Your career path might change, but your vision shouldn’t !
Saurabh Trivedi, our next pathbreaker, conducts research in the area of Climate Finance, analyzing the impact of climate change on financial markets and trying to identify financially viable ways to decarbonize polluting sectors .
Saurabh talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about initially wanting to pursue IAS to make a difference, but chose a different path to fullfill his mission of coming up with innovative solutions to solve some of the pressing problems of our time.
For students, having a clear vision means you will find a way to reach your goals irrespective of what career path you choose .
Saurabh, tell us about your background?
I grew up in a very small town called Mahoba. It is located in Bundelkhand region of Uttar Pradesh. I completed my schooling in Mahoba with Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics as my main subjects in the year 2005. I was always a good student in my class and used to participate in several extra-curricular activities such as debates, essay competitions, declamation contests and sports. I wanted to become an IAS officer since childhood as most of us in this region aspired to be. The other reason for this aspiration was an inherent zeal to help others and a (wrong) assumption that by getting into a powerful position like that of an IAS, I would be able to make an impact on the society. However, as it happens to many kids and school students like me, my parents decided that I should prepare for the IIT-JEE and other engineering exams. I joined IIT-JEE entrance exam coaching in Kanpur and prepared for one year till 2006. This year saw significant changes in the pattern and rules of the IIT-JEE exams. One of the major changes was the reduction in the number of attempts to appear in the exam to maximum two as well as a complete overhaul of the exam pattern. This meant that it was the first and last attempt for many of us. Hence, in that year, IIT-JEE was considered to be most competitive and uncertain for many students. The result came and I tasted the first big failure in my life when I could not clear the IIT-JEE exam. I could not clear Chemistry subject cut-off and then got admitted to an average ranking college called Galgotias College of Engineering and Technology (GCET), Greater Noida.
What did you do for graduation/post graduation?
I got admission in GCET after passing the Uttar Pradesh Technical Exam for engineering colleges. I opted for Electronics and Instrumentation engineering for B.Tech. I was already on a path which I never thought of and was never prepared for. I could never align myself to the B.Tech course and was always thinking of preparing for the IAS exam, but could not do so after several attempts during B.Tech. Ultimately, I started preparing for the Common Aptitude Test (CAT), again for the wrong reasons. This time it was peer pressure, as most of the students around me wanted to join top management colleges. I prepared for the CAT and other similar exams for 3-4 months and could not secure the required percentile to get into any of the top management institutes. I got an admission offer from ICFAI Business school (IBS), Hyderabad for my MBA course. I joined the college straight after my B.Tech and opted for Finance as my specialization. The two years of my MBA were full of learning, networking through several group projects, case studies based teaching methodologies, and tons of extra-curricular activities. I undertook several high-quality projects and research assignments which gave me tremendous exposure to the field of finance, and I started developing significant interest in this field.
What made you choose such an offbeat, unconventional and rare career?
As I mentioned earlier, my career was not the one I hoped for since my childhood. I just kept improvising on whatever career path I got into with as much hard work as I could.
My friends were the key influencers in my life. At every difficult situation related to my career, when I was unsure of my career path, they were the ones that helped me make some difficult but practical decisions. Today, when I look back at the past and analyze those discussions with my friends, I feel really grateful to them.
When I could not get through the IAS exam during my B.Tech after trying several times and could not secure a decent job after B.Tech, I joined the MBA program. It was after joining MBA, that I got introduced to the field of Finance which became my major interest and is still shaping my career.
Later, when I was not sure whether I should go for a PhD, my wife who is an Oral and Maxillofacial surgeon (MDS) motivated me to upgrade my skills through a PhD. Hence, I took another risk of leaving a comfortable, well-paying job in India.
How did you plan the steps to get into the career you wanted? Or how did you make a transition to a new career? Tell us about your career path
I wanted to join a company in the Finance domain which was in the area of Investment banking, Financial research, or Quantitative Analysis . All these finance jobs require several important skills and subject knowledge such as proficiency in Microsoft Excel modeling, knowledge of analytical tools like SAS, a good conceptual understanding of financial theories, economics, sound grasp of current business environment, writing skills, an aptitude for research, and good communication skills, to name a few.
I got selected by TATA Consultancy Services for my MBA internship. I worked with TCS for 3 months in their Business Domain Academy where my main task was to create knowledge based products in the field of capital markets, banking, and other financial sectors. In addition, I also did a research project as part of my internship requirement.
I got a campus placement into Alexandria, which is an NYSE listed largest Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT) in the healthcare assets domain. Alexandria provides R&D lab infrastructure across the USA and also in India. I joined the Investment and Strategy team of the Alexandria, Hyderabad where my role was to do financial analysis of its prospective clients (tenants) which were Pharma and Biotech companies looking for plug and play R&D labs for their research. My other tasks were to prepare pitch documents, project finance models, presentations, deal structure etc. It was a very good profile to start my career in finance. However, I left Alexandria in October 2013 and joined JP Morgan Chase’s real estate valuation team.
