After working at Snapdeal and Zomato, this Amex investment banker joined Guardian Capital
Kartik Damodar and Aseem Gupta were colleagues at American Express during 2012-13. By then, Karthik, an active investor, was managing a small corpus in the US and in India. Aseem, on the other hand, decided to join the startup world after a consulting and investment banking stint in the US and India.
Aseem went on work for the likes of Zomato and Snapdeal, while Karthik continued his stint at American Express. In late 2016, Kartik started Guardian Capital, a SEBI-registered investment advisory firm with his wife Kripa Bhattarai, a psychologist from the University of British Columbia.
The company was formally launched in 2017, and has grown from a team of five people to 40 members. Started as a boutique investment advisory firm, Guardian Capital offers a range of customisable advisory, wealth management, and family office services.
Aseem took the entrepreneurial plunge and joined Guardian Capital in a full-time capacity in 2018. The IIM-Lucknow graduate was earlier Senior Strategy and Operations Manager at Snapdeal, and went on to work as VP of Global Growth for Zomato. At Guardian, he is the Co-founder.
In a conversation with YourStory, Aseem talks about Guardian Capital's journey, the services it offers, and how the team works with clients to secure their financial future.
Edited excerpts of the interview:
YourStory: What does Guardian Capital do?
Aseem Gupta: We are a full stack financial services firm with retail, institutional, and product arms. Under the group company, we have three independent companies – Guardian Capital Investment Advisors (GCIA), Guardian Consulting Services (GCS), and Guardian Asset Management (GAM). We are based out of Hyderabad and work with retail and institutional clients pan-India.
GCIA is a SEBI-registered investment advisory firm. Backed by solid in-house research, we help individuals and families manage everything related to their financial life in a professional and unbiased manner.
YS: What different services do you offer?
AG: We are a high-touch, highly customised service. Our services include financial planning, investment advisory, insurance advisory, taxation, and legacy and succession planning.
We only charge our clients for advisory and financial planning at the end of the year, based on their satisfaction with our work.
GCS is the institutional arm of our business and works with other businesses in helping them with their finances – from accounting and bookkeeping to taxation, GST, audits, due diligence, and virtual CFO services.
GAM is the product arm of our business and comprises the PMS fund.
YS: Tell us about the early days and setting up Guardian Capital?
AG: Kartik and I were continuously faced with the problem of how to manage our finances better. We realised the biggest problem everyone faces is that while we invest a lot of time and effort in earning our salaries, we don’t have the time or the know-how when it comes to saving and investing in the best possible manner.
Also, while everyone broadly knows what they want to achieve, they find it tough to translate it into numbers and draw up a plan.
When we looked at the advice available in the market, we realised it was based on sub-standard understanding of the subject or was driven to push one financial product after the other. There was a huge gap in the market. There was no single entity which, backed by solid research, could help us manage everything related to our finances in a professional and unbiased manner.
YS: How did the Guardian Capital journey start?
AG: Kartik was the first one to take the plunge. In late 2016, he started by setting up Guardian Capital and was joined by his wife, Kripa, who given her background in psychology, started helping with the HR function. The company was formally launched in early 2017.
Kartik and Kripa started by hiring a small five-member team comprising equity research analysts, certified financial planners, and operations executives.
YS: How and why did you join? Tell us about the rest of the team.
AG: All through this time, Kartik and I continued speaking about the idea, working on the business model, and wondering how we could make this work. But I was still not ready to take the plunge fully.
In 2015, I was faced with a serious personal situation when my mother was diagnosed with a life-threatening illness.
I think that was the turning point in my life. I realised the importance of financial planning and how it can help people overcome challenges in life by being better prepared for any unforeseen events. I understood what kind of impact we could make by helping people take care of their finances.
Faced with this realisation, Kartik and I resumed our conversations and I visited him multiple times during the initial phases of setting up the company. I finally joined full-time in the beginning of 2018.
