BharatQR, Another Payment Option?

Comments

It’s another day and yet another payment option/technology was launched in India. The newest one to the party is called BharatQR, it’s being launched by the Government of India. BharatQR is like Paytm except instead of using e-wallets, you just need a bank account. It’s pretty clear the Indian government is hell bent on getting most people to transact online. With the explosive growth of Paytm, I’m guessing the government decided it needed it’s own QR-code offering.

I think this is a great move but I think the average user will be even more confused now. Below is a list of electronic payment options that I have compiled in alphabetical order:

  1. Aadhar Enabled Payment Service (AEPS)
  2. BharatQR
  3. BHIM
  4. Apple Pay and Android Pay (coming soon…)
  5. Credit/debit card
  6. E-wallets – Paytm, Mobikwik, etc…
  7. IMPS
  8. NEFT
  9. RTGS
  10. RuPay
  11. UPI

Yeah, even the most tech savvy person would get confused. I think the government should just wrap AEPS, BharatQR and BHIM into a single app and make that the defacto standard.

Modi Marches On

Comments

We live in an era of limited attention span, super short news cycles and the upcoming President of the US who uses Twitter and it’s 140 characters to talk. When PM Modi announced on November 8th that all Rs. 500 and Rs. 1000 notes would stop being legal tender as of midnight that day, it was like an earthquake and here we are almost 46 days later still talking about it.

The demonetization topic has come up at almost every party or business meeting I have attended and it’s been great to hear the pros and cons of PM Modi’s actions. First, I think we Indians can adapt to any damn thing and this exercise clearly shows that. People that had stacks and stacks of black money figured out ways to deposit their money into the banks. It remains to be seen if they will be able to get their money back or how much of a penalty they will have to pay. On the other hand, the middle class waited patiently to deposit their money and waited even more patiently to get the new currency notes.

The poor ended up being pawns in a political game where the opposition party said the poor were suffering the most. Actually, the poor have been suffering long before demonetization. The per capita income in India is about $1,500…not per week or month that’s per year. The Chief Minister (think Governor of a US State) of West Bengal, Mamta Banerjee, was one of the harshest critics of the policy and was on TV almost every night to highlight how much the poor are suffering. Because of the lines that people had to stand in line to get cash their own cash. Uhhh, we Indians are used to lines. Go to VT or Churchgate train station at 6:30pm and tell me what you see. Come to Nariman Point at 6pm to catch a bus and tell me what you see. I’ve seen these lines in Nariman Point for the past 10 years and that hasn’t changed.

The opposition party even played some of their classic hits like ex-PM Manmohan Singh. Manmohan Singh is like a one-hit wonder, he might have been the chief architect of India’s entry into the global economy in 1991 but he also was the PM during one of the most corrupt periods in recent times and was absolutely silent about it. (The joke is when he visited the dentist, the dentist said “at least open your mouth in my office”.)

I hope Modi doubles down on his drive to make the country a digital currency nation. When people say, how can you expect a poor man to buy a smart phone to take part in this new digital economy I just lose it. Have the politicians scammed this country for so many years that they have not been able to lift people out of poverty? That’s the real tragedy, not demonetization.

US and India Taxation

Comments

18949788.cmsDear e-commerce expat,

So you moved to India to join the e-commerce boom, you get to deliver packages during the day and tweet selfies all night. My only advice to you is get your financial house in order. In the weeks and months before you moved to India, I’m sure several people asked you “do you have to pay taxes in both countries?” The short is no, the long answer is – it’s complicated.

Why is it complicated? Because if you are a U.S. citizen and moving to India, you are essentially stuck between two countries that are absolutely obsessed with milking you for every dime that is owed to them. It’s justifiable, but let’s rewind and understand how we got here and go over the basics of each countries tax regime.

U.S.
The U.S. national debt is at over $18 trillion dollars and many of the largest corporations like Apple, Microsoft and Cisco Systems have kept their profits offshore and refuse to repatriate (fancy word for bring) the funds to the US and pay taxes.

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is the government agency that collects the taxes. The tax year is based on the calendar year (January 1 to December 31, 2013) and for individuals, the taxes are due on April 15, 2014 based on the example. They refer to the different rates of taxation as “tax brackets”. The IRS is sometimes referred to as Uncle Sam. If you are a U.S. citizen or resident alien, your worldwide income is subject to U.S. income tax, regardless of where you reside.

