There’s a certain undeniable convenience to be derived from being whisked around town in a chauffeur-driven car. And yet, there are those who love being at the wheel too much to ever yield the driver’s seat to anyone. It’s about being in control — for those who feel equipped to take charge.

Since January 2013, mutual fund investors can skip distributors and invest directly in the schemes offered by fund houses. Such plans are called Direct Plans, as opposed to Regular Plans — in which the investment is routed through distributors. By cutting out the distributor, direct plans report a lower expense ratio and, consequently, better returns.

While that may sound attractive, it works only if you have the knowledge and the ability to pick funds suitable for you. If you are a seasoned investor and are confident of picking the right funds by yourself, going direct can pay off handsomely over the long run.

Retail participation through direct plans currently accounts for only 22 per cent of equity and equity-oriented funds. Inadequate awareness about the direct route and the details of how they operate, and paucity of time, are the reasons why retail participation in direct plans is tepid. If you believe you have the head for picking funds, and the time to keep track of them, here’s the lowdown on how to invest in direct plans.

Complete your e-KYC To invest in mutual funds, you need to fulfill the Know Your Customer (KYC) requirements. Normally, this process would take 10-15 days to complete, once you submit the documents required, such as self-attested copies of proof of address, identity, and so on.

But in recent times, KYC formalities have become hassle-free as these can be completed online through e-KYC verification, based on the Aadhaar number. Currently, investments up to ₹50,000 a year per mutual fund qualify for e-KYC through a One Time Password (OTP) mechanism. For investments beyond that, however, you have to submit yourself to in-person verification.

You can invest in direct plans through one of these channels:

On AMC websites Almost all fund houses (asset management companies or AMCs) provide the facility to invest a lumpsum or by way of Systematic Investment Plans (SIPs) through their websites. The procedures are virtually similar across fund houses: you create a login ID and generate password, and provide supplementary KYC and other information.

Investing through AMC websites becomes easier if you are already KYC-compliant. Many AMCs have enabled the online facility to obtain e-KYC as well.

Once you sign up, you’ll have to select the schemes you wish to invest in. A Unique Registration Number (URN) will be provided to register with your bank for online transactions. Through these portals, you can purchase, redeem, switch, start an SIP, view your portfolio and request for account statement.

While the process is generally not tedious, not all the schemes may be available for subscription on the AMC website. Secondly, if you wish to invest in schemes in different AMCs, you have to repeat the same process with each AMC, which is time-consuming.

Through R&T agents Registrar and Transfer Agents (R&T) such as CAMS and Karvy, which take care of the transaction processing for various mutual funds, also allow direct subscriptions through their web portals and mobile apps. They offer this facility for free. CAMS and Karvy help to get e-KYC done through their portals as well.

Under CAMS online (myCAMS), investors can create a single login user id to transact across all mutual funds serviced by CAMS as Registrar.

Through the ‘Common One Time Mandate’ facility, you can register your bank details for auto-debit transactions to make the investments. You can start SIPs directly in CAMS, unlike earlier when you had to create a folio number first by investing a lumpsum in any of the mutual funds.

Besides, currently, of the 15 fund houses that CAMS serves, 14 have been enabled for lumpsum purchases and 10 for SIPs. Under Karvymfs, a new investor cannot invest through its online portal, but existing investors with folio numbers with any of the mutual funds serviced by Karvy as Registrar can transact through the Karvy portal by registering their details.

Through the MF Utility Considering the drawbacks of these two methods, investing through the MF Utility (MFU) at seems a good choice. Promoted by the Association of Mutual Funds of India (AMFI), MFU facilitates investors with a Common Account Number (CAN) to transact in multiple schemes of various mutual funds. It’s a convenient way for investors to invest in direct plans from different AMCs through a single interface. The service is free and paperless.

Creation of a CAN is mandatory; this can be done either online or physically (by mailing documents). The MFU takes about a week to approve the CAN, following which you need to send a request email for obtaining the username and password. Once this is allotted, you can purchase, redeem, set up and cancel SIPs in mutual fund schemes from participating fund houses. Currently, 27 AMCs are registered under the MFU.

Through CAN, all the existing folios of all participating AMCs under the investor’s Permanent Account Number (PAN) can also be mapped. Submitting a PayEezz form (a one-time ECS mandate for debiting bank accounts) will enable you to initiate SIP transactions through the MFU.

Through the MFU, investors can get a consolidated view of their holdings and transactions. The MFU also provides investors a few value-added services like Common Account Statement (CAS), alerts, triggers, reminders, and so on.

Online advisories Finally, there are many online advisories, such as OROWealth, BharosaClub, Unovest, Invezta, and Clearfunds, which enable you to invest in direct plans in mutual funds. Some of them have partnered with the MF Utility. Most of them do not charge for investments made in direct plans through them. However, they may charge for any value-added services they may provide, such as wealth advisory services.