State Bank of India (SBI) chairman Arundhati Bhattacharya has said that there should be a level-playing field between banks and housing finance companies (HFCs) over pegging interest rates below benchmark rates.
According to RBI guidelines, bank loans are priced above the benchmark rate, which is the ‘base rate’. In the case of HFCs, the benchmark is their prime lending rate. However, HFCs face no restrictions on lending below their prime lending rates. As a result when rates change, banks have less freedom to re-price loans selectively compared to HFCs, which can vary the spreads over or below the benchmark to any extent.
“I don’t think there should be any regulatory arbitrage (between banks and HFCs). Regulatory arbitrage always makes for an uneven-playing field, and in any area that you are operating it is important to have a level-playing field so that the most efficient of them do the best job,” said Bhattacharya.
According to her, the regulator had spoken of the difference between cost of funds for banks and HFCs as the reason for the discrepancy. “The regulator says that they also have to get their resources at higher cost compared to what the banks pay. So there are pros and cons for everyone and, therefore, how do you create equity so that everyone has a level-playing field? It is difficult to opine on this,” she said.
Explaining her earlier demand for more flexibility in home loans, Bhattacharya said that the bank was not seeking introduction of teaser loans. Rather, it was keen on introducing step-up loans where EMIs rise after initial years. “I believe that there is a place for this. When people take a loan, they go right up to the top. But over time, repayment becomes easier as salaries go up and lifestyle changes to adjust to the instalments, and within two or three years the EMI does not hurt as much as it did in the initial years. Therefore, a variable EMI is something that makes repayment easier,” she said.
She added that there are also some borrowers who do not immediately shift into the house and have an additional burden of rental in the initial two-three years. “There are difficulties in the first two-three years, which we feel if there is a step-up EMI, then that definitely addresses stretched budgeting for first-time home loan borrowers,” she said. On a proposal by the National Housing Bank to reintroduce prepayment charges on floating rate loans if loans are prepaid in the first two years, Bhattacharya said, “In case of floating rate loans, The loans are anyway floating downwards. In that case, is there any case for a prepayment penalty? We have not put our mind to it.”