In Conversation with Puneet Parihar, General Counsel, KreditBee

Coming from a family of distinguished lawyers in Jodhpur, Puneet grew up listening to anecdotes from his public prosecutor grandfather about his success in convicting decoits and robbers. However, he did not consider law as a career until his senior secondary exams. In this exclusive interview with Krishnendra Joshi, Editorial Lead, BW Legal World, the dynamic General Counsel talks about his experience of working in the gulf to transitioning to an in-house role in one of the most regulated sectors. He also shares his take on digital lending rules and much more.

Mr Parihar, would you please take us down memory lane and tell our readers, what motivated you to pursue law as a career?

I come from a distinguished line of legal practitioners. Being a child, I was always fascinated by the stories told by my grandfather (who was a retired Asst. Public Prosecutor) about his success in convicting dacoits and robbers. However, the seriousness towards taking up a career in law only came during senior secondary school exams when my uncle mentioned about National Law University and the prospects that NLU was offering. The other key advantage was that NLU was situated in my home town i.e. Jodhpur.

Did you have mentors in the profession? Tell us about the formative years of your legal career.

I owe a lot to my seniors with whom I had the chance to work with during the formative years and their confidence and support has played a significant role in my professional development. I started my career in an inhouse legal team, where I was exposed to contract management and other nuances of a corporate legal team. Thanks to my seniors, I was given the exposure to draft and at times be part of the contract negotiation team which helped me in understanding and learning contract negotiation techniques right from the first year of my career. I was further encouraged by my seniors to shift to a law firm to hone my skills. I was fortunate that in my journey in the law firm, I was given the opportunity to work with various governmental organisations which helped me in understanding the working style of governmental organisation and the bureaucracy.    

You have worked with top law firms in India and abroad. Was it a conscious decision to transition towards an in-house lawyer?

My stint at Carrefour India helped me a lot in evaluating the shifts between in house and private practice. In my experience, every lawyer must try to spend some part of his formative years in private practice in order to acquire certain specialised skill set. I had the opportunity to the work with the best minds in the legal industry throughout my career and therefore during my association with different law firms as well as at Carrefour India I was able to develop a skill set  that is generally expected while leading a successful in-house legal team. Therefore, during the when the time came to decide between moving back to India from Oman or continuing with my role in a top-ranked law firm in Oman, I chose to move back to India and join KreditBee  that was offering me a challenging role in one of the most dynamic and regulated sectors. Once offered the opportunity, I did not have to think twice before accepting the opportunity. 

Tell us about your experience of working at Al Alawi & Co., Advocates & Legal Consultants in Muskat. How can Indian lawyers get more opportunities in the Gulf region?

While working with AZB & Partners, I was approached for the opportunity to work with Al Alawi & Co in Muscat, Oman. The Omani legal system is composed of a mixture of a civil code system and Islamic law. Despite its historic ties with India and a sizeable Indian diaspora in the country, Oman is still not very well known in India. 

Despite all the literature available on the internet, there was always a little hesitation while accepting the offer. However, thanks to my Indian colleagues working at Al Alawi, I was offered full support and guidance during my entire tenure at Al Alawi. Gulf region as opposed to UK/ Canada/ Singapore follows Civil Law and the principles of Islamic Shariah law. 

Indian lawyers looking to move to a gulf country must at least have the basic knowledge about the Shariah law (or be fortunate to have amazing colleagues who can help them during their early years or practice). 

On 10 August, RBI came out with its digital lending guidelines to curb illegal activities and mitigate concerns arising from credit delivery by digital platforms. Proactive measure or a much-needed step in the right direction, what are your thoughts on RBI’s digital lending norms?

The Digital Lending Guidelines are a watershed moment for the entire Fintech industry, especially digital lending as for the first time RBI has recognised the role and importance of digital lending applications, while also setting down some much-required guard rails in order to protect and carefully nurture the nascent industry. 

The major aim behind the enactment of the guidelines was not only to safeguard the interests of the common public from unethical practices of certain malicious digital lending apps but to also offer consumers with an alternate form of lending where they are now able to borrow money from the regulated entities that use sophisticated software and technology to underwrite the customer and offer him loans in a very short period of time.  

The government of India and RBI have always advocated increased involvement of technology in order to solve the problems currently faced by the public and since these guidelines have been formulated while keeping the interests of the public as paramount, these guidelines will act as the guiding framework for enhanced digital lending and digital banking in India.

How do you foresee corporate legal departments in the next 5 years? Is the reliance on external law firms on the decline?

Off late, most companies have started realising the value of an in-house legal team, given that the legal teams are not only able to act as an integral contributor to the entire risk and corporate framework of an organisation but are also financially and economically more sensible than hiring a law firm or a consultant on retainership. One of the biggest advantages of an in-house legal team is that the members of an in-house legal team are generally able to offer more business-oriented advice and able to generally adopt to the company culture. That being said, there are various assignments which always require a specialised skill set and law firms which advise on these matters on a regular basis are able to offer a more practical and market view in relation to such special assignments.   

With the advent of artificial intelligence in the legal sector and companies looking to adopt legal technology into their daily operations, the role of law firms is expected to dwindle over a period of time.

As an important cog in the wheel, how would you rate India's overall corporate governance framework? Any glaring grey areas that require urgent attention?

The Indian regulators have generally been proactive in adopting some of the best global practices in order to streamline and strengthen the corporate governance framework. To this effect, the regulators along with the governments have on a regular basis formed various committees constating of the best minds in the industry and in the legal fraternity to work together for constantly improving the corporate governance mechanism.

Tell us about your life outside the law. Do you still get time to pursue your hobbies? Any book that you would like to recommend to the young lawyers reading this interview?

Outside work, I generally try to spend time with my daughter. I love cinema and food and therefore am always on the lookout for good movies and restaurants with my family. I don’t get too much time to read and mostly I end up sharing a storybook with my daughter.

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