Vishranth Suresh and Awanish Raj, two IIT Madras alumni had their first brush with mutual funds during their graduation days. Awanish had invested his earnings from paid internship in mutual funds to earn better returns through a distributor. Vishranth who was Awanish’s senior in college used to take tuitions while he was studying. He too had deployed his surplus money in mutual funds.
Both Vishranth and Awanish had always wanted to do something on their own. But before taking the plunge, they wanted to learn the basics of doing business. So, after graduation, both Vishranth and Awanish worked in a few tech start-ups. Their stints with different start-ups helped them understand the technicalities of building a scalable consumer mobile app. It was while working in one such start-up that the duo met again.
Taking the plunge – moving from job to business
During their 7+ years of investing in mutual funds, they observed that mutual funds were not very popular amongst retail investors. Out of curiosity, they conducted a quick survey to understand the reason for low penetration. Most of the participants in the survey cited lack of knowledge, difficulty in executing transaction, perception of high risks and difficulty in selecting appropriate funds from large number of schemes as the key reasons for staying away from mutual funds. This gave Vishrant and Awanish an idea for their business.
The survey helped the duo identify that investors shy away from investing in mutual funds due to lack of knowledge. With awareness about MFs spreading across the country, they sensed an opportunity to target investors in tier 3 and tier 4 cities by offering a right blend of convenience plus advisory. They identified that these investors predominantly access internet through mobile and not PC. This prompted them to focus on developing a robust mobile app. In addition, they also developed a web interface for investors who were not comfortable accessing the mobile platform.
Vishranth being more inclined towards finance decided to study CFA and focus on the advisory and business development. Awanish meanwhile was the one man-tech army, single-handedly creating the mobile app and web interface of Asset Plus.
Designing Asset Plus
The duo created Asset Plus as an intuitive mobile app, which offers learning resources and relevant news along with advisory. They also focussed on automation to keep the operating costs low.
To achieve this, they first needed to understand how financial advisors determined the risk return profile and goals of prospective investors. The duo took help of 20 advisors in Chennai and Bangalore. They picked the advisors brains on the general processes followed by them while on boarding new clients and how did they ascertain the risk taking ability of the investor.
In order to recommend best schemes to investors they ran extensive analytics based on historical data of mutual fund schemes. They collaborated with different data providers (for scheme data analysis), KRAs (for KYC) and BSE Star platform (for transaction) to provide an end-to-end online investment solution for investors. Since, there target investors were retail investors in tier 3 or tier 4 cities, most of them did not breach the eKYC cap of Rs. 50,000 per year. In case any investor was likely to exceed the investment limit then their local KRA partner completed the full KYC of the investor. After the recent Supreme Court decision on Aadhaar, they have decided to wait for regulatory guidance and shift to full KYC if required. However, they still prefer the eKYC process as it is a quick process.
Further, they decided to focus exclusively on mutual funds. They also observed that small investors were not yet ready to accept a fee based model.
The app works like a robo advisor. After registering on the platform, an investor will have to complete a questionnaire, which will gauge his familiarity with financial products and risk profile. Based on client inputs, the app recommends appropriate learning modules and investment suggestions.
Most investors generally start with a small amount to get a flavour of investing.
After some time, the app gives automated suggestions to investors to rebalance their portfolio or increase their investments.
They released the test version of the app for 30 people in December 2016 and later in March 2017, they launched their app incorporating the suggestions of the test users. Their initial set of clients were friends and family members who invested close to Rs.1 crore through their app. Later, they relied on referrals to grow business.
In addition, they used app store and Facebook optimisation techniques to improve the app’s visibility online. Using free resources such as search engine optimisation (SEO), they tried to optimise the website and app in a manner that any person interested in investing in mutual funds will view Asset Plus amongst the top apps.
In addition, they requested the initial users to review the app to improve their visibility and attract new clients to the business. They also included a live chat option within the app to help users during the on boarding process and even later.
This strategy of developing a simple, wholesome and intuitive app and increasing its online visibility helped them attract close to 4,000 clients investing Rs. 21 crore within 18 months. As the app gives client specific asset allocation advice, 25%-30% of the AUM is in debt while the remaining is in equities.
They have designed the app to give automatic portfolio updates to investors periodically. In addition, the app also gives investors portfolio-rebalancing suggestions if required. Apart from portfolio related updates, they share investment related articles on their social media page and app to engage with clients.
The duo plans to target more customers in the B30 cities to expand their client base while maintaining a tight rein on costs. In addition, they are collaborating with other advisors to grow their business. Under advisor collaboration, they are developing two different models – 1) Sub-broking model and 2) Technological Partnership. Under the sub-broking model, they have already partnered with 93 advisors in the last two months. They plan to grow this channel going forward. Moreover, they are also offering advisors the option of using their technological platform while using their own ARN. They have been testing this model for the last few weeks. They are in the process of testing the scalability trying to gauge whether this would be a cost-effective option going further.