‘Swavalamban’ initiative to accelerate NPS yet to pick up

Despite government initiatives, the NPS has not generated enough interest among the masses. What needs to be done to prop up this excellent scheme?

Investors have not responded with much enthusiasm to the ‘Swavalamban’ initiative extended by the government under which it will contribute Rs1,000 per year (for a period of four years) to every New Pension Scheme (NPS) account opened this year with at least a matching contribution from the subscriber. Citizens in the non-government segment continue to abstain from investing in the NPS. The number of non-government subscribers to NPS registered as of 30 April 2010 has touched 5,532. Although the figure is more than double that of October 2009 when non-government subscribers were 2,321, the absolute numbers are still small.
The total central government employees registered under the NPS have gone up to 6,09,376 from 5,38,276 in October last year. However, there has been a large increase in numbers from among the state government employees during the same period. The number of subscribers under this category rose to 2,55,903 from the earlier 1,10,024.
An officer from one of the point of presence service providers (PoP-SP) pointed out that there have been no significant additions since the budget announcement. He said, “The momentum has not picked up much despite various initiatives from the government and banks. We have been told that this product should be bought and not sold. So we are not expected to advise customers in any way. The policy is that we wait for the customers to approach us. We are fully equipped and ready to accept subscriptions in the NPS.”
Incidentally, this PoP-SP has commissioned more than 300 of its branches to provide NPS registration facilities to the subscribers. Several other banks have also mobilised a chunk of personnel and designated a part of their infrastructure for catering to the NPS subscriptions. Another PoP service provider confirmed, “Although there is an improvement in the NPS accounts, it is not as much as what was expected.”
Commenting on what needs to be done to popularise the scheme, the official stated, “We need to approach private sector companies and talk to employees about the benefits of the scheme. The government could also probably offer a minimum dividend or guarantee as people may be worried about what they will end up with after so many years. Things will change if the scheme assures a minimum return.”
Speaking about the possible actions being considered to promote the scheme, an official from the Pension Regulatory and Development Authority (PFRDA) said, “The Swavalamban initiative has seen a slow and steady rise from the earlier rate of enrolment. The first phase of implementation is almost over. We are now looking at various promotional and monetary incentives for enrolment. We are considering media campaigns and strengthening the regulatory mechanism through monitoring the PoPs more closely and how to make them promote the scheme better.”
The still lukewarm response to the NPS is unfortunate considering that it is a product that is actually tailor-made for the requirements of the masses. It is among the least expensive balanced investment products in the market and the cheapest pension product in the offing, which would make a huge difference to long-term wealth.
Lack of confidence in the product is also a mitigating factor. Investors are wary about how much they will end up with after the contribution period. Investors should be advised by the PoPs regarding the portfolio allocation to debt and equity before investing. Awareness among the masses still remains a concern for the pension regulator and hence, its plans to promote the scheme need to take shape for the NPS to achieve its true potential.

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