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In Conversation With Radhika Gupta, CEO, Edelweiss MF

In Conversation With Radhika Gupta, CEO, Edelweiss MF

Meet Radhika Gupta, CEO of Edelweiss’s Asset Management Company. From selling ‘dal chawal’ in college to heading a mutual funds company, her journey is not only fascinating but also inspiring. For those who believe that finance is best left to people from a “financial background”, Radhika is breaking all stereotypes and has made a place for herself in an industry where very few women hold leadership positions.

ABOUT HER JOURNEY

MM: What made you enter the financial services industry despite coming from a non-financial background?

RG: I don’t think it was a planned decision, just by way of background I come from a family where my mother and most women have been teachers and from my father’s side, most are from government services. So forget finance no one from my family has ever been a part of India’s corporate sector.

I went to Wharton, got a degree in finance and engineering, I did a bit of technology as a summer intern at Microsoft, I was consulting at Mckinsey, and then I got an interesting opportunity in financial services a year after. It wasn’t a planned move and I wasn’t one of those kids who was obsessed with finance or talking about stocks all the time. It probably goes back to that issue of ‘women in finance’ which I’ve seen in the field of computer science as well, the environment makes women nervous and uncomfortable. But you don’t need to be obsessed or surrounded by finance to be in it or have that stereotype attitude, for me it happened so I continued it because I liked it and it keeps me on my toes.

MM: What was it like leaving your job on Wall Street in the U.S. and entering the Indian financial services in India?

While Wall Street is reasonably aggressive, so are the Indian financial markets. But ‘Wall Street is obviously Wall Street, especially before 2008 when the global financial crisis happened. So for me, I think the bigger shift was going from an employee to an entrepreneur in financial services and not so much about shifting from the US to India. It was about doing my own thing because when you’re an employee in the finance space your whole existence is centred around managing money but there’s a lot more that goes. Just like a film, there’s a lot more that goes in the making of a film other than the actor, a lot more that goes into building a financial organization other than managing people’s money. There’s marketing, there’s the product, there is sales, there’s compliance, so I learned all those aspects from running a business,
But I want to reiterate my point that people have a typical stereotype about the financial service sector, especially after watching movies like ‘The Wolf Of Wall Street’. They think it is an aggressive, macho, male-dominant space, which to some extent is true but you don’t have to be like that to be a part of it.

MM: How did you manage to cope with this change? What were some of your biggest challenges in this shift?

One thing that worked for me because I’ve lived abroad so much and moved around every 3 years is that I can adapt to change and new things well. I think I get bored of doing the same thing again and again. So, when I moved backed to India and started this firm with 3 other partners, I was very open to experimenting. I was open to learning the regulatory side of the business, I was open to learning marketing, I was open to learning sales and I still am, I’m still learning. I run a large mutual fund company, even though I don’t come from a retail and sales background I’m learning it. Along the way, I also figured that I’m good at some things and I’m not so good at some things. So those things that I’m not good at, I hope my team can cover up for my missing skills or I try to hire people who complement my skill set. So as a team, we can do well together. I also got one really good piece of advice from a boss, ‘If you’re jumping into something that you don’t know, the best service you can do to yourself, at least for a few months, is to just listen. To observe as much as you can, maybe ask a lot of questions at the right time and tell people you’re not there to threaten them but you trust them,’ so that’s worked for me.

ABOUT MUTUAL FUNDS

MM: You’ve compared asset management to McDonalds in one of your pieces – that’s so clever! Explain to our audience what you meant.

If you look at my generation or when I was growing up in India, investments were either about property or gold or maximum you’d delve into a post office or fixed deposit, but India has evolved so much. In the last few years, there has been increasing awareness that you can’t put your money just in gold or in deposits you have to put in a vehicle that can grow. Indians particularly are aspirational, they want to grow they want their money to grow and mutual funds fit in beautifully. Even women have started earning and they’re so much more financially independent.

So from the many financial products out there, mutual funds are the most basic products and the ‘Mutual Fund Sahi Hai’ has become a movement.  I go on flights and at an airport screening the security person would ask me how to do an SIP, or at a parlour, my beautician will ask me how she should do an SIP. In that sense, mutual funds have become mainstream, just like fast food. They’re a simple product. They come in many different flavours and varieties, whether you want to invest for a day or a decade, there will be a mutual fund solution available for you, which is why I think it’s a fantastic product.

ABOUT WOMEN & FINANCE

MM: So, it’s pretty obvious that Indian’s attitudes towards savings & investing have completely transformed over the last few years. But, do you think this attitude is across genders or is it skewed towards one?

RG: I don’t think it is across genders, but I think the starting point for both genders has been different. I think for women they’ve traditionally been very hands-off with their investments, not because they’re not capable because someone has just done it. And then there is an unfortunate myth, that maybe we in financial services are guilty of – that finance is very complex, its very technical, it is difficult to understand and these kinds of things tell you to be aware (similar to coding and why women run away from tech). When actually none of this stuff is very complex. But I think it’s improving, with a generation of young working women like yourself more and more women are at least talking about being financially savvy, taking control of their finances etc. So it’s getting better but the starting point is different.

