Shine Your Light

eShe’s ‘Shine Your Light’ personal-growth workshops for women kicked off with the first edition on January 12 in Delhi. Mirr Investments founder Namrata B Durgan also participated in this unique session and shared her insights on financial planning for women. It was a day of learning, laughter and loving ourselves a little more!

 

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(Photos and video by Ananya Jain for eShe)

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I Drove Two Hours to Give a Talk – to an Unexpected Audience

Mirr founder Namrata B Durgan was invited by a multinational company to give a talk on money matters to its employees. But she wasn’t prepared for this one little detail.

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Not long after eShe published an interview of me, I was contacted by a senior executive at a multinational technology company to deliver a talk on managing money at their office in Noida. Enthusiastically, I prepared my script and mused over the best points to put in my presentation. My husband Sanjay, a financial advisor himself, decided to accompany me for the long drive from our home in Delhi.

On the morning of the talk, the two of us got dressed in our ‘corporate best’, smart bags in hand. I set the location on the GPS and we drove off from home, full of optimism and a sense of attempting something new. As someone who is out to create financial awareness (my company motto is ‘Indulgence is freedom’), I’ve given talks on money management and investment to many groups of women – ranging from villagers to urban entrepreneurs.

But to address the employees of one of the world’s largest companies with 380,000 people on its rolls was an entirely new ballgame.

We arrived two hours later, traffic-weary, but the executive who had contacted me gave me a warm welcome restoring my cheer. She led me through the hi-tech office to the conference room. “This is my moment,” I thought to myself as we walked down the pristine corridors, my pulse racing madly. “These are some of the most brilliant minds in the world. And here I am, about to teach them about money.” Shivers of nervous anticipation ran down my spine. This was my make-or-break moment.

We arrived at the conference room. The executive paused for a fraction of a second, clicked the door handle, and then, with a flourish, opened the door wide. “Welcome to the conference room,” she announced with a big, dazzling smile.

“This is it,” the words boomed in my head, as if they would erupt out of my ears. I stepped into the room with as much confidence as I could muster.

I was not prepared for what I saw there.

It was empty.

Stark, chilled, corporate. Empty.

I looked at the vacant chairs – was one moving there in the corner? – and the lone laptop at the head table. My long drive, my makeup, my power point presentation, my notes, my nervousness that morning – all flashed in front of my eyes. Is this what I had geared up for? An empty room?

In the same instant, a realisation struck me. It was going back to the ‘source’. To nothingness. We all run around being busy, doing things, while the truth is emptiness. Silence. No mind. Just playfulness. Life is too short to take things seriously. Seconds ago everything was systematic, serious, protocol- and strategy-driven. Then the door opened and it was all empty. Zen.

And when I realised the divine paradox in the situation, I was subjected to another internal test, as a volcano of hysterical laughter threatened to erupt from inside me.

It took me an enormous amount of emotional energy and intense centering to suppress it.

I cleared my throat as the lady led me to the laptop. “It’s a webinar,” she explained, as if it was the most ordinary thing in the world. She pulled a chair back and invited me to be seated. “You may begin.”

The sheer absurdity of it. I stared, tongue-tied, at an indecipherable screen with a few boxes and words moving about.

The cursor blinked. The white walls closed in. “Hello, welcome to my talk on this bright morning,” I began without conviction, a question mark lilting my words. I fiddled with my hair and face, until Sanjay – equally dazed, I hasten to add – indicated that I was being watched. Instantly, I froze. You can’t see us but we can see you, rang a chorus of evil voices in the recesses of my brain.

My ‘talk’ went along falteringly, sputtering and stopping in jerks and fits, until the executive – no doubt one of the most brilliant minds in the world – typed out a speedy instruction on her device that went out on the company’s vast intranet to all those who had to suffer my feeble exertions: “Ask something.”

A male voice sounded from the laptop, asking a question – about how safe mutual funds are. A sudden light went on behind my eyes. My heart bloomed. There was life out there. This was audience feedback. I could answer this. Another question came up, and another. And before I knew it, I was chatting happily with the laptop like a long-lost friend.

“That was quite something,” Sanjay and I discussed in the car. “They’ll probably never invite me again.”

Three days later, they did. This time, they gave me a human audience.

Then three of those humans invited me to give talks to their individual teams across four cities: Kolkata, Bangalore, Chennai and Delhi.

