Tell us about your early career. Did you always want to be a financial planner?
I came to this industry accidentally. My father had a cloth business, but I was not very keen in that. After finishing my graduation in 2000, I was looking at options and came across the financial services industry. During those days, financial planning was virtually non-existent except for distribution of financial products. However, once Financial Planning Standards Board India (FPSB) was started in 2005, I developed better awareness and since then, have been actively into the planning and advisory practice.
What inspired you to take up financial advisory?
I started distributing financial products in 2001. Over the next 4-5 years, as I started learning the business, I realized that we can sell same things to a customer only till a point. But the customer's needs are growing forever and they need hand holding across various stages of life, at times even beyond financial services. People need somebody to stand by them during the ups and downs in life and enable them to make sound decisions. Further, this need was prevalent across asset classes and not just limited to financial services. Also, our customers have been very demanding, which helped me to challenge and upgrade myself constantly so as to keep delivering them value, thereby ensuring continuity of the relationship.
Tell us about your initial journey. What kind of teething trouble did you face?
In my early days, it was always a challenge to get customers as I was new and had no contacts. To tide over this, we used to file tax returns for salaried employees. Although it was a tedious and thankless job, the advantage was that we come to knew about the tax saving investments that employee has made and the balance limit from the Form 16. This enabled us to canvass tax saving products from the customer during the year. Also during those times, everything was in offline mode. I remember there were times that all the office people just used to keep filing forms of mutual funds, which was very tiring and time consuming.
Tell us about your business model? How is it different from your competitors?
Today we have graduated to fee based wealth management services. We only take on those clients who do financial planning and hand over their complete financial management to us. As such, we provide very personalized services and these are targeted to a very niche market. Our focus is not to sell products but to solve the problems of our customers. There are only a handful of people providing the kind and level of service that we offer and the market is huge.
On operations side, we have made things very convenient for clients by shifting our business to a platform. Today all our clients transact through this platform. We have also created a proprietary P/E based quant portfolio which helps us managing funds efficiently. We have outperformed Nifty with much lesser volatility in the last 3 years. We also have collaborated with other advisors who have benefitted from our processes.
How much assets under advisory do you have in mutual funds? How many clients do you cater to?
We have a total of around Rs.55 crore of assets under advice across mutual funds, fixed income and equities. We are offering our services to around 65 clients currently.
What was your biggest learning as a financial advisor?
One of the obvious hard known facts of the industry is the difference between ‘investment returns’ and ‘investor returns’ due to irrational behavior. My biggest learning is that now we want to focus more and more to shrink this gap so that the investors can achieve the goals they have created.
How do you win the trust of your clients?
We acquire clients purely through references. We do not focus on selling products, so our clients are never left with an experience of something being sold to them. Our average turnaround time from a prospect to customer is more than 2 months. It’s only after we have set their expectations and explained all the risk, that we start the execution of the plan.
Going ahead, what are your future plans?
We have lots of exciting stuff on cards for growth. We have already started operations in USA with all the licenses in place. We are in talks for collaboration with some serious industry players. We believe there is huge demand for the kind of work we are doing.
Please share a memorable moment in your financial advisory journey...
One the most memorable moment was achievement of goal for one of our clients. This couple was earning a good amount but had not created any wealth even in their mid-thirties. We met and decided on various goals including retirement. We coached them in transforming their lifestyle and importance of saving money. They followed our advice diligently and we reached a milestone of Rs.1 crore MF assets in 2.5 years. The day they hit this milestone we went to their home with a cake and congratulated them. They themselves were surprised and were extremely happy about this. For them it does not matter what are the returns generated or the fees charged; creating such big financial kitty was the value proposition for them.
Your advice to budding IFAs
As an IFA most important thing is to realize your role in the life of your customer. Don’t worry about the fees or competition, if you know what customer wants and provide that exact value to him, all other things will take care of themselves.