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Thursday, 19 February 2015

More banks hiring financial detectives to trace personal assets of defaulters

Where previously banks would just throw up their hands and write off the loan, they are now hiring financial detectives to look for money trails.

MUMBAI: For those who've been defaulting on loans, Sunil Kakkad's fate offers a cautionary tale — you can run but you really can't hide, anywhere in the world. That's because banks, groaning under Rs 2 lakh crore of bad debt, are hiring investigators to follow the money. Look where they found the absconding Kakkad — in Monrovia, the capital of Liberia. 

Kakkad was head of Ahmedabadbased information technology company Sai InfoSystem (India) Ltd (SIS), which had outstanding loans of Rs 1,035 crore. With total non-performing assets (NPAs) likely to rise even further amid defaults and failed debt restructuring, banks are pushing hard to trace the personal assets of promoters because a lot of the money is not being lost due to business reasons but is being stolen. 

Where previously banks would just throw up their hands and write off the loan, they are now hiring financial detectives to look for money trails that lead from those who have already defaulted or even look likely to do so. 
Their newfound zeal has been encouraged by increasing public anger against corruption and crony capitalism in the past few years. Also, BJP made the unearthing of black money stashed overseas an election pledge, another reason why there is less tolerance for promoters who siphon off cash. The RBI has also made clear that banks need to be harsher with defaulters, given their NPA burden. 
"While asset tracing still remains extremely tough, the Indian government's focus on black money and RBI's stance on NPAs has increased a lot of these cases," said David L Stulb, global leader, fraud investigation and dispute services, EY. 
In Kakkad's case, the investigators hired by State Bank of India, the lead banker to SIS, suspected he had bought some property in Liberia, which is what eventually led them to him. 
Still, state-run banks aren't as aggressive as they should be, said industry experts, often opting for asset tracing only after it's too late. Private banks on the other hand are more proactive and hire investigators at the first sign of trouble. 

Several such inquiries are underway, said an executive at one of India's largest nonstate lenders banks. 


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