I narrated this to a friend.

“So you’ll travel now to Kolkata, Bangalore, Chennai and their office in Delhi,” she asked with a puzzled look, “to give more talks to empty rooms?”

A fortnight of pressure-cooked laughter erupted like Mount Vesuvius, wracking my bones until I doubled up, clutching my tummy, tears streaming down my face.

You gotta love technology.

Ready, Set, Grow : eShe Magazine Profile

Women’s magazine eShe carried a profile about MIRR Investments founder Namrata B Durgan in its June 2018 issue. eShe is a Delhi-based monthly magazine which “looks at the world through ‘the female gaze’, and through the lives of its women, their joys and challenges.”
The magazine’s name is derived from the Hindi word “Ishi” which is another name for Goddess Durga.
The profile on Namrata covered how she was inspired to launch MIRR Investments to help Indian women discover financial freedom.

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The Impact of Demonetisation

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Irrespective of the political divide, the announcement on Nov 8, 2016 by Prime Minister Modi to demonetise Rs 500 and Rs 1000 currency notes has led to heated debates at private gatherings, social media and WhatsApp groups. Bringing forth the citizen’s divide in a stark manner, “damn if you agree and damn if you don’t”.

Besides the citizens, the political class too is deeply divided. Political expediency demands that they support the government’s move against black money drive but question it’s ill-planned execution. Those in opposition have argued that the demonetisation drive will not stem out black money from the system. But one argument that holds sway is the almost total elimination of counterfeit currency, at least for the moment.

Cashless state of existence

Of the Rs 16.4 trillion ( Rs 16.4 lakh crore) currency in circulation, Rs 500  and Rs 1000 form the bulk of the currency notes in the financial system.

ü  They amount to a little over 86% of the total money in circulation i.e. Rs 14.2 lakh crore, in 2015-16.

ü  The Rs 500 notes amount to Rs 7.9 lakh crore and Rs 1000 notes amount to Rs 6.3 lakh crore as per the Reserve bank of India.

The sucking out of 86% of the total currency in circulation is bound to have its naysayers and apologists. The sheer scale of it dwarfs similar attempts made across the globe in the past. Only time will tell, whether the exercise was one of futility or a turning point in the history of India.

ü  The bulk of transactions in India are still carried in cash. As per an estimate in 2012 by the Fletcher School at the Tufts University in the United States, “India is cash intensive, even for a developing country”.

ü  The value of notes and coins in circulation in the economy, as a percentage of GDP is 12.2% for India (world norm is just 5% Currency to GDP ratio). Higher than Russia (11.9%), Brazil (4.1%) and Mexico (5.7%)

ü  The ratio of money held in bills and coins (Mo) to the amount held in demand deposit and savings account (M2) in India is 51%, higher than Egypt (29.3%), South Africa (8.9%), and Mexico (8.7%).

ü  Despite a leading exporter of technology services, a well-developed financial market and a fiercely competitive telecommunication market – less than 2% of Indians have used a mobile phone to receive a payment, compared to over 60% of Kenyans and 11% of Nigerians.

ü  Of the total consumer payment transactions, 86.6 per cent of the  transactions by value were carried out in cash in 2012. Card transactions in comparison stood at 4.1 per cent of the total transactions, and 6.8% for the electronic /ACH transactions.

But then an exercise of such magnitude is bound to have its own set of challenges. Besides economic, political risks too are huge. A forced system reboot will have its own consequences but it may fast track the effort of the government to direct its citizens to opt for non-cash payment modes. A cashless or less cash society was necessary to control terror funding and reduce the availability of avenues for black money generation.

Though the obvious effort, as perceived by the public, is the stemming of black money, there are other benefits that will accrue due to this surprise move of the government. The effort of the government seems to be multi-pronged.

India’s Shadow Economy and Elimination of Counterfeit Currency

ü  As per official estimates, the fake currency circulating in India is around Rs 400 crores. Demonetisation hits the counterfeit currency racket the hardest, and puts a brake to terror funding from across the border. Only in the months ahead will the true impact of demonetisation on terror funding and counterfeit racket be known.

ü  As per World Bank estimates, India’s shadow economy accounted for 23% of GDP in 2007.