For my next job, I joined the real estate valuation team of JP Morgan in Mumbai. It was a mid-office investment management role where my main task was to prepare financial models for valuation of JP Morgan’s property portfolio in the US. After working for ~9 months in JP Morgan, I joined MSCI in its Real Estate Index team which was mostly into the data operations.
This was my shortest stint in any job. I joined MSCI because the salary package was quite good with a high assured bonus. However, I realized that for me, it was not the salary but the job alignment to my interest which mattered the most. I took a huge salary cut and had to let go a sizeable bonus which was due in 5 months if I had continued at MSCI. It was a significant amount for someone who had just started his corporate career.
After working in the real estate investment sector for the initial 2+ years of my career, I took a hard decision to completely switch to a sector where I could do a more front facing job, with a component of research as well. I joined CPI (Climate Policy Initiative), a global think tank in the area of Climate Finance. I joined the India team where my role was to conduct robust research in the area of Clean Energy Finance, designing new and implementable financial instruments, and advising policymakers through research and analysis. When I joined CPI, it was a mere 3-4 member team in India which has now grown to 15 employees. I worked at CPI for more than 5 years. It has been a very fulfilling profile with lots of learning. I got to interact and work with some of the best minds in India and outside, who are keen to make an impact in the society. When I joined CPI, the area of Climate Finance was in its very nascent stages with very few finance professionals working in this field. Further, I had to take a salary cut, because a not-for-profit organization, despite paying decent salaries now, could not match the salaries offered by investment banks or funds where I was working prior to CPI.
Tell us about your work at CPI
After the important Paris Agreement of 2015, countries across the world realized that limiting the rise of global temperature to below 2° and now 1.5°Celsius, while achieving sustainable development, will require trillions in new investments, and a deliberate shift towards low-carbon, climate-resilient economic models. CPI was already doing pioneering work in the area of Climate Finance by creating knowledge products, highlighting solutions to mitigate risks in investment in climate friendly projects and designing new business models and financial instruments to unlock the investment in climate change mitigation and adaptation projects.
At CPI, I was also a part of the India Innovation Lab for Green Finance (https://www.climatefinancelab.org/ ) – an innovative, analysis-based Public-Private Partnership platform for designing implementation-ready financial solutions to mobilize private investment and leverage public investment into building green infrastructure in India. The India Lab constituted a group of high-level experts from government, financial institutions, academia and the industry. The lab is run and administered by Climate Policy Initiative. The Lab has mobilized more than USD 2 billion of investment through these innovative solutions into the climate friendly projects across the globe. These innovative solutions were crowdsourced from various stakeholders (financial institutions, project developers, public enterprises, governments etc.) in the climate change space and will be shortlisted, analyzed, designed and made bankable so that these can be implemented on actual projects. We have worked on designing several financial instruments and business models. The details of these ideas are available publicly on https://www.climatefinancelab.org/.
How did you get your first break?
I got my first break through campus placement (in Alexandria) after being unsuccessful in several interviews. However, in hindsight, I feel fortunate that I got selected by Alexandria as the profile in Alexandria was a front end investment deal profile which is one of the most desired roles in the finance domain.
What were the challenges? How did you address them?
Challenge 1: My first challenge came when my first company got into some internal issues and its parent entity stopped further investments in India. That forced everyone to look for other jobs. We had two choices: look for new jobs or stay in the organization without any new work. I started applying to several companies, started upgrading my financial modeling skills, and prepared job specific resumes for several companies including working on my soft skills. After interviewing at several companies, I was successful in securing a decent job at JP Morgan.
Challenge 2: My next challenge came when I had to decide whether I should switch my sector from real estate to clean energy/climate finance. There were several questions in my mind – will my existing experience in real estate go in vain, should I take a salary cut after 2+ year of working in corporate jobs, should I join a sector which is in such a nascent stage?, and the major one being that my new job was a contract job (initially for 6 months). I took a leap of faith and focused on 2 aspects – a) the new job was in an area which dealt with a very pressing problem of our time i.e. climate change ; b) it would provide me exposure to talk to policymakers and experts working in this field and my work could influence the policy decision of these decision makers.
Where do you work now? Tell us about it
After working for 5+ years with CPI, I decided it was time to upgrade my research skills to create further impact on climate change and finance issues. Hence, I decided to join a PhD course.
I am currently enrolled in a PhD course with La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia. It is a unique industry based PhD program offered by Rozetta Institute, Sydney which requires students to work for an industry partner along with their PhD. I got a full fee waiver for my PhD and also got a generous stipend from Rozetta Institute. My area of research is Climate Finance.
