A client funded firm that has emerged champion advisor
Anup Bansal, Mitraz Financial Services, Bangalore
You normally go to investors for funding and then approach clients for business. Mitraz was funded by clients themselves - people who not only entrusted Mitraz as advisors for their money, but also invested in the firm. Thus began the remarkable journey of a Motorola engineer's foray into the financial advisory space - a journey that has seen him build a 25 strong team, managing 140 clients' assets in excess of Rs.150 crores, and winning the 2016 edition of the Wise Advice Case Competition - thus earning himself the recognition as India's wisest advisor. Read on as Anup shares with us the Mitraz story - one that promises to scale new heights in the years ahead.
An engineering background
I am an engineer, and worked as one with Motorola until 2009. I worked in the US for 8 years, until I moved out from Motorola and came back to India. Though an engineer, I used to do my own investments in the US. I closely observed the US financial advisory space and noticed the level of maturity of advice and the disclosure standards there.
When I came back to India in 2009, I was struck by the large gap in advice quality at a general level that I saw in India, especially when compared with a more mature market like the US. I saw a clear opportunity arising from a growing investor need for transparent, client-centric financial advice, and the presence of only few firms that actually offered such a proposition without any conflict of interest. I hired Allegro as my advisor to understand more about how the profession works in India. My RM at Allegro was Varun Girilal, who shared my beliefs on how an independent advisory firm ought to be. Together, we set up Mitraz in 2010.
Our clients funded our start-up
When we entered this profession, people told us that entry barriers were very low. My own take was that entry barriers were indeed low for a normal distribution oriented business, but were actually quite high for a fee based advisory model. When you go down the fee based route, you have to first invest in the necessary infrastructure to serve clients excellently so that you can command a fee, and at the same time, your earnings in initial years are very low as you don't start up by selling enough commission based products to cover expenses. You make losses initially, which need to be funded upfront, to ensure that nobody gets into a pressure situation to do the wrong thing for the client, in an effort to maintain business viability. We secured funding upfront when we set up Mitraz. In fact, our funding came from a group of clients themselves - people who wanted good quality unbiased advice and saw an investment opportunity in supporting such a business. This funding enabled us to do the right things from the outset, which would otherwise have been very difficult.
When the RIA regulations came in 2013, we were among the first in the country to apply for registration and get registered. We didn't have to make any changes really to our business model or our processes, as we were already practicing pretty much what the regulations require RIAs to do.
The Mitraz journey
Building a team
I get asked very often how we managed to grow from a 3 member team to a 25 member team that we are today. I think there are 2 things that have perhaps helped us build and retain a good quality team. One is a consistent and uncompromising approach towards our core values - both within the firm as well as in how we engage with clients. We position ourselves to investors as professionals who do a competent job and deserve a fee for our service. We equally focus on being a professionally run firm that does the right things within, that is transparent with the team, and that stands for the same virtues of integrity within the firm as we do in client engagement. This helps create a team that shares and believes in our core values - which I think is key to building a cohesive team.
The second aspect I have strived to do is to give equal focus to all aspects of our firm - client acquisition, client engagement, technology, operations, compliance and research. When your team sees you devoting sufficient attention to their part of the business, it gives them the confidence and motivation to strive harder, to excel in what they do. For an entrepreneur, it is very easy to naturally gravitate towards the aspect of business that one is most comfortable in, and spend a lot more of his time in that activity. This then demotivates the other units within the team. One has to consciously maintain adequate focus on all aspects of the business, at all times.
The other benefit from maintaining such an all-round focus is that you pre-empt blow-ups that often happen because you ignored an aspect of your business for too long. There can be serious issues that happen with operations, with customer service, with compliance or with the manner you acquire clients - each of which can damage your firm by the time you realize what's going wrong and get into fire fighting mode.
Key challenge: scalability
Our key challenge now is scalability. We have 140 clients with a total AuM of Rs.150 crores, of which Rs.101 crores is in mutual funds and the rest in bonds, stocks and proprietary products. We need to ensure that as we grow towards serving 300 clients from 140, we need to maintain the same level of service and same quality of advice. Ensuring scalable and sustainable growth is always a challenge and we are right now focused on ensuring that we do this well.
My biggest learning
One of my biggest learnings in this profession is that the more clients you meet, the more dreams, aspirations, challenges and circumstances you are exposed to, the more you learn, the wiser you become. You can standardize everything in the back office, but front end client engagement can never really be fully standardized and templated. You cannot approach a client meeting with a notion that you are going to try and fit this client into one of your standard templates and serve him accordingly. Each client and his circumstances and needs are truly unique and as an advisor, one has to commit to treat each one truly as such.
We are still evolving, we are still learning ourselves, but here are my thoughts on how we as advisors should approach our profession:
Value proposition: Everyone talks about it, but I think one needs to spend more time on this. What is your value proposition and how compelling is it from a client's perspective? How can you make it compelling enough that you can rest assured about the sustainability of your proposition? How will you seamlessly deliver your value proposition? Do you have all the skill sets to actually deliver high quality advice and service? Where are your gaps? How are you going to address them? In today's world, you can outsource stuff that you may not be very good at - but don't compromise on your value proposition because of your own personal lack of expertise.
Be true to model: Advisors will need to take a working assumption that commissions will eventually go away and that the only sustainable revenue model is going to be a fee based one. Don't try to beat the system, look instead at how to embrace the regulatory framework in letter and spirit and build a model that lasts.
Winner of the Wise Advice Case Competition, 2016
A proud moment for Anup Bansal - receiving the award from Milind Barve, MD, HDFC AMC
Anup was adjudged the wisest advisor for his award winning solution to the case competition by an eminent independent jury comprising of some of India's finest advisors - including Bharat Phatak (Pune), Lovaii Navlakhi (Bangalore) and Vishal Dhawan (Mumbai)
To know more about the Wise Advice Case Competition, click here
To see Anup's award winning case solution, click here
Content is prepared by Wealth Forum and should not be construed as an opinion of HDFC Mutual Fund.