SEBI's Bold Move: Making Corporate Bonds Accessible to Retail Investors

How is SEBI revolutionising the bond market? Discover how its recent reforms aim to empower retail investors. From slashing face values to standardising procedures, corporate bonds now within reach for all. Read on.

Swati Dayal
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Corporate Bonds

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In a significant development aimed at democratizing access to corporate bonds for retail investors, the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) has announced a reduction in the face value of corporate bonds from Rs 1 lakh to Rs 10,000. This move, hailed by industry experts, is expected to bolster retail investor participation in the debt market.

Nitin Kamath, co-founder of Zerodha, hailed SEBI's decision, emphasizing its potential to attract retail investors to the bond market. Zerodha is an Indian financial services company (member of NSE, BSE, MCX) that offers brokerage-free equity investments, retail, institutional broking, currencies, and commodities trading. 

In a tweet, Kamath stated, "Companies can now issue bonds with a face value of Rs 10,000. This is a great move that can help attract retail participation in the bonds."

We've always believed that bonds and maybe not stocks are the right stepping stone for most Indians—better than FD returns but lower risk than stocks. But bonds have been an HNI product, and no one sold them to retail. But SEBI has just made some important changes recently, Kamath wrote.

What Are Crporate Bonds?

Corporate bonds are debt securities that companies issue to raise capital for new ventures or to expand operations. When an investor purchases a corporate bond, they are lending money to the company that issued the bond. In return, the company pays the investor interest over time and returns the principal when the bond matures.

Corporate bonds are financial instruments issued by companies, both private and public, to secure funds for diverse needs such as infrastructure development, equipment acquisition, or business expansion. When an individual invests in a corporate bond, they essentially lend money to the issuing company. In return, they receive periodic interest payments on the principal amount until maturity. Despite providing financial support, bondholders do not possess ownership rights akin to equity stockholders.

The Need for Change: Overcoming Barriers to Retail Participation

Historically, retail investors in India have faced barriers to accessing corporate bonds, primarily due to the high minimum investment amounts. Kamath had previously highlighted this issue, noting that bonds were predominantly an High Net Worth Individual (HNI) product, inaccessible to the retail segment.

Identifying two major obstacles, Kamath pointed out, "Availability of bonds with small face values and settlement constraints deterred retail investors."

Most bonds were issued with face values upwards of Rs 10 lakh, pricing out smaller investors. Additionally, the requirement for transactions to be settled through clearing corporations with a minimum size of Rs 2 lakh further limited retail participation.

SEBI's Strategic Reforms: Lowering Entry Barriers

SEBI's recent measures mark a significant shift towards inclusivity in the bond market, particularly for retail investors. By reducing the minimum investment amount to Rs 10,000, SEBI aims to make bond investments more accessible and attractive to a broader investor base.

Alongside reducing the denomination,  SEBI has standardized record dates for identifying eligible holders and harmonized the format of due diligence certificates provided by debenture trustees. Additionally, SEBI offers flexibility in publishing financial results for entities listing only non-convertible securities.

Furthermore, SEBI's board has approved a proposal allowing issuers to offer Non-Convertible Debentures (NCDs) or Non-Convertible Redeemable Preference Shares (NCRPS) at a reduced face value of Rs 10,000, with credit enhancements permitted.

The regulatory changes introduced by SEBI encompass various facets of bond issuance and management, aiming to streamline processes and enhance investor protection. These reforms include:

1. Lower Denomination:

The reduction in the minimum investment amount for Non-Convertible Debentures (NCDs) makes them accessible to smaller investors who were previously priced out.

2. Standardized Record Date:

SEBI has standardized the record date, simplifying the process for both issuers and investors and ensuring transparency.

3. Harmonized Due Diligence Certificate Format:

The standardization of the due diligence certificate format provided by debenture trustees enhances clarity and consistency, facilitating informed decision-making by investors.

4. Flexibility in Publishing Financial Results:

SEBI's flexibility in allowing alternative methods for disseminating financial results for entities with listed non-convertible securities reduces administrative burdens and costs for issuers.

Embracing Retail Participation: A Step Towards Financial Inclusion

SEBI's proactive approach towards enhancing retail investor participation in the bond market reflects a broader commitment to financial inclusion and market development. By reducing entry barriers and implementing investor-friendly reforms, SEBI aims to create a more vibrant and accessible bond market ecosystem in India.

SEBI's move to lower the face value of corporate bonds has garnered praise from industry stakeholders like Nitin Kamath, signalling a positive shift towards democratising access to bond investments in India.

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