which should help keep Wall Street content, Braakman said.

The Dow Jones industrial average (^DJI) rose 0.5 percent to end at 17,823.81 points and the Standard & Poor’s 500 index (^GSPC) gained 0.4 percent to 2,089.17. The Nasdaq composite (^IXIC) added 0.6 percent to 5,104.92.

The S&P gained 3.3 percent for the week, its best showing since December. The Dow rose 3.4 percent for the week and the Nasdaq added 3.6 percent.

Next week is likely to see tepid trading volume, with many investors taking time off for the Thanksgiving holiday.

Movers and Shakers

Alphabet (GOOGL), Google’s parent company, rose more than 2 percent after Reuters reported the company was planning to launch the Chinese version of its Google Play smartphone app next year. The stock was the biggest influence on the S&P 500 and Nasdaq.

Abercrombie & Fitch (ANF) surged 25 percent. Its quarterly profit more than doubled and same-store sales fell less than expected.

Sprint (S) tumbled 5.4 percent after the wireless carrier said it would raise about $1.1 billion in cash through a sale and lease-back deal with a company backed by Japan’s SoftBank.

Tesla Motors (TSLA) lost 0.8 percent after it said it was recalling 90,000 Model S sedans to check for a possible seatbelt defect.

Advancing issues outnumbered decliners on the NYSE by 1,819 to 1,249. On the Nasdaq, 1,751 issues rose and 1,014. The S&P 500 index showed 32 new 52-week highs and nine new lows, while the Nasdaq recorded 76 new highs and 81 new lows.

About 6.9 billion shares changed hands on U.S. exchanges, below the 7.2 billion daily average for the past 20 trading days, according to Thomson Reuters (TRI) data.