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The advent of technology, stockmarket reforms and profusion of Information have made stock investing easier than ever before. And women are the biggest gainers of this operational ease.

Mumbai-based Kanchan Sawant is not the archetypal housewife whose only concern is the price of eggs, tomatoes and LPG. The Indian government's disinvestment policy, global crude prices and FII inflows are of as much significance to her. That's because Sawant is an avid investor in the stockmarkets and these issues have a direct bearing on her investment portfolio. Sawant, who learnt the ropes of the market way back in 1991 when she was working with a share transfer agent, swears by the stockmarkets and believes that only equity investments can help beat inflation.

Of course, stock trading is vastly different from what it was in the 1990s. The procedures are simpler, transactions are transparent and information flow is faster and more accurate (see box). The advent of technology in the financial sector and stockmarket reforms like dematerialization have paved the way for online trading and paperless transactions. Today investors can buy and sell shares and even pay for their purchases with the click of the mouse. No more sending certificates to share transfer agents and waiting for weeks before they are transferred in your name. The seller just writes out a slip and the shares are debited from his depository account.

What hasn't changed, however, are stockmarket basics. Stock prices continue to be governed by the same fundamentals and technical factors as they did in 1995 or earlier. Only, it has become easier to study these fundamentals now. With the Securities and Exchange Board of India having made it mandatory for all listed companies to declare quarterly results, investors can now make informed decisions. The proliferation of financial portals on the Internet allows investors to read what analysts are saying about a company's prospects. These portals offer expert advice on stocks, IPOs, mutual funds and virtually everything under the sun. "Small investors are more informed thanks to better information dissemination," says Devyesh Shah, director, Indiabulls.

The operational ease, procedural transparency and information flow are drawing an increasing number of small investors to the stockmarkets. That's not all. The demographic profile of the investor has undergone a dramatic change in the past few years. It is not only professionals and businessmen who are buying equities today but even housewives and students. Says Anoop Bagchi, CEO of online trading portal ICICI Direct: "Women investors don't like paperwork. With the introduction of dematerialisation and online trading, a lot more women are investing in the stockmarkets now."

One segment that's making the most of the convenience of online trading is housewives, who have more time on their hand to analyse and monitor stocks. ICICI Direct.com has witnessed a sharp rise in the number of women account holders, with almost 21 per cent of its total 6.53 lakh trading accounts held by women. The same trend is witnessed in other online portals like Indiabulls, ShareKhan and KotakStreet. However, the numbers may not imply that there are as many women investors because often a women's trading account is actually operated by her husband. Or vice versa. For instance, Pune-based housewife Mridu Verma trades on her husband's account while he is at work.

So, where are these women putting their husband's-or their own-hard earned money. The strategies adopted by these women investors are diverse. Namrata Shilpi (see case study) used to trade in penny stocks but after she made a killing in Gail, she decided to concentrate only on blue-chip shares. "I now prefer good stocks which I can hold for at least a year because now I don't have the time to track the markets daily," she says. On the other hand, Sawant prefers to churn her portfolio regularly and sells a stock after it has given her a 10 per cent return. "We don't buy blue-chip stocks. I prefer stocks that are cheaper and run up faster," she says.

DEVYESH SHAH, DIRECTOR, INDIABULLS

"Small investors are more informed today thanks to better information dissemination."

Chetana Nileshwar, a consultant with Deloitte and Touche, puts about 75 per cent of her salary into stockmarket investments. "I have a higher risk appetite," says the 26-year-old. Archana Mehta, a flexi worker who is currently dabbling with stocks, follows a calibrated strategy. Instead of investing at one go, she invests small amounts every month, an equated monthly investment so to say. Says Mehta: "I monitor the scrip over a period, its profits and its P/E ratio before investing."

Even students are not far behind. Finance and chartered accountancy students who have the time and inclination to study the capital markets, are also dabbling in securities. But due to shortage of funds and even less expertise, this segment is focused on the primary market. Kiran Shivnani, who is studying to be a chartered accountant, sticks to only IPOs. Her target is to make a few thousand rupees per scrip and sell out. "All the money I make is reinvested in the markets." But there are some notable exceptions. "I intend to hold on to stocks like NTPC and IDFC for the long term," she says resolutely.

What started out as a means to dispel boredom has now become a serious investment option for many of these women. The Shilpis, for instance, have invested about 50 per cent of their savings in equities- directly or through mutual funds.

If homemakers are making money in the stockmarkets, husbands are happier because they have been freed of another responsibility. Explains Bagchi: "Mostly husbands do not have the time anymore to invest so they are allowing the wives to take over trading. For our customer education classes we are seeing an increasing number of couples coming in." Kanchan Sawant's husband Mrugesh Sawant, who is a manager for quality at Fiat, is only too happy to let his wife look after the household's investments and finance. He says, "She only checks with me about the money before investing. The rest I leave to her."

Narayan S.A., CEO of Kotak Securities, feels this is a trend that will only grow and expects women clients to become a key segment for the company in the years to come. "Kitty parties have taken a backseat in this bull run," says Shah of Indiabulls. An Indiabulls team recently addressed a group of housewives who had abandoned their weekly afternoon parties so that they could focus on their portfolios.
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