Risks are often associated with natural disasters, accidents and unexpected illnesses. However, a substantial risk we tend to overlook is the implicit financial risk impacting our future. While we spend 75% of our lives doing the grunt work the remaining 25% needs to be taken care of, when we no longer work.

Thankfully there are finance professionals who think, plan and act for those who want to secure the future of themselves and their family. Utsav Agarwal, our next pathbreaker, Financial Advisor at Etica Wealth Management, talks about his work with customers strategising financial returns based on their risk profile and future needs.

Utsav talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about his transition from Engineering to Financial Advisory.

A great career for students who love the challenges associated with managing financial risks through due diligence !

Utsav, tell us about your background:

I grew up in a small town of “Bankura” in West Bengal. I come from a business family. I did my schooling from DAV Public School, Bankura. 

I left home for boarding school at the age of 15 for high school. I studied science for my HSc. Since my secondary school days, I had always been interested in starting my own business, but different from what my family was already into. I have been passionate about things which are intellectually simulating. As I was good in studies, I decided to study science with primarily interest in Mathematics.

What did you study for graduation and Post graduation?

I wrote engineering entrance examinations and got enrolled for Chemical Engineering at Heritage Institute of Technology, Kolkata which comes under WBUT. During the last year of my engineering, I wrote MBA entrance examinations and got enrolled for PGDM in Goa Institute of Management.

The primary reason for me choosing engineering for under graduation was that I didn’t want to study medicine. Also engineering offered multiple disciplines and I was confident of finding my own piece from them. 

I got chemical engineering during selections though I wanted to study computer science. Later I stuck to it because this discipline offered some unique exposures which I really enjoyed. 

At the very start of my B.Tech career I had decided to pursue management as it was aligned to my long term career goal. I got on campus placement during the last year of my B.Tech but still I went on to pursue MBA.

What were the key influences that led you to such an offbeat, unconventional and unusual career?

One personality who I admire and had been following since my undergraduate days is Mr Raghuram Rajan. I really like his approach towards things. He has been my role model.

Other personalities who I admire are Jack Ma, Elon Musk, Barrack Obama, Narendra Modi, Ratan Tata and Mr Narayana Murthy. 

When I ventured into the corporate world for the first time, I was working with a KPO as financial consultant. I had got that opportunity through campus placement. I didn’t want to be in that job and wanted to change my profile asap. 

Changing wasn’t a big issue but deciding on which profile to switch was a big dilemma for me. I was a CFA L3 candidate back then and could easily get into a research oriented profile. But that wouldn’t have served my long term career objective of setting up my own thing. An advisor oriented role would have been more suitable. I was struggling to decide between the two. 

It is recommended that in such scenarios, one should reach out to their mentors and relevant people from the industry for more insights. I did exactly the same. I reached out to two of my professors who had taught me during my MBA. I also reached out to Mr Gajendra Kothari from Etica Wealth Management whom I had connected with on a CFA forum. I had also reached out to couple of more people. After consulting with them, I created my own checklist of things I wanted to do in my career and started prioritising them. Post that exercise, it was very clear that I should be going for an advisory profile. I decided to be in the wealth management industry as it is one of the booming sectors and also aligned to my academic domain. It is intellectually simulating and is a compounding business.

Mr Kothari had suggested that i spend some time in the B2B space before switching to B2C space so that I can learn the nitty gritties of the industry. I spent close to 18 months in Edelweiss AMC and then joined Etica Wealth Management as an associate partner in the profile of a Financial Advisor.

Tell us about your career path

I got an internship opportunity with Hedge Equities through campus placement. The overall experience was very good. Hedge Equities is a brokering and wealth management firm based out of Kochi. In my 2 month internship period, we were introduced to the nuances of investments. I learnt a lot about various financial products, experienced different types of financial analysis and learnt a lot regarding portfolio management.

My primary task was to pick a sector and analyse a company in that sector. I worked on the pharmaceutical sector and valued the company “Syngene International Ltd” . But as mentioned earlier, we weren’t restricted to just our primary role. People wanting to learn were given adequate access to various departments and mentors. Frankly, it was this experience which cultivated my interest in wealth management.

At eClerx, I was working for one of the largest US investment banks in the Volcker Compliance team. The assignment was basically providing support to the onshore team of that bank. I had got into eClerx through campus placement.

Working with Edelweiss AMC was a planned move to spend some time in B2B space as was suggested by my mentor and it paid off well. Before switching to B2C, I got a lot of hands on experience with regards to overall asset management industry. Now I have settled in the B2C space working with Etica Wealth.

What were the challenges you faced?

There are multiple challenges that I faced before settling into my ultimate assignment. 

The first challenge was finding a right mentor from the industry. To deal with this, I attended multiple conferences organised mostly by the CFA society India. I reached out to multiple speakers from these events and eventually found Mr Kothari. 

The second challenge for me was getting into B2B space. Mr Kothari helped me out with the references. In the B2B space too, I was a fresher working with all experienced professionals. But I was fortunate to work with a boss like Varun Sanan who mentored me throughout my stint there.

The final challenge that I faced was switching to B2C after doing a really great job in B2B space and coming out of my comfort zone. I stuck to my original plan and made the transition. 

What do you do as Wealth Manager?

I currently work as Financial Advisor at Etica Wealth Management (P) Ltd. My primary assignment is to advise our private clients on their finances, create their financial plan, and accordingly create and manage their investment portfolio. 

So, we provide all sorts of financial advisory services to our clients. A typical HNI (High Net Worth Individual) client has loads of subjective queries that keep coming to us from time to time. Many queries require an expert opinion while others might be purely service oriented. The former is where guys like me pitch in.

An example would be a HNI client whose large portfolio we are managing might be requiring a significant amount of money for a specified period. In such scenarios, liquidating portfolio is not advisable. Other options such as loan against securities can be opted for.

Similarly returns in some big client portfolios can be enhanced through lending of securities.

For a new prospect HNI client, the work involves in depth analysis of his/her entire finances and creating a portfolio report to essentially understand the overall risk and return at the portfolio level. A new client coming on board involves detailed meetings with the client, formulating IPS (investment policy statement), creating a comprehensive financial plan and the portfolio as per IPS.

But I have other responsibilities as well. I am responsible for spearheading the research work internally, manage the advisory team and also ensure continuous learning and development of the team.

The one thing that I really love about this job is the trust of your clients that you own. It gives an immense sense of satisfaction. Also, my current job helps me network with lot of key people from diverse backgrounds. My current job is not at all monotonous and requires continuous learning and development.

To be competent in our profile, you need to have strong domain knowledge of finance in general and investments in particular. The CFA program helped me a lot in garnering the theoretical part of it. Then you need to have good soft skills as well. You need to be a good communicator and a public speaker. Also you need to continuously engaged in the learning and upgrading process.

Future Plans?

I would be sticking to wealth management industry. In Etica, I will be scaling as a partner. I would endeavor to run my own team at Etica Wealth down the line. Just as globally renowned financial advisors have their own team while working with a giant wealth outfit such as Morgan Stanley PWM, i would like to have a similar model in our firm. This is a compounding business and presents a huge opportunity for people who are passionate about it.

Advice to students in finance?

Learn,learn and Learn. There is no end to it. The more you learn, the more competent you are. Financial industry is craving for competent people and there are lot of changes that are required in this space and hence it presents an immense opportunity.

Find your niche, domain in finance that you are passionate and excited about and find a decent firm that fits your requirement. In the initial years, don’t run for money. Initial years should be focused on learning so that earning is automatically taken care of in the years to come.