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Introduction to Mutual Funds in India

“Mutual Funds Sahi Hai”, we get to hear this term a lot these days via TV, newspaper etc. in India. This raises questions like What are Mutual Funds? What is history of Mutual funds or how mutual funds came in existence? How to understand Mutual Funds? Can you invest in specific sector via mutual funds? How is a mutual fund set up in India? What are the different types of mutual fund schemes? What are benefits of Mutual funds? What are tax benefits of Mutual funds? What are sector specific funds/schemes? How Mutual Funds work? How to make money in mutual funds? What is an assured return scheme? Where to invest in Mutual Funds? How to invest in a scheme of a mutual fund or how to invest in Mutual funds? How much should one invest in debt or equity oriented schemes? Which is the best mutual fund? What should you look into an offer document? How to choose a scheme for investment from a number of schemes available? Do you need a demat account for Mutual funds? What you need to invest in Mutual funds? How to open a demat account? With whom to invest in mutual funds and many other.

Here, I am with introduction to mutual funds with the answer to most of the basic questions that you can have. I am writing the information in the question answer form so that you can select your topic of interest and know accordingly:

You can also Learn how to invest in mutual funds from A. Balasubramanian - CEO, Aditya Birla AMC via video tutorial on LearnApp: Click Here

Before we begin what you should know is Mutual funds today can be purchased in two ways – either through a distributor or directly from the AMC.

Through a distributor
When purchased this way, the distributor earns an upfront commission of upto 1.5% on your investment and a trail commission of upto 1.5% every year for as long as you are invested in the fund. Yes, that much! These commissions earned are the reason everyone from your bank to brokerage would be pushing you mutual fund ideas to invest in.

I am guessing a lot of you would have known that if someone is selling you a product, he is earning something upfront out of it. But what most people don’t know about is the concept of trail commissions that is earned by distributor. Every year for as long as you are invested, the distributor keeps earning upto 1.5% of your investment as commission. Since most people who invest into mutual funds do it for longer term, the commission paid as trail can take a big bite of your investment. For example Rs 5000 SIP invested monthly for 25 years, you could end up paying almost Rs 30 lks as commissions, almost 20% of your corpus. (Assuming you make 15% p.a compounded returns, paying a modest 1% as upfront and 1% as trail)


Purchasing mutual funds direct would mean investing with the fund house directly without using distributor as intermediary. This would mean a saving of both upfront and trail commission on your investment. To invest directly, you can visit the fund house’s website or office, fill up the form and invest into the fund.

The flipside to this is that you have to track investments in different funds separately, sign multiple NACH forms for SIP, extremely inconvenient to stop the SIP, make your own capital gain statements and etc. All investments done today by institutions are in direct mode. But almost 90% of all investments by retail investors are still through distributors because of lack of awareness or access to a convenient platform to invest with the “Direct” option.

Zerodha has Coin that is a platform that lets you buy mutual funds online, completely commission-free, directly from asset management companies which also comes in mobile app.

We will discuss about this in later part of this article:

What is a Mutual Fund?
The most Mutual funds is a mechanism for pooling the resources by issuing units to you and investing funds in securities in accordance with objectives as disclosed in offer document.

Investments in securities are spread across a wide cross-section of industries and sectors and thus the risk is reduced. Diversification reduces the risk because all stocks may not move in the same direction in the same proportion at the same time. Mutual fund issues units to you in accordance with quantum of money invested by them. You of mutual funds are known as unit holders.
The profits or losses are shared by you in proportion to their investments. The mutual funds normally come out with a number of schemes with different investment objectives which are launched from time to time. A mutual fund is required to be registered with Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) which regulates securities markets before it can collect funds from the public.

What is the history of Mutual Funds in India and role of SEBI in mutual funds industry?
Unit Trust of India was the first mutual fund set up in India in the year 1963. In early 1990s, Government allowed public sector banks and institutions to set up mutual funds.

As far as mutual funds are concerned, SEBI formulates policies and regulates the mutual funds to protect the interest of you. SEBI notified regulations for the mutual funds in 1993. Thereafter, mutual funds sponsored by private sector entities were allowed to enter the capital market. The regulations were fully revised in 1996 and have been amended thereafter from time to time. SEBI has also issued guidelines to the mutual funds from time to time to protect the interests of you.

All mutual funds whether promoted by public sector or private sector entities including those promoted by foreign entities are governed by the same set of Regulations. There is no distinction in regulatory requirements for these mutual funds and all are subject to monitoring and inspections by SEBI. The risks associated with the schemes launched by the mutual funds sponsored by these entities are of similar type. It may be mentioned here that Unit Trust of India (UTI) is not registered with SEBI as a mutual fund (as on January 15, 2002). 

