“Clients first, everything afterwards”, Manju Mastakar – MD of Armstrong Capital & Financial Services
What are some of the fundamental things to live a sustainable life in this world? Well, of course water, oxygen, food, money, cloth and home. Wait, are these the only essentials that we need to live a life? What about one of the most underrated and most ignored components of life – the money management? In our country, we are taught a lot of things in our school curriculum but fail to teach kids about money management and financial planning. As a result, we become part of a working class devoid of financial acumen. In the absence of an appropriate financial knowledge, we end up wasting our money on useless things or create liabilities.
Nevertheless, there are some financially intelligent people out there who work day in and day out to help you manage finance in an apt manner. They are known as financial advisors. Today we are going to talk about one such prominent financial advisor who traversed a long journey of two decades and gathered the worldly-wise knowledge of the financial domain. We are talking about none other than Manju Mastakar, MD of Armstrong Capital & Financial Services. Ms. Mastakar aspires to build a very robust corporate wealth management company which has process and automation at its core. “I want the business process to be atomized and not only the transactions”, she asserts.
In this business the Investment Advisor is the core of the business and advice provided is very personal and it differs from each advisor and each client. In this business Ms. Mastakar has all functionalities very dynamic – the product, the advice, the relationship and the service. Ms. Mastakar started her career over 20 years ago as an intern working with a CA firm. There she was handling the tax returns of clients who had substantial incomes from the stock trading. Later she was assigned with the responsibility of audits of stock broking firm and bank branches. She had learned a lot of things about the way trading & investing works well before she graduated.
The experience of advising over 1000+ clients spread over various geographies
“After I graduated a known acquaintance recommended me to join his friend’s stock broking firm. I did a lot of multitasking there, worked as an assistant accountant, dealer, customer service and lots more”, she says while talking about her entrepreneurial journey. Over the years she took up jobs in various broking firms, Banks and wealth management firm, climbed up the hierarchy from dealer, relationship manager, wealth manager, financial advisor, regional manager. She had the experience of advising over 1000+ clients spread over various geographies, different age groups and different mindsets.
Finally, she took a leap and started Armstrong in 2010. In the preliminary state, she managed very few clients and offered Direct Equity Advisory. Later on, she added currency and commodity derivatives. In 2014 she started comprehensive financial planning & portfolio management having mutual funds at the core. Now Armstrong focus only on advice on Mutual Funds, Insurance and Fixed Income instruments.
At Armstrong every relationship starts with a financial plan. It creates comprehensive plans for clients that take into consideration all the investments done in the past, their financial commitments the surplus that they can invest how their retirement will look like, how much annuity they will get when they retire. It does a lot of bottoms up research to back its white list recommendations. The firm comes up with a lot of innovative ways to evaluate the portfolio performance and axe out non performing funds. It puts in lot of efforts to build in trust and that is essence of the business.
Humble beginning that prepared her for the tough road ahead
For Ms. Mastakar, all this has not been a smooth ride. She had her own share of ups and downs. As a start up, she had very low seed capital (13,300 USD). Initially she worked out of home. “All I needed was a desk and a phone, then I moved to a shared office space and hired an assistant who would fix meeting and take care of the paperwork required for onboarding clients. Worked on a very lean structure for almost 2 years”, she shares her inspirational journey.
Above all, she had to compete with the big multinational bank and their wealth management team. She had to prover her services at par with the big brands and had to put in a lot of efforts to convince clients that her advice was based upon thorough research and data analysis. She had to build her credibility brick by brick.
Since Armstrong was a start up, it was difficult to get resources, so she would hire freshers/unskilled resources and train them. A good amount of time and energy would be spent in this which would pull down her productivity. Initially an entrepreneur has to do all kinds of job roles. “I also had to do multiple roles like initiating connect, customer service, managing accounts, managing PR all this has made me understand every aspect and build it to become stronger”, she asserts.
A start up has to be very lean and tight fist. In the initial days, she would work out of shared office having only 3 workstations, she would use public transport. She did not have budget for advertisement, word of mouth was the only way of advertisement. “I would be very cost conscious so that the company breaks even and we sustain over a period of time”. So, what made her the most reliable financial advisor in the industry? Her clients first and everything afterwards approach.
Customer centric approach devoid of any over the counter advice
Armstrong has always worked in the best interest of clients and has a very customer centric approach. The firm does not offer any over the counter advice. All relationships start with a financial plan, this gives a complete insight of what they want and what they need. Solutions offered by Armstrong are based on the own judgement of Armstrong’s financial experts and analysis of what is best for them. “We have one plan and one prospective of conserving wealth over growth. We share research and rationale behind our suggestions and we invest a lot in technology for a great client experience”, points out Ms. Mastakar.
Ms. Mastakar believes in following and learning from people pertaining to other industries. She is a big-time bibliophile and also listens to biographies on Audible. Her favorite show is “David Rubenstein Show”. Her favorite books are Mark H. McCormack – What they don’t teach you at Harvard Business School. Barnett Helzberg – What I learned before I sold to Warren buffet and “Yes we can” a biography of President Barak Obama.
She has an advice for people going into a leadership position for the first time. She says, “Keep experimenting, keep doing mistakes and the success rates will also keep moving up. Keep investing in business – some investments go bad and some pay off, while the ones which do well pay off significantly”.