After working as a stock advisor in a brokerage firm in the economic hub city of Mumbai, Manju moved to Bangalore to dive in as a wealth manager. Investing and gaining experience for more than 20 years in the investment industry, the sub-prime crisis of 2008 left her no choice but to quit the corporate job. The event triggered her to start a venture, Armstrong.
Taking her passion as her business, Manju started working from home, meeting clients and advising them on investments. She has worked and developed solutions for clients of all sizes and played an instrumental role in choosing the right mutual fund.
We at Fortunes Crown got into conversation with Manju Mastakar, Managing Director of Armstrong Capital & Financial Services Pvt. Ltd., to know more about the company and how it is helping the businesses and individuals as a whole.
Below are the highlights of the interview:
Describe your professional journey as an inspiring business professional.
Any time that someone takes a risk and launches their own business there is always some foundational reason behind it. Though it was challenging at the beginning to switch from busy office life to working in a home environment, slowly but effectively working from home became the business norm.
Initially, I thought of it as a stop-gap arrangement and that when the financial markets stabilize, 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 the 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 center. After a 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 products and/or services do you offer?
Armstrong offers services in the form of Financial Planning & Investment Advisory. We analyze 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 the unencouraging way wealth management is dealt with conventionally. More of upselling the product. I felt it was 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 identify 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.
We focus a lot on research we do bottom-up research on the funds and the stocks that they pick. We have various filterers based on analytical and various other parameters and the funds that pass through form a part of our white list. We then construct model portfolios for different categories of investors. Our wealth-building process is an iterative one, supported by many plans that evaluate the performance over a period of time.
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.
We do not create returns, the appreciation is created by the markets we only create the discipline in the investor to save and invest at regular intervals. The first thing I do is protect wealth, the second thing we do is manage risk and then that last preference is past performance. My focus is my Vision, my focus is on my customer’s satisfaction, his long-term wealth creation and protection. This differentiates us from the rest of the industry.
Talent Retaining and Hiring have been a challenge for all industries? How are you managing this aspect?
In Armstrong Capital we generally hire freshers, I find freshers to be like a jigsaw puzzle and after every conversation with them add on to a piece and for more than 2 years is when the puzzle transforms into a full picture. I feel every individual has a unique characteristic that has to be utilized as a skill for the organization. A team is a unique collage of many individualistic characteristics someone can be like a lion who begins the project with full trust and power and doesn’t relax till the task is completed, someone maybe like a crane with high levels of concentration who can strike at the right place with the right force. Someone maybe like a donkey who never refuses any work, some may be like cocks who can give a wake-up call. It’s the leaders’ ability to assemble them as a team and then orchestrate them. They then realize that they are dependent on one another and stick on as a team for a long time, making magic make history.
What motivates you to keep going?
What attracts me to this profession is intellectual stimulation, the people I work with, deep friendships built through the many roller coaster rides, and the thrill of building wealth. The learning curve is continual. Every day I come across something new, and every time I meet an investor there is something new, some new problem that we have to solve.
I’ve seen a few cycles over the last 10 years, and I’ve been privileged to see clients grow from retail investors to an HNI with a sizable portfolio. It’s incredibly exciting to be part of the wealth-building journey and witness all the highs, lows, mistakes and wins. I feel fortunate to be privy to this experience of making them financially independent.
Since its inception, what up-gradation or changes has your company seen?
I believe that every 3 years there has to be a slight change in the product offering, and every 5 years, an enterprise must make some changes in the business model. 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 as 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, the 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? How do you motivate your team?
A 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.
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 organization. For all our employees, learning and career growth have 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 organizations in the industry which has a work environment that gives you enough opportunity to learn both.
The greatest part of my job 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, and work flexibilities to a learning-oriented work environment, I make sure that the team is always ready to deliver their 100%.