How is a mutual fund set up?
A mutual fund is set up in the form of a trust, which has sponsor, trustees, asset Management Company (AMC) and custodian. The trust is established by a sponsor or more than one sponsor who is like promoter of a company. The trustees of the mutual fund hold its property for the benefit of the unit holders. Asset Management Company (AMC) approved by SEBI manages the funds by making investments in various types of securities. Custodian, who is registered with SEBI, holds the securities of various schemes of the fund in its custody. The trustees are vested with the general power of superintendence and direction over AMC. They monitor the performance and compliance of SEBI Regulations by the mutual fund.

SEBI Regulations require that at least two thirds of the directors of trustee company or board of trustees must be independent i.e. they should not be associated with the sponsors. Also, 50% of the directors of AMC must be independent. All mutual funds are required to be registered with SEBI before they launch any scheme. However, Unit Trust of India (UTI) is not registered with SEBI (as on January 15, 2002).

What are the different types of mutual fund schemes?
A mutual fund scheme can be classified into open-ended scheme or close-ended scheme depending on its maturity period.
1.       Open-ended Fund/ Scheme
2.       Close-ended Fund/ Scheme
3.       Schemes according to Investment Objective
4.       Growth / Equity Oriented Scheme
5.       Income / Debt Oriented Scheme
6.       Balanced Fund
7.       Money Market or Liquid Fund
8.       Gilt Fund
9.       Index Funds
10.     Sector Specific Funds/Schemes

Open-ended Fund/ Scheme
An open-ended fund or scheme is one that is available for subscription and repurchase on a continuous basis. These schemes do not have a fixed maturity period. You can conveniently buy and sell units at Net Asset Value (NAV) related prices which are declared on a daily basis. The key feature of open-end schemes is liquidity.

Close-ended Fund/ Scheme
A close-ended fund or scheme has a stipulated maturity period e.g. 5-7 years. The fund is open for subscription only during a specified period at the time of launch of the scheme. You can invest in the scheme at the time of the initial public issue and thereafter they can buy or sell the units of the scheme on the stock exchanges where the units are listed. In order to provide an exit route to you, some close-ended funds give an option of selling back the units to the mutual fund through periodic repurchase at NAV related prices. SEBI Regulations stipulate that at least one of the two exit routes is provided to you i.e. either repurchase facility or through listing on stock exchanges. These mutual funds schemes disclose NAV generally on weekly basis.

Schemes according to Investment Objective:
A scheme can also be classified as growth scheme, income scheme, or balanced scheme considering its investment objective. Such schemes may be open-ended or close-ended schemes as described earlier. Such schemes may be classified mainly as follows:

Growth / Equity Oriented Scheme
The aim of growth funds is to provide capital appreciation over the medium to long- term. Such schemes normally invest a major part of their corpus in equities. Such funds have comparatively high risks. These schemes provide different options to you like dividend option, capital appreciation, etc. and you may choose an option depending on their preferences. You must indicate the option in the application form. The mutual funds also allow you to change the options at a later date. Growth schemes are good for you having a long-term outlook seeking appreciation over a period of time.

Income / Debt Oriented Scheme
The aim of income funds is to provide regular and steady income to you. Such schemes generally invest in fixed income securities such as bonds, corporate debentures, Government securities and money market instruments. Such funds are less risky compared to equity schemes. These funds are not affected because of fluctuations in equity markets. However, opportunities of capital appreciation are also limited in such funds. The NAVs of such funds are affected because of change in interest rates in the country. If the interest rates fall, NAVs of such funds are likely to increase in the short run and vice versa. However, long term you may not bother about these fluctuations.

Balanced Fund
The aim of balanced funds is to provide both growth and regular income as such schemes invest both in equities and fixed income securities in the proportion indicated in their offer documents. These are appropriate for you looking for moderate growth. They generally invest 40-60% in equity and debt instruments. These funds are also affected because of fluctuations in share prices in the stock markets. However, NAVs of such funds are likely to be less volatile compared to pure equity funds.

Money Market or Liquid Fund
These funds are also income funds and their aim is to provide easy liquidity, preservation of capital and moderate income. These schemes invest exclusively in safer short-term instruments such as treasury bills, certificates of deposit, commercial paper and inter-bank call money, government securities, etc. Returns on these schemes fluctuate much less compared to other funds. These funds are appropriate for corporate and individual you as a means to park their surplus funds for short periods.

