Unit Trust of India is going tech savvy for its investors. An ambitious step that could transform the way fund investors are serviced in the country, the fund behemoth has launched Touch Screen Kiosk (TSK). These kiosks will enable existing investors to obtain information on UTI schemes. The kiosk currently disseminate net asset values including historical NAVs, taxation on investments in UTI schemes, NRI investments, branch network, etc. The kiosks also provide investors with a return calculator, which enables them to calculate their returns for a chosen period of time. For new investors, the kiosks offer details of various schemes along with their portfolios.
Over a period of time, UTI intends to give customer centric account information on these kiosks and information on the schemes on a real-time basis. The TSK System is already operational at UTI's Lotus Court UFC office in Mumbai while another kiosk is being tested at its JVPD branch office. The TSK has been designed for pre and post sales service information over three phases in parallel with the internet project.
Phase I, with its static information such as NAV, sale & repurchase prices of the schemes and branch networks has already been implemented. The second phase will handle online investor query on investments made in UTI, which will provide an interface with investor databases on various schemes. Investors would also be given an option to carry out permissible non-financial transaction online after due security checks. Investor complaints and suggestions would be made electronically from the TSK system with option of sending the reply through e-mail or the normal postal address. Once the deck is cleared for the payment gateway system mechanism in the country, Phase III will allow online financial transactions such as sale, transfer, repurchase and switchovers of units using personalised smart cards/debit cards/credit cards for various UTI schemes.
TSK is surely an ambitious step towards enhancing investor service standards. It is expected to make UTI more responsive and transparent with timely disclosure of information and portfolios. However, there are two crucial questions, which will determine the success of this "touch screen" strategy. One, unlike most other fund houses with a large chunk of investors only in metro cities, UTI investors are spread across the country with a sizeable presence in small towns. If TSKs are not introduced in these centres, the innovative servicing will remain limited to only big cities and a handful of investors. On the other hand, spreading the network from its centralised database in Navi Mumbai to roughly 64 other centres would involve a monumental expenditure.
Second, as the tepid response to online stock transactions has shown, investors are not comfortable interacting with machines. While online funds are still some time away, an investor is unlikely to buy a fund from the screen unless he is more than convinced that the price and objective suit his investment portfolio. And, most of us seldom are! Instead, investors are much more satisfied dealing with investment advisors, which pay personal attention and give a bountiful of advice.
While UTI has surely taken the lead in forming a technological interface to service its investors, it would be better if the Trust also takes the lead in training its service staff and scores of investment agents. This would help investors arrive at better investment decisions. Further, some investment should go towards improving the response period of the current redemption mechanism at UTI. While most other players take 4 days to honour redemption, it can take a fortnight in the case of UTI's open-end funds. Well, when the Trust is going through a bad patch with a resource crunch, investments here are surely going to cost less than interactive kiosks!