I am doing my research in the area of climate finance and also working for an industry partner called Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA).
What problems do you solve?
In my PhD, I am trying to empirically analyze the impact of climate risk in the pricing of financial assets. This will help portfolio managers and other investors to price the climate change risk in their portfolio in a better way.
In my job at IEEFA, I am researching the Australian and Indian electricity markets, to identify ways to decarbonize the polluting sectors in both markets etc.
What skills are needed for a job? How did you acquire the skills?
Key skills needed are Financial Modelling (Excel), Data Analysis, Quantitative Skills, Research skills, report writing, ability to think of creative solutions to climate change problems from a finance perspective. In terms of soft skills, this field requires good presentation skills and good communication skills (writing, reading and listening). I learned most of these skills, especially the soft skills while working for above companies and this is the only way you can learn most of these skills. I also did some online courses to attain quantitative and financial modelling skills. There are several courses available online via Udemy, Coursera and edx.
What is a typical day like?
Since I am in a PhD along with a job, the typical day may not be very similar to a typical day in a proper full time job. I work 3 days a week for IEEFA and rest of the days for my PhD research. However, most of these days have an overlap depending on the amount of the work.
My PhD requires me to extensively look for new research ideas for my thesis which require a significant amount of reading of top journals and research articles. There are several coursework (Finance Theory, Empirical Finance, Research Methods, Python Programming for Finance etc.) that I have to learn and pass for my PhD requirement. I also work on proposals for ongoing research grants in my area of interest.
IEEFA job: This requires looking for current issues in the Australian electricity markets from the angle of climate change. I am also involved in analyzing ways to decarbonize the carbon intensive sectors in Australia and India. All this work require extensive research, updated information on the climate change issues and data analysis .
What is it you love about this job? How does your work benefit society?
The main aspect that I love about my job since CPI and my ongoing work is the actual impact that it can create as far as the pressing issue of climate change and the role of finance is concerned. I get to advise some senior policy makers to help them in making important policy decisions which are backed by robust research. It fulfils my dream of creating an impact on society. This area requires not only quantitative skills, but also significant qualitative skills with creative thinking to come up with innovative solutions to solve some of the pressing problems of our time.
Tell us an example of a specific memorable work you did that is very close to you!
There are quite a few research projects that I am proud to be part of but I will mention one of them which proved to be quite impactful and helped me move up in my career with significant impact. One was the research project for Indian Railways where, as a part of CPI, I created a business case for Indian railways to decarbonize their electricity requirements by helping them transition to clean energy based power procurement for their electricity requirement. This project provided significant information to the Ministry of Railways and they eventually decided to increase their renewable energy procurement target to 5GW from the earlier target of 1GW.
We provided several recommendations to raise funding for the proposed decarbonization. One of the recommendations was to raise Green Bonds or foreign debt capital through Indian Railway Finance Corporation (IRFC) which is a dedicated financing arm of Indian Railways. IRFC, which is highly credit rated, raised USD 500 Million via its first Green Bond in 2017. The bond was listed at India International Exchange (INX), India’s first international exchange at IFSC Gift city, Gandhinagar. IRFC has been a pioneer in raising innovative financing for Indian Railways.
Green bonds were created to fund projects that have positive environmental and/or climate benefits.
Your advice to students based on your experience?
a) Put your 100% honest effort in whatever you are doing.
b) No knowledge goes waste. You never know what would become useful for you in future, so keep learning
c) Most of us are not able to join the dream institute or dream job but it does not mean that we stop putting our best effort. I have learnt from my experience so far that eventually it is your perseverance, skills that will take you ahead in your career. It requires that one should keep learning new skills, keep upgrading your profile, keep looking for new opportunities and always try to get out of your comfort zone.
d) There are several ways to achieve the desired impact, so if one option closes another will always be there, so keep looking for it. It may be there but in a very different form.
e) In the early part of your career, the focus should be on getting into a profile where one can learn as many skills as possible. Hence, in my point of view, the preference should be given to the quality of the job profile rather than the quantity of the salary.
f) In terms of new areas in finance, I would suggest acquainting yourself to sustainable finance areas as more number of jobs will come up in such domains and these are also quite impactful.
g) Don’t be afraid to take risks in your early part of the career. The risk can be in the form of salary cut to enter into a new sector, change of sector, going for higher education after quitting the job etc.
a) Complete my PhD within 3 years with at least 2-3 published papers in good journals.
b) Join an organization with a focus on sustainable finance.
c) I would also like to introduce the new topics in management which are aligned to climate finance as it is utmost important now that upcoming finance managers should have sustainability aspect incorporated in their decision making.