In 2010, the US passed the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA). This made it mandatory that all non-US financial institutions automatically report if they have accounts for US citizens and report that information back to the US authorities. But, why let the institutions have all the fun? Individuals still need to file Form 114 – Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (FBAR). An FBAR filing is required if all foreign financial accounts exceed $10,000. In addition, a Form 8938 – Statement of Specified Foreign Financial Assets is required if you have assets over $200,000 during the year. The amounts vary, depending on whether you are single, married or filing seperately.

India
In India, the issue is with a cash based economy and corruption. When people pay for services in cash, the government has no way to track it and thus people avoid paying taxes. With corruption, much of the money that is meant for government programs for the poor gets siphoned off and put into off-shore bank accounts.

The Income Tax Authority is the government agency that collect the taxes, it’s part of the Ministry of Finance. The financial tax year is based on April 1, 2013 to March 31, 2014 for example. Individual taxes are due on July 31, 2014 based on the example. They refer to the different rates of taxation as “tax slabs”.

In 2015, the Indian government passed the Black Money (Undisclosed Foreign Income and Assets) Act. It’s commonly referred to as the “Black Money Act” and the intent and spirit of the law was to go after politicians and large businesses that for years had stashed their money in foreign countries. The deadline to declare ANY and ALL foreign assets was September 30, 2015 and the results were less than stellar. Many of the people that declared their assets were working professionals and not the intended target of politicians and large businesses.

It’s Complicated
The US and India do have a Double Tax Avoidance Agreement (DTAA) in place and for the most part works. So if you make the equivalent of USD 100,000 in India, then India will tax you at 30% and the US will not double tax you because of the DTAA that is in place. However, if you make the equivalent of USD 500,000 in India, then India will tax you at 34% (30% + an additional 10% surcharge on 30% + an education tax of 3% on the entire tax amount). In the US, since the highest tax bracket is 39.6% you will have to pay the delta of 5.6% to Uncle Sam.

Suppose you have a 401k retirement plan which allows you to generate income within the account tax free and pay taxes at the time of distribution. Unfortunately, according to the DTAA between India and the US, India does not recognize the account as a pension so you will have to pay taxes on the income generated in the account to the Indian government. 🙁

Another example, suppose you buy an equity mutual fund in India and after 13 months you sell it. In India, there is no long-term capital gains on equity mutual funds – awesome right? Wrong, since you hold a US passport you will have to pay long-term capital gains in the US based on the US tax bracket you are in.

So technically, there is no double taxation but you will get taxed at the highest rate whether it’s in India or the US. DTAA should really stand for Double Trouble And Anguish.

An Example
Suppose you earn Rs. 78 lakhs for April 1, 2014 to March 31, 2015 for the work you have done in India. That is Rs. 6.5 lakhs a month and at the current exchange rate comes to USD 10,000 a month. In India you would fall under the 30% tax slab and in the US you would fall under the 28% tax bracket. You will first have to file your US taxes which are due on April 15, 2015. Since you earned USD 90,000 over the 9 months you fall under the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion which means the US government won’t tax you on anything. You will need to look at Form 2555 and Form 1116 for Tax Credits to see which makes more sense for you.

Then when you file your Indian taxes on July 31, 2015 you will report the Rs. 78 lakhs on your ITR (income tax return). You will have to show the long-term capital gains on your Indian taxes in Schedule TR which is for taxes paid outside India. And of course you will need to fill out the Schedule FA for foreign assets. If on February 10, 2015 you have a short-term capital gains of Rs. 5 lakhs, your tax will be Rs. 1.5 lakhs which is 30%. Then when you file your US taxes for calendar year 2015, you will have to show the gains and the credits will be listed on Form 1116.

Yeah, it’s almost better to be just a delivery person in India.

Dear Financial Advisor

Comments

keep-calm-and-call-a-financial-adviserDear Financial Advisor,

Because of MProfit, I’ve had a chance to interact with 100’s of financial advisors like you over the past 5 years. And frankly, there is a lot of room for improvement. To the outside world you talk about financial planning, long term goals and asset allocation. Yet when you talk to me, everything is short term in nature – commissions reports, daily portfolio updates via SMS, real-time price updates, etc… There is a real disconnect between what you portray and what you actually do.