ü  Between 2002-2011 Indians illicitly sent assets abroad worth US$343bn (16% of GDP)

Recapitalisation of Banks

The money coming into the system, if not taken out, will enable the government to recapitalise the banks. Flush with liquidity, banks would thus be able to lend more to stimulate economic activity.

Improvement in fiscal position

ü  Direct tax collections to rise as funds earlier unaccounted for, now enter the banking system and are taxed.

ü  Increased tax collections would give the government more room to fund infrastructure without having to compromise on its budget targets.

ü  Post 30th Dec 2016, RBI will have to account for the currency notes that have lost their legal tender and have not been deposited with the banks. This reduction in liability of the RBI can lead to it issuing more currency, thus stimulating economic activity, without worrying about the inflationary impact of such a decision. With only 1% of the Indian populace paying taxes, the move is expected to increase tax revenues for the government.

Rate reduction

As the economy/demand falters, consumer price inflation is further expected to ease from a 14-month low of 4.2% in October 2016 ( a new low since August last year). The RBI, in such a scenario, would be better positioned to cut rates and the transmission of rate cuts to consumers too is expected to be quicker, this time. Bonds are expected to further rally in a downward rate cycle.

Real Estate Valuations

Real estate prices in India, despite the recent correction, are still very expensive by most standards. And they are expected to further correct post the demonetisation move of the government. However lots still needs to be done on this front due to the builder/neta nexus over the years. Besides the stated focus on benami properties, the govt needs to also focus on the lending mechanisms of the public sector banks to this sector. If the government is serious about cracking down on this sector, prices will further drop.  This scenario will however, have its own set of problems.

ü  Were NPAs of this sector to rise due to the slowdown and fall in prices, India will be faced with another problem due to the nature of dual financing to this sector (most buyers are not aware of this potential problem). Dual financing is where the same property/asset has been offered twice as a collateral.

ü  Example: A builder may have mortgaged the land, on which the project is being constructed, to a bank to raise funds for construction. And you as a buyer too would have taken a home loan against the apartment booked in the same project. Were the builder to default on the loan outstanding, the first charge is created in favour of the bank that first gave the loan to the builder. You as an apartment buyer would thus be helpless to claim your right – leading to total legal and financial mess for the individuals who had booked their homes with the concerned builder.

In brief:

Year 2016 has been a year of surprises! First there was Brexit, then the Donald Trump victory and the Indian demonetisation announced on the same day. Were the demonetisation effort to fail, India my not be so lucky as the timing of this move may have come at an inopportune moment. The capital goods production has been falling for the last eleven months on a year-on-year basis.

Demonetisation is a high risk gamble taken by Modi. While the short term distress in the economy is understood,

Ø  Cash clean-up will impact real estate and jewellers the hardest as a major part of their business is in cash

Ø  Rural consumption is expected to be hit hard thus impacting the overall sentiment in the financial markets

Ø  As payment cycles get stretched, agriculture, SMEs, MFIs could be potentially impacted

Ø  The saving grace for industrial production in India has been consumer goods, but that is now all set to change.

Ø  With 86% of all consumer payments conducted in cash, disruption here is immense. GDP growth to be impacted for at least the next few quarters.

The long term impact may surprise us with the positives of this move.

Ø  As the formal economy prospers, government’s tax revenue to improve significantly.

Ø  A huge positive for the banks especially private sector banks as legitimate sources of money come back into the system.

Ø  Though India’s tax to GDP ratio at 16.6% is low compared not just to OECD average of 34% but also emerging market economy average of 21% (Source: TOI/Mint), tax compliance to go up significantly due to a combination of demonetisation, GST and host of other steps being planned by the government.

Markets will likely be cheaper over the next few quarters as corporate earnings are expected to disappoint on the back of delayed spending. In the debt space, yields have come down sharply as there is now increased scope for rate cuts both by RBI as well as in the transmission of lower rates by the banking system. Credit selection would thus become critical in the current environment.

On the global front, the combination of US election outcome and expectation of Fed rate hike in December is leading to a big bond selloff impacting global markets and emerging market currencies. Rate hike in the December FED meeting is seen as highly likely. India remains relatively un-impacted by US elections as Indian 10 Year bond has seen a rally owing to demonetization measures taken by the government. Cash crunch due to demonetisation has led to lower demand in many sectors of the economy.

In conclusion, the ultimate impact of demonetisation will only be revealed over time once the initial chaos settles down.