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markets

India Advises Firms to Secure Access to Private Data

  • Staff background checks, share monitoring part of Sebi plan
  • Regulator asks Axis Bank to complete inquiry this month

Three companies under investigation by Indian securities regulators after their results were leaked on social media were told to consider internal audits and background checks for employees handling potentially stock-moving information, people familiar with the matter said.

The Securities & Exchange Board of India is seeking improved controls from Axis Bank Ltd., HDFC Bank Ltd. and Tata Motors Ltd., whose quarterly results showed up on the messaging service of WhatsApp Inc. before being disclosed to exchanges, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the matter is private.

Sebi’s plan to prevent the leaks from recurring also includes telling companies to create secure spaces for people handling data, to monitor trades and to ensure encryption, the people said. The regulator may mandate other companies under investigation, whose final quarterly numbers were similar to data circulated on WhatsApp, to follow suit, they said.

“Our compliance and governance team is in regular touch with the regulator,” a spokesman for Tata Motors said in an emailed statement. “While the company has robust policies and processes to manage such price sensitive information, we will investigate this incident thoroughly to identify and address process gaps and fix accountability.”

A Sebi official didn’t respond to requests for comment. A representative of HDFC Bank declined a comment on the probe.

Axis Bank’s spokesperson said the lender is working with the market regulator and “the best experts in the field” to investigate the matter, and would submit its report within the timelines set by Sebi.

The measures prescribed by regulators are part of discussions aimed at concluding inquiries into the firms, which are ongoing. A decision to end them must be approved by the regulator, the people said. Company insiders found to have benefited from leaked information could be penalized about 250 million rupees or three times the illegal gains made, they said.

A separate Sebi panel on fair market conduct may also look at leakage of price sensitive information via social media, the people said.

Ajay Tyagi, SEBI’s chairman, told reporters in December that it was clear companies whose results were disseminated in the leaks were to blame. He didn’t name any companies.

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