Traditionally, winters have foreign tourists flocking to India. But in the last few years added to that winter rush are business people who come to India seeking investment opportunities. It was partly true for Michel Tilmant, Chairman of the executive board of The Netherlands-based ING Group, who was here last fortnight.
This has been Tilmant’s third visit to India in less than two years. But then he also has existing operations to oversee in India. The Dutch financial services conglomerate has ING Vysya Bank, ING Vysya Life Insurance and ING Investment Management within its fold in India.
However, Tilmant, during this trip was also keeping a watch over the hot real estate sector. This despite the fact that policy mandarins have started thinking of putting some controls on capital flows into the sector.
Nevertheless, the sector in India remains attractive for ING which globally has a sizeable real estate portfolio. “We will be interested in both the incoming and outgoing flows,” Tilmant says, adding that the specific contours of how ING would like to invest in Indian real estate remain to be worked out. He was, however, clear that there is a very strong appetite amongst global institutional players for Indian real estate.
Meanwhile, wealth management, another focus area for the group globally, is also gaining attention here in India. The group has introduced the service in Chennai, Kolkata and Hyderabad in the last few weeks. Though Tilmant is wary of giving any investment numbers, he says, “we will put as much money as is necessary to grow in India. India is one of the top four priority countries for ING.” Apart from capital infusion into the insurance venture recently, the banking entity, ING Vysya Bank, where ING has a 44 per cent stake, is raising around Rs 350 crore to boost its capital adequacy.
Though ING has grown inorganically in other markets that it is present in, current regulations do not allow such expansion by foreign players in the banking sector at least. Tilmant is keeping his fingers crossed not just for the regulatory review in 2009, but also for the opening up of the pensions business.
In the meantime the group is investing selectively in the Indian equity market. ING Bank NV was one of the investors in the recent Rs 1,615-crore share sale by Kotak Mahindra Bank through the qualified institutional placement route. Clearly, India is going to be the long-haul hope for ING.