After completing his graduation in commerce, Biren began his career as a sub-broker with a stock broking firm in 1994. However, he incurred huge losses due to the fall in markets. Having learnt from experience, in 1997 Biren began distribution of other financial products like post-office savings scheme, tax-free bonds and mutual funds to hedge his losses.
Soon, he realized the benefits of investing in mutual funds and developed a deep-rooted conviction that mutual funds have tremendous potential to help people achieve their financial goals. However, he observed that mutual funds did not enjoy popularity among investors due to lack of awareness. Sensing an opportunity, he shifted his focus solely to mutual funds and floated his financial advisory firm ‘Swastik Investments’ in 2004.
From the beginning, Biren has offered goal-based financial planning services to his clients and today this Surat-based advisor caters to over 4500 clients managing an AUA of over Rs. 100 crore.
It is interesting to note how Biren started acquiring clients. He began conducting awareness programs for his clients to make them understand the merits of mutual funds over direct equity such as transparency, low cost and diversification. This helped him to convert his existing clients who primarily invested in direct equity to mutual funds.
For his conservative investors who primarily invested in tax-free bonds and postal schemes, Biren developed a strategy to get them started with an SIP of Rs.500 in mutual funds. The strategy worked well. Clients realized that mutual funds can deliver generate better returns than traditional investments. “Conservative investors do not prefer investing large sums of money in mutual funds. But if you recommend them to start an SIP of Rs.500 in equity funds, they will agree to give it a try. And then it’s only a matter of time that they completely shift their investments to mutual funds,” shares Biren.
Another activity that Biren focuses on is to deliver value-added services such as quarterly portfolio review, estate planning and tax planning to get referrals. “My experience bears out that focusing on client needs and continuously taking efforts to fulfil them is the eternal success mantra for advisors. To understand your clients better, ask questions and listen carefully. This will help you analyse their aspirations, history and investment pattern.”
Biren serves retail clients. According to him, retail investors stay put for long term. In addition, these clients prefer investing in mutual funds through SIP over lumpsum due to ease of investment.
He strongly upholds the strategy of on-boarding the entire family instead of an individual. So far, he has acquired around 1500 families comprising over 4500 clients. “Why on-board a single client if you can have at least three clients from a family? Also, involving family members ensures that they all are on the same page,” believes Biren. Before meeting a family, Biren has a unique ‘KYC’ approach. He researches all social media platforms to know more about the family members.
During the interaction with family members, he tries to understand the savings habit of each family member through a set of questions like ‘what would you do if you won prize of Rs.10,000’. Once he understands his client needs and behaviour, he helps them identify financial goals.
Biren believes in being a ‘one-stop shop ‘to his clients for all their personal finance needs. This has helped him to have a deeper engagement with his clients. Offering comprehensive services that address all aspects of personal finance has helped him retain clients as well. “You need to constantly upgrade your service standards and offer all solutions related to personal finance. I offer a range of services like insurance distribution, tax planning and comprehensive financial planning so that my clients get everything under one roof.”
Biren focus on digital has helped him serve his client-base smartly. He has developed an in-house software to help his clients monitor their portfolio on the go. This also helps them in executing transactions across fund houses. “Going digital has helped us reduce turnaround time. Now we focus more on acquiring new clients and growing business,” says Biren. In the future, Biren wants to provide value added services like goal-calculators and financial planning tools through his software.
Servicing a large balanced AUM
Biren has a major focus on balanced funds. He says “Balanced funds are unique in their own way. They have twin advantages of tax benefits and automatic rebalancing making it a superior product and a perfect option for retail investors.”
Balanced funds have been gaining traction due to their performance in the last couple of years. However, many investors and advisors are yet to explore benefits of balanced funds, Biren believes. He says investors can achieve medium term financial goals by leveraging balanced funds. These funds deliver performance similar to large-cap equity funds in bullish markets and provide better risk adjusted returns in the bearish markets to investors. ”
He believes balanced funds can help individuals achieve their financial goals efficiently. Sharing a case study, he said, “My client had an outstanding home loan of Rs.20 lakh. He inherited Rs.10 lakh and wanted to repay his loan to reduce his debt burden. I advised him to put Rs.10 lakh in the dividend option of a balanced fund. Further, I advised him to use the dividend to pay EMI. At the end, this client had repaid his entire home loan much before the stipulated period. On top of that, he availed tax benefits under home loan and created wealth from his balanced fund portfolio.”
Evaluation of funds
For fund selection, Biren first looks at the behavioural aspect of clients such as age, risk appetite and financial goals to recommend the right mix of assets. Once he is certain about client’s financial attitude, he looks at how well a scheme has performed across market cycles. Biren also pays keen attention to the credibility of fund house before selecting a fund. “Large fund houses have a better process in place. They can deal with the internal risks like exit of star fund managers more efficiently,” he says.
Smart client servicing and goal-based planning have been the key to success for Biren. He says he will continue to do what he is doing so far to grow his business. Biren’s story shows us how by focusing on client’s needs and guiding them throughout their financial journey can help advisors grow their client base.