How the habit of trust saved Kristal.AI during lockdown

The employees and the culture the company built even before the pandemic hit kept them afloat and is still helping them tackle Mr. Market’s moods every single day

On a good day, a financial advisor is like a long-lost cousin you catch up with a tad grudgingly; if not entirely unwillingly. On a bad day though, everyone wants a friendly neighbourhood financial advisor to help them make sense of the freefall.

When markets tumble and rumble, clients need more advice and hand-holding. During this pandemic, we have had to be more responsive to our clients, more agile in our bug fixes and recommit to our promise of delivering personalised advice at every market turn. Like every other company, we faced issues with resources, time, and working online.

I have invested in it for 20 years.

To repeat a cliche; trust is the most important transaction between a financial advisor and their client.

In my 20+ years as an advisor, and the last four years as an entrepreneur, I have learnt that building trust does not come easy — it’s a step-by-step process. So, before we went out to the world and asked them to trust our vision of what new-age investing could be, we had to build that trust in-house and make sure everyone in Team Kristal.AI shared the same outlook.

When the lockdown was announced we had to pivot quickly; change product offerings, tweak the way teams functioned. We were running with the assumption that our clients would appreciate having someone to talk to and air out their money worries, so we doubled down on client calls and WhatsApp communication.

We asked too much of the small team we had, and they delivered. And I think it worked out because each person in the team knew the what, why, and how behind these asks.

The people we hired and the culture we built even before this unfortunate episode kept us afloat. And is still helping us as we tackle Mr. Market’s moods every single day.

This is my secret sauce.

The smartest people know that sometimes the secret sauce is that there just isn’t any. When you are building a company based on core human values, you don’t have to jazz it up with extra dressing. And at Kristal.AI the dressing was always optional.

We also never had a list of ‘who/what we want to be’ noted down somewhere, but at the heart of it, we knew we would come back home to our values of personalisation, trust, and care. These were our beacons along the way:

1.Never overselling to clients

In a market that hinges on returns, we talk about optimising for volatility and managing risk. While everyone promises a percentage, we provide a safe haven. Our investors always thank us for it.

2.Letting power stay with the people

A lot of what we have been able to achieve in countries like Singapore and Hong Kong, has been because we allowed our team to make decisions on-the-go and trusted them to choose well. Our team is empowered to never breach trust. Even if it means letting go of short-term profits. This trust also ensures that we can work remotely, without the need for micro management.

3.Moving away from a hire-fire culture

One thing you learn when handling money - mistakes happen. Sometimes they cost you a penny; most of the time you learn and grow. I believe in that growth, and I know we’re a better brand for it. Failures are a part of innovation. As leaders we often need to also weigh intent against outcome.

4.Finding joy in our success. Together.

To borrow from Dumas – it’s one for all and all for one. There is a certain luxury that comes with being one’s own boss and keeping your own hours. But my metric of success has always been about how we sparkle together as a symbiotic entity, rather than as fragments that may shine in periodic brilliance alone.

Seeing is believing.

One of the first things I did as a company chief, post the lockdown being announced, was to get on a Zoom call with my team. Switch on the video so they could see me in all my earnestness (even though the sleepy ones refused to switch on theirs) and talk about what this pandemic meant for us as a company and what we needed to do.

I was honest. I told them that it would be tough days but that we were stronger than the panic. From job security to team changes, we discussed it all.

I might not have seen all their faces, but I like to think they valued that honesty. And that we’re a much better, and trustworthy company because of it.


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