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Mrin Agarwal managed IT czars', cricketers' money, now she arms young India with financial knowledge

Advising retail and high networth individuals on mutual funds in the late 90s when mutual fund was a bad word prepared Mrin Agarwal for tougher questions on new-age money matters such as cryptocurrencies and buy-now-pay-later by youngsters today.

September 16, 2022 / 05:23 PM IST
Mrin Agarwal

Mrin Agarwal

From trying her best to convince people two decades back that mutual funds (MF) weren’t as bad as they looked to now convincing youngsters to stay away from cryptocurrencies, Bengaluru-based Mrin Agarwal has come a long way.

These days, Agarwal, a former wealth managers, spends most of her time teaching corporate employees of some of India’s largest companies how to manage their money, why they should invest regularly, how much insurance they need, how can they save taxes and so on. But it wasn’t meant to be this way.

Mutual fund: a bad word!
When Agarwal took up her first job at Aditya Birla Sun Life Distribution Co in 1996 as a relationship manager, her work was to sell financial products like mutual funds, bonds, corporate fixed deposits and so on. The Indian MF industry was in its nascent stages. “People had suffered losses in Morgan Stanley India mutual fund, India’s first foreign fund. And public sector fund houses weren’t giving good returns either. Mutual fund had become a bad word,” she recalls. Systematic investment plan was a new animal.

But her early years doing the grind prepared her for her next job, at Citibank. The foreign bank was, and still is, one of India’s largest mutual fund distributors. As per the Prime MF database, Citibank earned distributor commissions worth Rs 138.30 crore in financial 2021-22; the 10th highest commission earner. Being a premier wealth manager, even in those days, Agarwal started handling big money. And even bigger clients.

Having shifted to Bengaluru by then, she started managing the wealth of founders of some of India’s earliest technology companies, some of whom are industry leaders today. She had the keys to some of the Bengaluru-based cricketers’ wealth as well. Add to that, the head of a prominent pharmaceutical firm that gained prominence during Covid-19, but was a start-up in the early 2000s; all had their banking relationships with Citibank. The bank managed their wealth too, a large chunk of which came to be Agarwal’s responsibility, many of whom were her own acquisitions.

But it wasn’t easy. “The equity markets had collapsed in late 2000 due to the crash in the information technology sector,” says Agarwal. Most of the high networth individual clients were hugely upset. “It was like really being constantly there and taking all the blame, being the punching bag,” she says. But her perseverance paid off as the markets turned around and fortunes changed. By then, India's big bull run started in 2004, which led to a growth in wealth of her customers.

Just five clients
Her grounding at Citibank convinced her that she wanted to continue managing the money of the wealthy. In 2006, after a short stint at Deutsche Bank, a personal tragedy and two children, she set up her wealth management firm called Mrinvestments Pvt Ltd. By then, Agarwal was well acquainted with all her earlier clients. Few of them, five to be precise, decided to move with her. They gave a part of their wealth to her to manage in her own, brand new, venture.

Still, these five clients were enough to make Agarwal, one of the largest individual wealth managers in the country in those days. Money management is largely about relationship management, says Agarwal. “I always went prepared with numbers whenever I went to meet any of my clients. Clients are not fools. We may understand mutual funds more than they do, but they understand money, numbers. You cannot take them for granted,” says Agarwal.

Second, she continues, is to maintain good relations with them and their families. That’s crucial, she says.

Making young Indians financially independent
In 2015, wanting to do something more entrepreneurial, Agarwal moved on. She exited her investment advisory practice and set up Finsafe, a financial education firm.

At the time, financial education was in its early stages; it still is. But her early days were a struggle. Building online courses was expensive. Agarwal poured her savings into Finsafe. She says in those days, companies weren’t willing to organise money management workshops. “Employees’ money is their business, not ours,” was the common refrain Agarwal used to get when she went to the human resources departments of several companies. The few that were willing to rope her in weren’t really willing to pay her fees.

Times have changed, says Agarwal. Today, Agarwal is one of the most prominent trainers in the personal finance and investments space. And Finsafe, being a pioneer in the corporate financial wellness space, arms first-time salary earners, women employees, and senior management across many IT and FMCG companies on how to manage money.

Kayezad E Adajania
Kayezad E Adajania heads the personal finance bureau at Moneycontrol. He has been covering mutual funds and personal finance for the past two decades, having worked in Mint and Outlook Money magazine. Kayezad was the founding member of Mint’s personal finance team when it was set up in 2009.