I mean at some level it’s kind of funny because if you look at women from my mother or grandmothers generation they were very money wise. They had a concept of ‘nari dhan’ where they’d get money to spend every month, but instead of spending it all, they would keep a little money away for a rainy day for themselves. While they wouldn’t invest this money they were definitely being money savvy.

MM: What has it been like for you, as a woman in a top management position in an industry that has typically been dominated by men?

RG: I have mixed views on this. Early in my career I never paid attention to the gender gap in financial services, I didn’t want to pay attention to it, but as I grew senior I realized that obviously, women are in the minority in this career. If you look at the number of talent that’s there at the senior level and even at the mid-level (which I worry about more because senior people come from women in their mid-30’s -35 who’re rising to the top) we need to do a lot more to improve the ratio.  Just as an analogy, I’m the only one women heading a mutual fund and that’s not a desirable scenario. I’d definitely like to see more and more women, not for the sake of diversity of gender but because women bring a diversity of thinking, they bring in different approaches, a different skill set, and a different thinking perspective which is more important

For me, I’ve been reasonably fortunate with Edelweiss and I’ve had the opportunity to try a bunch of different things when I joined this group. I had sold my entrepreneur venture Forefront Capital to Edelweiss and then I build that business within the Edelweiss group. then I had the chance to do a merger of two mutual funds – JP Morgan and Mutual Fund Edelweiss, which I knew nothing about. So, whatever has been thrown at me, I kind of jump at it and somehow that takes you farther than you can get. I’m always trying to learn, do my best, and to make the best of what I have. And I think gender shouldn’t ever hold you back from doing this. Of course, there are days when you feel the gender bias, but you have to just learn to mentally move on.

MM: Does this make your attitude different towards women employees?

RG: I hope that I can be more empathetic not sympathetic towards woman employees, not in term of things like maternity leave but it is more in terms of helping them grow, recognizing that they have different styles, recognizing that they sometimes behave differently from men. A lot of the narrative around women in the workplace has focused around maternity leave and sexual harassment which is important, very important but there are some smaller and deeper issues that affect the masses. For instance, office culture. So, hopefully, I’ve been able to do things like building a more cohesive office culture because I believe that if you see one senior woman at an organization it will attract 10 more and if you see 10 more it will attract even 20 more.

MM: What are institutions like Edelweiss doing to make finance more approachable? Tell us about your investor education program.

RG: I think we’re trying to be very simple and relatable with our communication considering financial institutions tend to complicate a lot of things. For instance, I’ve been a big believer in the power of personal stories. So, one of the campaigns we’ve been running at Edelweiss Mutual Fund is the fact that when you’re trying to manage the money you need good. Traditionally people will do Diwali campaigns and tell you to do an SIP, or buy this product on Diwali, but we did something with the Mumbai Fire department. So just how during Diwali you need expert advice to have a safe Diwali, you also need the advice of experts to have a safe investing journey. In most of my articles also I try to explain financial concepts by comparing them to different things. For example, when I compared asset management to McDonald’s or I try using stories in simple mediums to make finance just a little more personal and a little less scary

MM: What are some of the mistakes women make when investing? How can they avoid them?

RG: I don’t know if its specific to women or men but the common one is not getting started it’s the biggest one the lethargy of not getting started. Recently only some guy tweeted to me about how he started an sip at the age of 42 and wasn’t sure if it would help him but knew it would help his son. To which I replied of course it would help him. So you know getting started regardless of how old you are

And the second one is remembering to invest for your own goals money is not about a contest that I earned 15% and your neighbour earned 16%. You have your own goals, your own journey, your own needs and your own responses. You have to work towards them. There’s no right answer for everybody. You have to design a financial plan that is relevant to you and remember that’s not relevant to your husband, your brother, your friend, your colleague or your neighbour.

MM: Finally, any advice for our audience?

RG: Start investing now, because every year that you don’t invest you’re setting yourself back. I mean the smartest thing I did is I started investing as soon as I started earning. I made stupid mistakes, but I learnt from them. Think about it, if you live till 80 and started investing at let’s say 20, you’ll have 60 years of investing to do. You’ll make mistakes on the trading ground and by the time you turn 30 – 35 and start earning a meaningful income, you would have actually become a sensible investor.

Radhika Gupta
CEO, Edelweiss Asset Management Limited.

Radhika is an asset management professional with global and India experience across both asset classes, investor segments, and investment management and distribution. She started her career at McKinsey & Company and then was a hedge fund manager with AQR Capital, one of the world’s most prominent systematic asset managers. She then moved to India to start Forefront Capital Management, an alternative asset management firm in India, which was acquired by Edelweiss in 2014. She built one of India’s most prominent public market alternatives businesses at Edelweiss, and also led Edelweiss’s acquisition of JP Morgan’s Mutual Fund business and Ambit Capital’s AIF business in 2016. From 2017, Radhika has been the CEO of Edelweiss Asset Management.

Radhika is a graduate of the Management and Technology Program at the University of Pennsylvania, with joint degrees in Economics from the Wharton School and Computer Science Engineering from the Moore School.  She is the founding President of the University of Pennsylvania Alumni Club, a member of the Global Leadership Council of the Management and Technology Program, and a Board Member of the Association of Mutual Funds in India (AMFI). Radhika is a global citizen who has grown up across 4 continents, a TEDx speaker, and a keen bridge player.

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