As a new year beckons, retirement fund body EPFO is gearing for a giant leap in 2016 in terms of the technology usage and for maximising the returns on its over Rs 6 lakh crore corpus.
A key focus area would be to improve the services it offers to nearly six crore subscribers across the country, including by way of providing online PF withdrawal facility as well as easy and real-time access to all its offerings through smartphones.
Expectations are also high that EPFO may revise upward its interest rate, which has remained unchanged at 8.75 per cent for two consecutive financial years beginning 2013-14.
In its bid to maximise the returns, the EPFO also took baby steps to the stock market and began investing a small portion of its corpus in exchange traded funds.
Earlier in March, the Finance Ministry notified an investment pattern for non-government provident funds allowing them to invest a minimum of 5 per cent and a maximum of 15 per cent in the equity or equity related schemes.
Acting swiftly on the government's move, the EPFO trustees adopted the investment pattern within a month despite a strong opposition by the trade unions, but decided to cap its investments in ETFs at five per cent of their incremental deposits in the current fiscal.
With its incremental deposits for the fiscal 2015-16 estimated at Rs 1.2 lakh crore, the EPFO is expected to invest a total amount of about Rs 6,000 crore during the current financial year ending March 31, 2016. Out of this, it had made an investment of Rs 3,174 crore till November 30.
However, the trade unions continue to raise their red flags over stock market investments as the latest performance report on investments in ETFs indicated that the annualised return was only 1.52 per cent on Rs 2,322.10 crore in ETFs during August-October this year.
On services front, EFPO launched a number of new facilities this year including an online helpdesk to provide assistance to the members for tracking their old and inoperative PF accounts. The helpdesk is aimed at helping them settle the inoperative accounts or get them transferred to their present PF account.
If no contribution is made to a PF account for 36 straight months, its becomes inoperative and EPFO stops crediting interest into these accounts. However, claimants can apply for transfer or final settlement of these accounts.
EPFO also initiated a number of steps to move from an environment of e-governance to m-governance. With a view to facilitate access to services through handheld devices, EPFO has unveiled a mobile app also that can give access to e-passbook and monthly credit among other facilities.
The EPS pensioners are also given access to their pension disbursement details through this app. Moving a step closer to online settlement of PF withdrawal claims, EPFO has also allowed its subscribers to file their applications directly to the body without present or previous employers' attestation.