Exchanges must provide data on unclaimed shares

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Try this experiment. Think of anyone who invested in shares during the 1980s or 1990s. Now search for unclaimed shares and dividends in that person’s name. There is a good chance you will discover some.

I did this search for my father, spouse, and myself. I discovered that my father had unclaimed shares, likely to be worth a couple of lakh at least. I also discovered unclaimed shares of other members of my far-flung clan, at times worth more than Rs 10 lakh. Many of my friends and colleagues have also made similar discoveries. Clearly there are a lot of unclaimed shares out there.

Unclaimed shares and dividends go to the Investor Education and Protection Fund (IEPF) managed by the Investor Education and Protection Fund Authority appointed by the Government of India. I was unaware of the widespread and extensive nature of unclaimed shares belonging especially to people who were active in the share markets in the 1980s and 1990s before dematerialisation happened. Sarika, a client, alerted me about this issue and advised me to do this search for all our clients.

I tried searching on the IEPF website (https://bit.ly/3Iasu4X). It allows search based on a combination of investor name and father/husband’s name; or folio number; or DP-ID number. Since I didn’t know whether there were any unclaimed shares at all, I searched based on the combination of investor’s name and father/husband’s name. The search produced nothing.

Sarika told me not to be discouraged as the search functionality on the IEPF website is non-functional. She encouraged me to use various “nonofficial” websites. I discovered at least two that allowed search based on just part of the name or the surname.

The first one (https://bit.ly/3uAUWaw) displayed that my father had unclaimed shares worth a couple of lakh. However, it demanded around Rs 10,000 just to provide the company name and the folio number. I paid up and promptly got the information via email.

Armed with the folio number, I again searched on the IEPF website. It still reported nothing. The company that transferred the shares to IEPF is also required to make this data available on its website. I tried the company’s website in which my father held the shares. Though it is a blue-chip company, its search functionality was terrible. Typing in the folio number didn’t yield any result.

Later, I discovered a second website (https://bit.ly/3Pf2ffX) that provides the same information for free, though the quality of its data is reportedly lower.

Meanwhile, I checked with professionals who specialise in this area. I asked how a private party had managed to get the data. I learnt that the first such transfers happened in late 2017. At that time, company wise data was available in the public domain. Many far-sighted professionals downloaded this (then) publicly available data, collated it across all companies, and also provided better search functionality.

These professionals now specialise in this area of work. They search for investors with large unclaimed shares via social media and even visit the addresses available with them. Most investors who have large, unclaimed amounts willingly pay the fees to get access to such data. Though these professionals charge a stiff fee, they are rendering a valuable service.

The key to reducing this mountain of unclaimed shares is a search functionality that allows anybody to easily search for unclaimed shares or dividends in their names. The stock exchanges should aggregate this data from all listed companies and provide an easy-to-use search functionality for investors on their websites.

(A slightly different version of this column first appeared in the Business Standard on July 11, 2022)

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