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How a former Flipkart director founded his robo-advisory firm

L to R: Amar Choudhary founded FinAskUs in July 2016 along with Manish Hemrajani, Mohit Singh and Rashmi Mittal

L to R: Amar Choudhary founded FinAskUs in July 2016 along with Manish Hemrajani, Mohit Singh and Rashmi Mittal

Amar Choudhary’s decision to establish FinAskUs Technologies Pvt Ltd, an automated investment service focused on mutual funds for B2C mass customers, was based on his prior professional experience.

As part of his stint at the Boston Consulting Group between 2005 and 2012, Amar Choudhary worked intensively in the mutual fund sector. The consultant, who later became senior director retail at Flipkart, was quick to realize that the low ticket sized segment, comprising of individuals making investments worth less than Rs 5 lakhs annually, presented an untapped opportunity for a personal finance advisory and transactions platform.

Banks and financial institutions in India typically cater well to investment tickets above Rs 10 lakh as they can generate significant revenues, reasons Choudhary. This leaves aside a huge percentage of investors in the range of Rs 2-5 lakhs without quality advice or at best, at the discretion of individual advisers.

“It is served mostly by local advisors who often have poor understanding of the science of investing, and/or provide conflicted advice trying to peddle products where they get fat margins. Now, technology offers an opportunity to change that,” he said.

Launched in July 2016, FinAskUs was co-founded by Choudhary, along with Manish Hemrajani, Mohit Singh and Rashmi Mittal, with an initial investment of Rs 1.3 crore from friends and family.

“Manish is the finance mastermind in the group. I am the consumer internet guy, Rashmi is the tech head and Mohit is the operations and business development head,” Choudhary said.

Through FinAskUs, Choudhary wanted to solve two problems: First that of democratizing quality advisory to a low and mid ticket-sized consumer. The second addressing the problem of regulation and paperwork that prevents consumers from investing. Furthermore, keeping up to date on the performance of a particular mutual fund is difficult to do through a broker. Choudhary feels that a completely technology-integrated platform will solve this hurdle.

The way FinAskUs platform works is that a user’s details of income, age, risk profile and other KYC-related data points are put in the system, and suggestions are then provided as to which mutual fund he/she can invest in.

FinAskUs conducts its own research on the currently available mutual funds and selects the top 10 in terms of portfolio and past returns in equity, debt and tax savings instruments, which it then recommends to its users.

Available on the Google Play Store, it already has 3,000 installs, “Of those 500 have complete user registration and around 100 users have invested through the platform,” said Choudhary. The firm’s customers are largely male in the 25-45 age group and while 50-60% of the user base is from the top 10 cities, the firm has seen considerable interest from people in Tier 3 and Tier 4 towns.

Presently, the firm is managing a corpus of Rs 1 crore with 100 users and the average ticket size is Rs 1 lakh and within a space of one year that increases to Rs 2 lakh for the user.

FinAskUs earns a commission from the fund houses whose products it sells and this amounts to an average of 1%-1.3%, “Equity gives a base commission of around 1% and debt give a base commission of around 0.5% – 0.6%,” Choudhary said. He claims that the venture is so far doing revenues between Rs 20,000 and Rs 25,000 a month.

FinAskUs does not charge its users a fee because its founders believe India is not a subscription market where customers will pay for advisory services. “For very low ticket sizes, somebody wants to invest Rs 1,000. Now the proposition of taking 1% which is Rs 10 is very difficult so, whereas fund houses look at the total AUM and give you 1%,” Choudhary added.

Secondly, consumers are not prepared to lock into an advisory fee. In the West, consumers pay fund houses a fee for managing their investments, “In India while those other models have emerged, it is still for the evolved investor who understands that this is better,” explained Choudhary.

Currently focused on mutual funds, FinAskUs plans to add lending and insurance products to its platform and also to serve corporate clients.

A number of automated advisory services such as Goalwise, WealthTrust, Scripbox, Tauro and Wealthy.in that use artificial intelligence and algorithms to provide investment advice are there in the market.

Scripbox’s CEO, Sanjiv Singhal told TechCirle.in a few months ago that such advisory services are at a very nascent stage in India as compared to developed markets. Moreover, he said the scope for such services in India are limited as only 3% to 4% of the population invests in such financial products.

Wealth management advice involves two types of strategies—a passive one and an active one. Passive wealth management strategy is one where a computer program provides insights about shares of a company or information on mutual funds. An active strategy involves professional fund managers conducting research and providing insights.

Angel investor Ajeet Khurana told TechCircle.in in a prior interaction that these advisory services can be offered to small-ticket sized customers because the technology play inherent in them brings down the cost to almost zero. However, he added, that this model works for mutual funds and insurance, not so much stock market trading.

Fintech startup Goalwise, which provides investment advisory and mutual fund selection services through an algorithm, secured $1 million in angel funding from HNIs in May this year.

Mumbai-based WealthTrust secured seed funding from India Quotient in July this year. It provides personal wealth management advisory services for mutual funds through a mobile app.

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