Gilt Fund
These funds invest exclusively in government securities. Government securities have no default risk. NAVs of these schemes also fluctuate due to change in interest rates and other economic factors as is the case with income or debt oriented schemes.

Index Funds
Index Funds replicate the portfolio of a particular index such as the BSE Sensitive index, S&P NSE 50 index (Nifty), etc. These schemes invest in the securities in the same weightage comprising of an index. NAVs of such schemes would rise or fall in accordance with the rise or fall in the index, though not exactly by the same percentage due to some factors known as "tracking error" in technical terms. Necessary disclosures in this regard are made in the offer document of the mutual fund scheme.

Sector Specific Funds/schemes
These are the funds/schemes which invest in the securities of only those sectors or industries as specified in the offer documents. E.g. Pharmaceuticals, Software, Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG), Petroleum stocks, etc. The returns in these funds are dependent on the performance of the respective sectors/industries. While these funds may give higher returns, they are more risky compared to diversified funds. You need to keep a watch on the performance of those sectors/industries and must exit at an appropriate time. They may also seek advice of an expert.

There are also exchange traded index funds launched by the mutual funds which are traded on the stock exchanges.

What is Net Asset Value (NAV) of a scheme?
The performance of a particular scheme of a mutual fund is denoted by Net Asset Value (NAV).

Mutual funds invest the money collected from you in securities markets. In simple words, Net Asset Value is the market value of the securities held by the scheme. Since market value of securities changes every day, NAV of a scheme also varies on day to day basis. The NAV per unit is the market value of securities of a scheme divided by the total number of units of the scheme on any particular date.

For example, if the market value of securities of a mutual fund scheme is Rs 200 lakhs and the mutual fund has issued 10 lakhs units of Rs. 10 each to you, then the NAV per unit of the fund is Rs.20. NAV is required to be disclosed by the mutual funds on a regular basis - daily or weekly - depending on the type of scheme.

What are Tax Saving Schemes?

These schemes offer tax rebates to you under specific provisions of the Income Tax Act, 1961 as the Government offers tax incentives for investment in specified avenues. E.g. Equity Linked Savings Schemes (ELSS). Pension schemes launched by the mutual funds also offer tax benefits. These schemes are growth oriented and invest pre-dominantly in equities. Their growth opportunities and risks associated are like any equity-oriented scheme.

What is a Load or no-load Fund?
A Load Fund is one that charges a percentage of NAV for entry or exit. That is, each time one buys or sells units in the fund, a charge will be payable. This charge is used by the mutual fund for marketing and distribution expenses. Suppose the NAV per unit is Rs.10. If the entry as well as exit load charged is 1%, then you who buy would be required to pay Rs.10.10 and those who offer their units for repurchase to the mutual fund will get only Rs.9.90 per unit. You should take the loads into consideration while making investment as these affect their yields/returns. However, you should also consider the performance track record and service standards of the mutual fund which are more important. Efficient funds may give higher returns in spite of loads.

A no-load fund is one that does not charge for entry or exit. It means you can enter the fund/scheme at NAV and no additional charges are payable on purchase or sale of units.

What is an assured return scheme?
Assured return schemes are those schemes that assure a specific return to the unit holders irrespective of performance of the scheme.

A scheme cannot promise returns unless such returns are fully guaranteed by the sponsor or AMC and this is required to be disclosed in the offer document.

You should carefully read the offer document whether return is assured for the entire period of the scheme or only for a certain period. Some schemes assure returns one year at a time and they review and change it at the beginning of the next year.

How to invest in a scheme of a mutual fund?
Mutual funds normally come out with an advertisement in newspapers publishing the date of launch of the new schemes. You can also contact the agents and distributors of mutual funds who are spread all over the country for necessary information and application forms. Forms can be deposited with mutual funds through the agents and distributors who provide such services. Now a days, the post offices and banks also distribute the units of mutual funds. However, you may please note that the mutual funds schemes being marketed by banks and post offices should not be taken as their own schemes and no assurance of returns is given by them. The only role of banks and post offices is to help in distribution of mutual funds schemes to you.

You should not be carried away by commission/gifts given by agents/distributors for investing in a particular scheme. On the other hand they must consider the track record of the mutual fund and should take objective decisions.

How much should one invest in debt or equity oriented schemes?
You should take into account his risk taking capacity, age factor, financial position, etc. As already mentioned, the schemes invest in different type of securities as disclosed in the offer documents and offer different returns and risks. You may also consult financial experts before taking decisions. Agents and distributors may also help in this regard.

