Note to readers: When it comes to money management, women have skilfully manoeuvred finances – of their families and those of investors on a larger scale. But the number of such women professional managers remains low, though. Of all registered investment advisors with SEBI (securities and exchange board of India), just about 10 percent are women. In this special five-part series, Moneycontrol personal finance profiles five women who are not only in control of their own personal finances but also guide several other women and families in managing their wealth. Yesterday we profiled Shifali Satsangee. Today, meet Mumbai-based mutual funds distributor Roopa Venkatakrishnan.
Mumbai-based mutual funds distributor Roopa Venkatkrishnan places a lot of importance on the trust of their client investors that distributors and financial advisors ought to have. In early 2003, Roopa left IL&FS Investsmart. She spent nearly 14 years as a salaried employee. Eleven of those were in her first job, Times Guaranty, another NBFC.
The Harshad Mehta scam and the nascent ‘90s
Working in the corporate field taught Roopa many things, which she implemented in her own firm that she set up in 2003. “A successful organisation always has robust processes. A firm cannot grow and make it big if it doesn’t have processes,” she says and credits her own back-office operations to what she learnt at Times Guaranty and IL&FS Investsmart. Among other third-party financial products that Times Guaranty used to hawk, it had launched its own Portfolio Management Services (PMS) – one of the earliest in the industry.
Roopa’s stint at Times Guaranty witnessed India’s liberalisation, Harshad Mehta scam, the development of stock market processes and the advent of private-sector mutual funds. “The first mutual fund that we ever sold at the firm – and whose sales I was also involved with – was Kotak Gilt Fund, in 1999. Interest rates, which were at about 14 percent back then, were starting to come down, so it was beneficial to invest in long-term debt mutual funds,” she says. Her corporate career also gave her an understanding of various financial products such as mutual funds, gold investing, equity markets, unit-lined insurance plans that were beginning to be sold at the start of the year 2000.
As a relationship manager, Roopa had to talk about financial products she didn’t quite agree with personally. “My conscience didn’t allow me to sell insurance products to 60-year-olds and 70-year-olds. But as employees, one had to toe the company line. After a point, I decided to walk away,” she says.
That decision stood her in good stead, as the trust she gained from some of her firm’ s then-existing customers helped her start her own business of mutual funds distribution and subsequently her advisory.
Setting out on her own
Despite taking a firm decision to leave her stable job back in 2003, Roopa didn’t have a plan. But help came when one of her firm’s clients called her home for a cup of tea and goaded her to start her own distribution firm. The lady even gave Roopa a cheque of Rs 3 lakh to invest in mutual funds, thereby becoming Roopa’s first client. The next day, Roopa fondly recollects, the lady client brought along 10 of her friends. There was no turning back now; Roopa had started selling and advising on mutual funds on her own.
Although Roopa advises on – and sells – equity as well as debt funds, she is a firm believer in equity schemes. She doesn’t prefer to switch funds even if they go through turbulence, if she is convinced it’s temporary. One thing that Roopa says has evolved over time in financial services is customer service. In those days, she recollects, relationship managers such as herself at large firms used to meet their clients once in three to six months. There were landline phones back then. Today, she adds, nothing can be taken for granted. “Advisors must stay in touch with their client investors far more regularly. Communication has to be clear because only when investors trust us, would they stay invested during volatile markets,” says Roopa.
Also read: Quiz financial advisors to zero in on the right investment guide
Why women hesitate to be entrepreneurs?
Roopa tells us that it baffles her as to why there are so few women distributors and advisors, despite a high number of women employees in banks, insurance companies and mutual funds. One reason, she guesses, could be the hesitation to work for longer hours. “Financial advisory and distribution is grinding, especially in the initial years. Our clients can call us any time of the day; sometimes late in the evening, and weekends too. We have to be ready to talk to them,” she says.
The other reason, she guesses, cold be fear. “That’s one of the biggest impediments. But women must learn to overcome their fear of not being able to manage because once you overcome your fear, you can accomplish anything,” she adds. That’s the advice she got from the lady all those years ago when she walked out of her job, undecided on what to do next. The lady passed away some five years ago and remained a client throughout. Roopa still advises the remaining 10 women who had come along.
In February 2020, Roopa, along with another leading independent distributor, joined hands with Sapient Wealth Advisors and Brokers. A few other independent distributors had earlier joined Sapient as well. The new entity with five members, spread across India, manages close to Rs 6000 crore in assets.