Over the past 5 years the Indian financial advisory industry has been going through a very painful but needed cleansing. A combination of government policy errors, general economic slowdown and investors fleeing the markets has led to many financial advisors getting flushed out of the system. The policy change in August 2009 to restrict entry loads was to combat bad behavior by many “financial advisors” who were just churning a clients portfolio. But, what ended up happening is that many respectable advisors like yourself got caught in the cross fire and lost a respectable amount of commissions. It’s been tough but I do believe the good advisors have survived and will continue to thrive because you provide value.

One of my biggest pet peeves is when I hear advisors ask for a way to send an SMS on a clients birthday. I just laugh to myself and think this “advisor” will be out of business in no time. Calling people or sending an SMS on their birthday is probably how it used to work when selling insurance. Nowadays people are being bombarded with calls and SMS’s. Here is some advice, clients hire you not to remind them of their birthday, that’s what Facebook is all about. They hire you to provide them with sound financial advice and hopefully outperform the markets by selecting the right mix of investment products. Hell if you outperform the markets, I’ll call you on YOUR birthday.

Many advisors call and ask “how can we increase our business?” then they ask “will starting a blog like JagoInvestor get me business”.  My advice has always been the same, give clients valuable and timely information. Don’t blast them with a daily/weekly/monthly newsletter if it only contains junk. If it’s tax time, provide some specific tax advice to your clients. Having known Manish Chauhan and Nandish Desai of JagoInvestor for quite some time, I know they spend countless hours answering relevant questions and helping investors on a daily basis…that is what you should be doing. They just happen to have a blog to reach out to people, you could have seminars or start a newsletter…the delivery method is irrelevant however the quality of the content matters.

No Name Startup vs. Big Brand Company

Comments

startupsignIn real estate, it’s all about location, location, location… For a startup it’s all about people, people, people. Of course, for startups there are about 3.2 million other things to manage such as the idea, go-to-market strategy, margins, marketing, etc… However, without the right team in place all of those other things don’t mean sh**.

If people are the most important resource then recruiting is paramount and yet it’s also one of the most frustrating tasks for a startup in India because of the cultural issues. Recently, one of the companies that I’m advising was recruiting a junior technology person, he went through several rounds of interviews and we finally agreed to hire him. When he showed on his agreed start date, he starts to ask questions on why he should join a startup vs. working for a big information technology (IT) company. The type of questions he was asking were fine but the timing was wrong because those are the type of questions you want to ask BEFORE accepting an offer.

The sad truth is that for all the talk about Indian venture capital, startups, entrepreneurship, new economy, etc… There are some cultural biases that are just too tough to overcome. I’m sure the candidate got some “advice” over the weekend from his relatives and that was the end of it. I explained the pros and cons of working for a startup vs. a large company but I’m 110% sure he wasn’t listening because the decision was not in his hands – the decision was with the family elders. For many families its about the marketability of their children for getting married. It’s easy for a family to say their son/daughter works for Infosys, Volkswagen or Reliance but a tough sell when their child is working for ValiGo Technology Private Limited.

Of course, this not only happens to employees but also affects companies. If you are trying to strike a business development deal and have an opportunity to work with the biggest name you might jump at it, but usually when you look at the terms and conditions it’s not so great. When I came to India in 2004, I was looking to meet with commodity brokers that had the largest geographic reach. That came down to Refco, which at the time was the largest commodity broker in the world and Man Financial which was #2 globally.

During my meetings I kept on hearing about a new emerging broker/dealer that had several offices in Nariman Point and an office at the iconic Express Towers. I didn’t really followup with those guys because I had a chance to work with either #1 or #2 in the commodity space. (Also, in the back of my mind I kept on thinking that this emerging company’s name is a flower.) We finally partnered with #1 Refco and we launched our fund in August 2005. I landed into India on October 1, 2005 and by October 10th Refco had filed for bankrupty.

So what was the name of that small emerging broker everyone was mentioning back in late 2004…Edelweiss Capital. The name is very fitting because the edelweiss flower grows in rocky conditions which pretty much describes the working conditions in India, although not a household name it’s a powerhouse in the industry. It has grown from being a broker into a massive financial services firm with 1000’s of employees all over India. Once again, No Name Startup vs. Big Brand Company.

Older Entries