How to fill up the application form of a mutual fund scheme?
You must mention clearly his name, address, number of units applied for and such other information as required in the application form. He must give his bank account number so as to avoid any fraudulent encashment of any cheque/draft issued by the mutual fund at a later date for the purpose of dividend or repurchase. Any changes in the address, bank account number, etc. at a later date should be informed to the mutual fund immediately.

What should you look into an offer document?
An abridged offer document, which contains very useful information, is required to be given to the prospective you by the mutual fund. The application form for subscription to a scheme is an integral part of the offer document. SEBI has prescribed minimum disclosures in the offer document. You, before investing in a scheme, should carefully read the offer document. Due care must be given to portions relating to main features of the scheme, risk factors, initial issue expenses and recurring expenses to be charged to the scheme, entry or exit loads, sponsors track record, educational qualification and work experience of key personnel including fund managers, performance of other schemes launched by the mutual fund in the past, pending litigations and penalties imposed, etc.

Where can you look out for information on mutual funds?
Almost all the mutual funds have their own web sites. You can also access the NAVs, half-yearly results and portfolios of all mutual funds at the web site of Association of mutual funds in India (AMFI) AMFI has also published useful literature for you.

You can log on to the web site of SEBI and go to "Mutual Funds" section for information on SEBI regulations and guidelines, data on mutual funds, draft offer documents filed by mutual funds, addresses of mutual funds, etc. Also, in the annual reports of SEBI available on the web site, a lot of information on mutual funds is given.

There are a number of other web sites which give a lot of information of various schemes of mutual funds including yields over a period of time. Many newspapers also publish useful information on mutual funds on daily and weekly basis. You may approach their agents and distributors to guide them in this regard.

How to choose a scheme for investment from a number of schemes available?
As already mentioned, you must read the offer document of the mutual fund scheme very carefully. They may also look into the past track record of performance of the scheme or other schemes of the same mutual fund. They may also compare the performance with other schemes having similar investment objectives. Though past performance of a scheme is not an indicator of its future performance and good performance in the past may or may not be sustained in the future, this is one of the important factors for making investment decision. In case of debt oriented schemes, apart from looking into past returns, the investors should also see the quality of debt instruments which is reflected in their rating. A scheme with lower rate of return but having investments in better rated instruments may be safer. Similarly, in equities schemes also, investors may look for quality of portfolio. They may also seek advice of experts.

What you need to invest in Mutual Funds?
Well, the first step, talking in India you need a demat account. Now what is that: it’s an account that holds all the shares that you purchase in electronic or dematerialized form. Basically, a demat account is to your shares what a bank account is to your money. Like the bank account, a demat account holds the certificates of your financial instruments like shares, bonds, government securities, mutual funds and exchange traded funds (ETFs).

How to open a demat account?
Choose a broker on parameters: brokerage charges, annual charges and leverage provided. Fill up a form; submit documents like PAN CARD, CANCEL CHEQUE, ID PROOF, and INCOME PROOF (BANK STATEMENT OR ITR) AND INVESTMENT OR MARGIN CHEQUE.

As told previously one of the most recommended broker for having a demat account for Mutual Funds Investment is Zerodha Securities kick-started operations on the 15th of August, 2010 with the goal of breaking all barriers that traders and investors face in India in terms of cost, support, and technology.

Today, they have disruptive pricing models and in-house technology have made them second largest stock broker in India by active retail clients, and the largest by trading volumes on the top Indian stock exchanges.

Over one million clients place several million orders every day through their powerful ecosystem of investment platforms, contributing to over 10% of all Indian retail volumes. In addition, they run a number of popular open online educational and community initiatives to empower retail traders and investors.

Zerodha has Coin that is a platform that lets you buy mutual funds online, completely commission-free, directly from asset management companies which also comes in mobile app. 

Introducing Coin –direct mutual fund platform:

  • No commissions whatsoever on your investment – either upfront or trail.
  • Direct mutual funds in DEMAT form, with convenience of one portfolio across equity, MF, currency, etc.
  • Single capital gain statement, P&L visualizations, and more.
  • Easy SIP – start, stop, modify anytime you want.
  • NAV tracking orders. Similar to stocks, place orders to purchase or redeem funds based on NAV.
  • Flat fees of just Rs 50/month for subscribing to Coin irrespective of number/value of MF transactions across all fund houses. Moreover, your first Rs 25,000 worth of investments is absolutely free.

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