Tell us about your early career. Did you always want to be a financial planner?
My family is in the auto component manufacturing business for the last 40 years. However, I have never been a part of that. I began my career in financial services when I was in the first year of college.
I studied at the Doon School in Dehradun and then later completed my graduation from St Xavier’s College in Kolkata. I was drawn to markets during the 2003 bull run. I was in college at that time. Simultaneously, I joined Birla Sun Life Distribution and got my ARN at the age of 19.
Initially, I did not want to be in financial services as I felt it was too tough to convince people who were 30-40 years elder to me. However, I changed my decision after attending the first Financial Planning Standards Board India (FPSB) conference in Mumbai in 2005. I heard some industry experts in this event which changed my perception about this industry. I was convinced that it was a long-term sustainable profession to be in.
What inspired you to take up financial advisory?
I was interested in markets and started managing my family’s investments. Besides, it was a good opportunity to earn and learn. Also, I liked interacting with people and had a knack for numbers. Thus, I found this profession useful on both these counts.
Tell us about your initial journey. What kind of teething troubles did you face?
The initial years were very tough as people did not trust me easily because I was too young. Also, I did not have any experience of market crashes, scams and other negative experiences which investors had faced. It was very difficult to counter those objections. Also, Kolkata was a marwari dominated market and they preferred someone from their own community advising them. Also, I did not have many contacts in Kolkata as I had grown up in Jamshedpur and Dehradun. It was tough to build a relationship led business with only a few contacts.
How do you win the trust of your clients?
There is no formula to win the trust of clients. I think the most important thing is consistency and transparency. Your advice cannot keep changing with the seasons; you have to be consistent and have to think from the investor’s perspective more than anything else.
Tell us about your business model…
My focus from the beginning had been HNI and semi-institutional category of investors like trusts, hospitals, housing societies, schools and colleges. Also, I live in a large housing complex where everyone knows me. So I built my clientele around the people I interacted with at home or in college.
The focus was on acquiring knowledge and not being a me-too broker offering pass backs. I lost many clients because other brokers were offering pass backs. But I held my nerve and focused on acquiring matured and sensible investors. My focus was on debt and liquid funds, as very few were recommending fixed income at that time. Also, in between I worked for a year at Optimix, which helped me understand how AMCs function. Here, I also interacted with many IFAs and bankers and learnt the advisory business from a different aspect. It was very important to learn the business strategies of others.
How much assets under advisory (AUA) do you currently have in mutual funds? How many clients do you cater to?
The MF AUA is about Rs. 140 crore and overall including other assets like bonds and FDs is over Rs. 350 crore. Currently we cater to 1,800 investors of which 50 would be corporate or semi- institutional clients and remaining NRI, HNI and retail. I have a team of 14 professionals who manage these relationships.
What was your biggest learning as a financial advisor?
This is a clichéd answer. I feel maintaining the trust of investors is very important. Without trust, no relationship can succeed. Also, inculcating the same value system in your team is equally important as they represent you. The investor experience should be the same with the entire team.
How do you get new clients?
We get new clients through a combination of the following: references, social media marketing, active socializing and convincing my known circle of friends, family and neighbours to start investing. The market is large and there is tremendous scope to grow this business.
Going ahead, what are your future plans?
We don’t want to grow at breakneck speed as we cannot manage too many relationships. We already have 1,800 clients and we aim to limit it at 2,000. We want to move online so that we maintain the quality of client servicing. Also, with all-trail revenue model, it has become extremely necessary to invest in the business, both in terms of quality manpower and back end systems to maintain the same investor experience. We will increase manpower and reduce the client: RM ratio.
Please share a memorable moment in your financial advisory journey...
Attending family functions of our investors, as a “part of the family” is a unique honour which cannot be explained in words. The entire satisfaction revolves around seeing clients achieve financial goals.
Your advice to budding IFAs
My advice to new IFAs is that they should invest in the business and themselves as these are the only investments this profession requires. Never flinch from investing in technology, brand building or showcasing your advisory skills. Do not sell based on the brand of an AMC. Investors are looking for personal hand holding and they want to trust an individual more than a big brand. So give them that. Personalization is our biggest differentiator!
Some things which have worked for me are: constant focus client acquisition, branding, technology, team building and regular trainings. I try to keep my mind alert and updated. Also, stop watching news! It’s not news, it’s a distraction.