Describe your professional journey as an inspiring business professional.
Looking back 20 years, I started out as stock advisor in a brokerage firm in Mumbai. Later, I moved to Bangalore, where I worked as a wealth manager.
I was happy with the nice corporate job until 2008 when I lost my job to the sub prime crisis. This was my trigger to start a venture on my own. I started working from home, meeting clients and advising them on investments. Initially, it was quite challenging to switch from a busy office life to working in a home environment, and it was harder to focus on work. In today’s world, work from home is the new way of life, but it was not that simple back then.
Initially, I thought of it as a stop gap arrangement and that when the financial markets stabilise, I would get back into corporate life once again, but that never happened.
First I established myself as a freelancer, and I was not shy about it at all. It wasn’t hard for me to say that I don’t have an office and I currently work out of home. After I was almost 8-9 months into the entrepreneurial journey and had generated some cash flow, I took up a workstation in a business centre. After few more months, I hired my first employee, who in the past worked as a secretary.
When you are on your own as a one-person army, it’s very important to delegate non-productive things. Slowly as business GREW, I started hiring people 1 by 1. In a year I would only add 1-2 resources. I worked on a very lean structure so that I could survive through the first 2 years of the entrepreneurial journey.
What do you offer?
Armstrong offers services in the form of Financial Planning & Investment Advisory. We analyse the client’s past investments, understand his liabilities, and discuss their preferences with them. Further, we take a judgmental call on their risk appetite and then offer solutions. We call it the execution plan. We discuss the plan with the client, involving them in the decision-making process of choosing the right mutual fund.
The primary motive behind starting Armstrong and continuing it was that the unencouraging way wealth management is dealt with conventionally. More of upselling the product. I felt it’s necessary to build up the relationship, understand the needs and then offer a solution. We have one plan and one perspective throughout the wealth creation journey.
Till today Armstrong does not sell products. We identity requirements and sell solutions. Our core competency is that we work with integrity, keeping in mind that we need to build a long-term relationship.
How do you set yourself apart from those already in the industry?
We have always had a customer-centric approach – well, all companies say the same but how they put it to practice differs. So for us, when we say customer-centric, it means that there is no over the counter solution provided. All relationships begin by keeping in mind the long term objective, and a financial plan tailored to their needs.
Every client is different, and we have an individualistic approach when offering them solutions. We conceive customized financial plans for each client, considering their life goals, their commitments, their dreams and their savings. Managing the client’s portfolio, reviewing it at regular intervals and rebalancing it is the core of the portfolio management strategy. This differentiates us from the rest in the industry.
Before compiling a campaign’s performance report, what metrics do you look at?
We perform comprehensive bottom-up research before recommending any fund. We evaluate the stock picking skills of the fund manager, and consider the “bull and bear” phase returns. Then we evaluate various ratios. We also have certain parameters for shortlisting a fund house. Many filters are applied and the funds go through an acid test before it gets into our white list (our recommended portfolio pick).
Since its inception, what up gradation or changes has your company seen?
I believe that in every 3 years there has to be a slight change in the product offering, and in every 5 years, an enterprise must make some changes in the business model. In every 10 years, the way of doing business changes completely - before getting redundant, an enterprise should innovate to evolve to the next level.
We have seen similar changes in our industry. Earlier, we use to collect cheques and application forms. Later, for every few transactions, we would email the link to the client. Now, after 10 years, there is a revolution called Fintech that changed the way of offering financial services completely. Thanks to the integration of Fintech in our enterprise, we are now completely digital and paperless.
What is the biggest challenge that your team faces and how do you help them overcome it?
The biggest challenge we face is when a client overreacts to market volatility, our convincing skills and influence skills are put to task. I tell my team that advice should sound like a humble piece of advice, and not like a command. We put ourselves in the client’s shoes and understand how they feel, encourage them to express themself freely, listen to them patiently and try to address their reservations. The debate is not about being right or wrong - it’s all about time, let some more time pass by and things will fall in place.
The other, even bigger, challenge is to earn trust – we can’t ask for it, it needs to be earned. One of the initial indicators of trust is when we get the first phone call about bad news from the clients. If they share their fears and unexpected incidences with us that means they trust us.
What does leadership mean to you ?
The common leadership perception is a Man who graduated from a high-end business school and is a CEO of a Billion-Dollar Company.
But In reality, Leadership has nothing to do with gender, your position, your occupation, and where you went to school – It’s about one life influencing the other.
How do you influence your team?
We build a culture of continual learning and nurture curiosity. Our clients are demanding and highly influential and for advising them we need to have a learner’s mind. The biggest transformation can come only if we let go of our postulations and start with a clean slate
How do you look after your employees? What makes your team unique?
Armstrong is a progressive organisation. For all our employees, learning and career growth has been excellent. I feel there are two kinds of organizations in our business. The first type is where you can learn the intermediation (running the business), and the other type is where you can learn Investments as an asset class well. We are one of the very few privileged organisations in the industry which has a work environment that gives you enough opportunity to learn both.
The greatest part of my job is
Is to be aggressive inside and calm outside. A strong business is driven by a motivated team. If your employees don’t want to work for you, your customers won’t like your offering - it’s as simple as that. If your team is not satisfied or motivated, their output is naturally unproductive, resulting in a drop in the quality of services offered. On the other hand, if your team is motivated to work they will deliver the highest quality offering to your customer. It’s up to me to be a considerate leader, keeping my employees together and motivated, as part of a strong family. From competitive salaries, incentives, work flexibilities to a learning-oriented work environment, I make sure that the team is always ready to deliver their 100%.
Constant vigilance- a need or a strategy? Please share your views.
It’s a need because the business environment is very dynamic, often changing faster than you can keep track of. I keep evaluating our failures and building strategies to overcome them in the future. I also work very closely on important deals and understand what needs to be done to close the deal faster. There is a fine line that differentiates perseverance and the need for changing strategy. When it’s hard to cark it, may be a different strategy will do the trick.
Advice to other Women
I would advise and encourage every woman to work and take up her career. Raising kids may require a break of 5-6 years but post that, I would really encourage women to take up a job and focus on their career. It’s a very good feeling to be financially independent.
|Year of Founding||2010|
|Funding Information||USD 13,300|
|Founding Members||Manju Mastakar|
|Company Strength||30- 40|