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Investment assistance for the family

Intro: Chennai-based FundsIndia.com takes investment advisory services to the next level. The online portal’s founder and CEO C.R. Chandrasekar, speaks about the pioneering human-assisted Robo-advisory that the company offers to Indian investors:

N. Mohan: Can you give an outline of the activities of FundsIndia.com, its business model and the target customer base? How does it actually work?

C.R. Chandrasekar: FundsIndia.com is India’s first value-added investment platform. By opening a free-for-life investment account, customers get access to a wide array of investment products like mutual funds from all Asset Management Companies, equities and Exchange-Traded Funds from the Bombay Stock Exchange, fixed deposits from companies, bonds, 24 karat gold, loans, insurance and more in one online location. We also offer several value-added services like investment advice from a dedicated financial advisor, smart solutions for important life goals like retirement, and children’s education or marriage, flexible Systematic Investment Plans (SIPs), ready-to-go portfolios and more that enable an investor to get more out of his investment experience.

Our business model is based on the tenets of convenience, flexibility and affordability. We offer convenience to our customers by giving them access to all investment products through one online account, along with a multitude of beneficial services to maximise profitability. We built our business model for the retail Indian investor, who we found, prefers investing with and for his family. That is why we allow our investors the flexibility to consolidate their investments and invest with their family through one login ID, create separate groups (portfolios) of investments according to goals, open minor accounts for children, and more that aid them in this regard. We have redefined affordability in the investment space by not charging any account opening or transaction charges from our customers. Instead, we earn our revenue from the companies aboard our platform. For instance, in the case of mutual funds, we make our revenue through trail fees, which are paid out of the annual fund management fees that every mutual fund company already charges.

Our target customer base includes all retail Indian investors. If anyone is interested to invest, be it an experienced investor, or someone who is just starting out, we are the platform for them. From advanced investment tools, to investment advice from financial experts, an account with FundsIndia.com will get you going and growing on your journey of wealth maximisation.

How is FundsIndia different from other similar service providers who also offer advisory services to investors? Do you focus only on mutual funds?

FundsIndia.com is very different from all the other investment platforms in India. One, we offer the largest range of investment products in India, making this a convenient e-supermarket for all things investment. Two, the value-added services that we offer to our customers are unmatched. For example, no other investment platform in India allows investors to set actionable investment triggers (or alarms) according to market behaviour, invest through a variety of unique SIPs like Alert SIPs, Value-averaging Investment Plans (VIPs), Value-averaging Transfer Plans (VTPs), and Step-up SIPs, etc., or manage multiple account under one login ID. Three, we gave a robust research and advisory team for mutual funds and equities that seek to educate and advise investors. The advice offered by them is unbiased and personalized, and there are various checks in place to ensure that investors only get the best investment advice. Four, the portfolio and investment review tools offered by us cannot be found elsewhere. These tools allow you to easily monitor not just the performance of one investment, but of all the investments in your portfolio, allowing you to get an in-depth understanding of where your investments are going. Five, we have pioneered the concept of Robo-advisory in India. A perfect combination of financial expertise and technology, investors, through products like Smart Solutions and the New India Portfolio, can enjoy a superior and hassle-free investment experience.

We’ve been able to offer all these features because the technology that powers FundsIndia.com is intrinsic to us, giving us a competitive edge.

We are primarily a mutual fund investment platform. We had developed and launched the platform in 2009 because we felt there was a serious dearth of online mutual fund investing platforms in India, unlike stocks that had an abundant online presence. While today we’ve grown to offer several other investment products, mutual funds will always be our primary product.

You have pioneered Robo-advisory in India. Can you talk about the basics of the concept, its origins, and its prevalence abroad? How is it beneficial?

Over the last two years, the concept and practice of Robo-advisory has been the most hotly discussed and debated idea in financial services around the world, especially in developed nations. The notion that portfolios of individuals can be created and managed without active human intervention is being analyzed both qualitatively and quantitatively. When it comes to India, the benefits of Robo-advisory can be immense. We are a country with a very large under-served population of potential investors with a severe short-fall in terms of quality advisors. In this context, any adoption of automated services will increase the quality of advisory that reaches a lot of people. However, both in terms of selecting investment instruments (and creating portfolios) and managing investor behaviour over time, it is unlikely that human influence, if not intervention, can be fully avoided. The variety and quality of passive instruments is underwhelming in India and the market is even less mature than western markets when it comes to yielding to behavioural biases. Hence, we think that a stage of human-assisted Robo-advisory would be a necessary and prudent migratory path for the Indian financial services market.