We found our Co-founder, Sitaram V, by absolute chance. We met him while we were looking for someone who could help us with accounting and compliance-related work. We were immediately impressed by his genius and work ethic. He was working with Wipro then; he agreed to join us after some convincing.
YS: What are the key challenges of setting up a SEBI-registered advisory firm?
AG: There are different challenges, but the mains ones are:
- Creating the right business model. To make something like this successful requires a never-ending focus on doing right by the client. This means the incentives and motivations for the team can never be driven by the pursuit of maximising revenue and profits because that would lead them to take calls that would not be right for the clients. Finding the right balance is very difficult and one of the biggest challenges.
- Finding the right talent: Huge talent is required for both, researching the markets and managing meaningful conversations with the clients. Hiring and nurturing this talent has to be one of the key focus areas of the founding team. We are always hiring and meeting people from across the industry. We are hiring talent fresh from B-schools and training them for our needs. For this we have developed a lot of in-house research material, play books, and training, which every employee has to go through regularly.
- Finding/building the right technology: Traditionally, financial services have been a paper-and-pen business, but to achieve scale one needs to set up the right processes and systems and build the right technology. We are building in-house systems and working with top technology partners to ensure we are always ahead on the technology curve.
- Regulatory environment: In a young financial market like India, regulations are always changing and evolving. Staying ahead of them and ensuring you are not doing anything against regulations or policies is critical. We regularly undergo planned and unplanned audits to ensure readiness for any regulatory changes.
- Focus on education: Since markets are always driven by short-term greed or fear (depending on the economic conditions prevalent), it is very important to educate your clients about how markets behave in the long term and the benefits of the same. Given the varied levels of financial literacy in the country, developing content that resonates with all your clients is a big challenge. Also, ensuring that it is delivered to all clients in the most effective manner is also equally important.
YS: How do you work with clients and their families?
AG: Since we are a highly customised service offering, we try to ascertain if the client is in that specific life stage (from a needs and a financial perspective) where such a service would make sense for him or her. Based on this, we take a call and decide if we would be working together to help the client solve their personal finance challenges.
This step also involves understanding the risk profile of the client, their current assets and liabilities, and future goals and aspirations.
Each client gets a dedicated team of financial planners who work as a single point of contact and manage all needs and queries. Internally, they work with different teams (research, investments execution, insurance, etc) to manage different aspects of the client’s financial life.
After detailed and involved conversations with the client, the team prepares a financial plan with a 12-month roadmap. The team starts executing once the client is aligned.
We connect with the client at a recurring periodicity. The focus of these meetings is to update the client on how investments are performing and what is being achieved against their 12-month plan. We focus on educating the client on the basics of investing, current market conditions etc.
Along with this, we have self-serve platforms that a client can use to access any information related to their personal finances. We also regularly send communications on multiple channels like WhatsApp and email, where we again focus on educating and updating clients about any important changes in the market.
One of the key aspects of our service offering is the regular feedback we collect from clients. We do this every six months, and also take inputs on how we can improve things.
YS: What can we expect in the near future?
AG: We started with building the retail side of our business in 2016, working with individuals and families. In 2018, we extended our offering to the institutional side; we now work with institutions of all sizes, helping them manage different aspects of their finances such as accounting, book-keeping, taxation, audit, etc. This year, we also applied to SEBI for a PMS fund licence and were granted the same.
We launched our fund in May 2019 to fill a critical gap we found with regards to the investing methodology currently prevalent in the market. It is a fund solely focused on long-term value investing; we invest only in companies of the highest quality and available at reasonable prices. Given our understanding of our clients’ financial plans, we are able to take really long-term (5+ years) bets that other fund managers cannot.
With our foundations set well with these three lines of business, in the short to medium term, our entire focus is on growth, building our brand, strengthening our research capabilities, and further improving our service through process improvements and technology.
(Edited by Teja Lele Desai)