FundsIndia.com has been pioneering progress in this regard. With our powerful in-house technology, we have been making strides in taking scalable, high-quality advice to a large number of people without variation in the quality of advice.

Do you think Indian investors are tech-savvy enough to adopt this highly automated investment method?

It is important to realize that Robo-advisory, as practised by FundsIndia.com, is both backed by human intelligence as well as supported by human advisors. That is, the solutions in the system are screened by the system, but finalized by human research effort. Also, we have advisors who will explain the concept to investors and hand-hold them in case they need support. So, our variant of Robo-advisory significantly reduces, but does not eliminate, the human element from the picture. Any investor who has even a slight level of comfort using a technology platform (a net-banking user for example) can use our services comfortably.

Can it be compared to Algo-trading?

Not really. Algo-trading is about direct stock investments where systems and algorithms direct a person to buy and sell stocks at specific price levels. In contrast, Ready-to-go portfolios and Smart Solutions are based on mutual funds and are goal-oriented (from the investors’ perspective).

What is unique about your New India Portfolio? What sort of investors do you expect for this product?

The New India Portfolio is a powerful set of four mutual funds that are set to take advantage of the Indian markets right now. Carefully put together by our expert mutual fund research team, the portfolio includes a diversified fund with premium blue-chip companies to provide stability, a contrarian mid-cap fund to capture the potential in quality mid-sized companies, a theme fund built to deliver with the economic growth of India, and a debt fund that is well-placed to gain from the current falling interest rate scenario. The stability of these funds and the competence of Robo-advisory, together with the portfolio tuned towards revival sectors and themes, will distinguish this 4-fund portfolio from other regular mutual fund portfolios.

The portfolio is recommended for investment to anyone who can stomach risks, and seeks to build wealth by riding India’s resurgence story.

What is unique about customer interactions when they opt for Robo-advisory based transactions?

The unique nature of Robo-advisory is that people can get solutions and portfolios created for them quickly and efficiently. In the case of a normal advisory service, the client or the advisor has to remember the maintenance aspect of portfolios to take care of it continuously. In the case of Robo-advisory, the system remembers and prompts the investor to take prudent actions to keep the portfolio healthy and wealthy. This ensures that the portfolios are in good shape, and are working towards the goals of the clients at all times.

What is the role of humans in undertaking research? Or is it also totally automated in the system?

Mutual funds, as products, are complex for investors to handle. Unlike deposits, they need hand holding throughout their investment life cycle. In other words, they are not products that can be sold and be done with. They need to be regularly reviewed for performance, asset allocation and rebalancing until the investor reaches his / her goal. While Robo-advisory can never claim to substitute the human advisor, it makes life easy for the investor in terms of assurance of quality, zero hassles of investment review, ease in implementation of changes, and convenience of building, maintaining and tracking multiple portfolios. Robo-advisory can, thus, be called a more efficient version of an effective advisor, who will contact you and do the right things for you at the right time.

Can you give details of the technology platform that you have set up to run this system – in terms of software, hardware?

We use enterprise quality software and hardware throughout our platform. Our architecture emphasises on two main things – robustness and security. To this end, all our systems are built for scalability with maximum pro-active protection from intrusion. We use Java technologies for our business logic and enterprise quality SQL Server for database needs. Our front-end technologies, however, are highly pliable and keep moving with the latest offerings in the market.

What is the manpower strength?

We have about 240 employees today, up from about 100 a year ago.

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As Box

FundsIndia.com gets more funding

FundsIndia.com, owned by Chennai-based Wealth India Financial Services, has recently received Rs 70 crore in Series C investment to support its growth plans. The investment round was led by Faering Capital, with follow-on investments from existing investors Foundation Capital and Inventus Capital Partners. FundsIndia.com will use the money to widen its reach across the country. It will also use the money to improve its service offering, especially using mobile platforms. Launched in 2009, FundsIndia.com caters to retail investors. Besides its automated mutual fund investment services, it also offers equity investing, fixed deposits and other retail financial products. Speaking about the investment decision, Sameer Shroff, co-founder and MD, Faering Capital, said he was impressed with FundsIndia’s platform that enables customers to access savings and investment products in a low-cost and seamless manner across devices. Ashu Garg of Foundation Capital said as investors in leading FinTech platforms in the US, Foundation Capital had a vantage point on the opportunity ahead of FundsIndia. The company had raised Rs 20 crore in Series B round led by Foundation Capital along with Inventus Capital in July 2012. Earlier, Inventus Capital invested Rs 3 crore in its Series A round in August 2010.

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