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The remarkable journey of Jennifer Mendes

Jennifer Mendes, Goa

6th April 2016

In a nutshell

From a humble beginning of selling postal RDs to women, Jennifer Mendes, ably supported by her family, can be proud of the fact that she has inculcated the equity investing habit in 2500 Goan families, many of whom would still have remained conservative savers losing the battle against inflation, had it not been for her untiring efforts.

In the process, Jennifer has built up an MF AuM of Rs.190 crores, a SIP book of Rs. 1.5 crores with an average SIP size of Rs.5000, and recently, as a member of Birla Sun Life MF's Privilege Club, won their SpeedStar Campaign.

Jennifer believes that there is a symbiotic relationship between IFAs and retail investors - both need each other. Her words of wisdom: stay close to your investors, become their friends and they will always remain with you, through all the regulatory upheavals that may come your way.

My husband and I were born and brought up in Mumbai. I worked for Indian Bank and my husband, Mathew, was a professor of Western Music. In 1987, we moved to Goa, in the quest of a better life style, as we did not want to be part of the rat race that Mumbai sucks you into because in this rat race even if you win you are still a rat! People thought we were insane, giving up our careers when we had young children - but we went ahead. We sold our house in Mumbai, bought one in Goa, saved Rs. 2 lakhs from the transaction, invested it in an FD, and lived of its interest for the initial period. It was blissful for a couple of years, then kids started going to school and time hung heavily for me.

Journey started with postal RDs

I decided to put my experience in the world of finance to good use and became an agent of the Mahila Parishad Kshetriya Bachhat Yojana (MPKBY) - a 5 year RD postal scheme for women, sold by women agents. I started interacting with many investors in this process. This is a completely retail segment as you can imagine. As my rapport grew with these investors, some would come and say, "do you do PPF?" So I started PPF. Then others would say "do you do NSCs?" So I took up the NSC Agency. My product basket grew solely on the basis of what my clients were looking for.

I operated from my home in those days - the concept of office was still a novelty then. But one thing that was novel about us is that we didn't close for afternoon siesta - which was the norm across Goa at that time. We preferred to remain open through the day, as we wanted to remain accessible to our clients - and that actually appealed to a lot of investors.

Happy accident got us into mutual funds

In March 1999, I accidentally got an invite (which was meant for CAs in Goa but one landed up in my house anyway) from SBI Mutual Fund, for a talk by Mr. Niamatullah and Ved Prakash Chaturvedi on "Mutual Funds - an idea whose time has come". Out of curiosity, I attended this talk, and was introduced to the world of mutual funds.

My long association with MPKBY had ingrained in me a focus on regular savings. SIPs became the new vehicle for regular savings, once I began selling mutual funds. Goans are conservative - they have a high proportion of debt in their savings and very little to no equity. They need equity. My job is to convince them to start SIPs in equity funds, to put them onto the road of wealth creation. We get clients started initially with what they are comfortable with. We focus a lot on SIP top-ups. When they get increments, promotions, we encourage them to top up their SIPs. For many clients, we got them started with a 1000 rupee SIP, and then progressively kept topping up until they reached 5000 rupees and then we stabilized it at that level in perpetual SIPs. It's important to you don't go overboard with equity allocations.

It's truly a family business

One of the best things that's happened for me is that our family works closely together in managing this business. My son Schubert joined us 15 years ago when he was just 20. He loves meeting people and is the one who goes out to meet clients who don't walk into our office. I operate from the office and handle all our walk in clients. My daughter-in-law Samantha came into our family a year and a half ago. She's a CA, she's also very tech savvy. She's getting us into the new age with her tech skills. My husband Mathew has always been the one who gives us the strategic direction - he's the think tank, the mentor for our firm. Besides our family, we have three staff that looks after the back office.


We serve 2500 Goan families

Today, our MF AuM is around Rs.190 crores. Our SIP book is around Rs. 1.5 crores. We serve 7000 clients across 2500 families. Our average SIP size is around Rs.5000, but we've even started Rs.300 SIPs. Ours is a very retail business and we believe in growing with our clients.

Helping clients stay the course is critical

It's not always smooth sailing - times of market volatility have tested us a lot. These are times you don't focus on new client acquisition - you channelize all efforts to reassure your existing clients. Clients trust us when they invest, they trust us when we tell them to remain invested during volatile times. You got to have your own convictions and transmit your conviction to your clients. Spend more time with clients when they need you more - that's been a big focus for us.

Our own experience with SIPs helps us immensely in giving clients confidence during volatile times. We have ourselves topped up our SIPs from time to time whenever our income grew, and today the four of us contribute Rs. 2.50 lakhs per month towards SIPs. We take our clients through our journey of SIPs and top-ups to drive the message. We've bought a nice property in Goa - something we could not have dreamt of when we came here almost 30 years ago. We let our clients know that this has been made possible only because of mutual funds. We show our own statements to clients to help them get comfortable with the long term benefits of SIPs. I'm not saying it's easy to help clients stay the course - it's tough - and especially the long period after the 2008 market crash when the market went nowhere - it did test everyone's patience. But in the end, even in those most difficult times, more than 80% of clients chose to remain invested only based on our conviction and reassurance. When clients trust you blindly, it is very satisfying and at the same time, puts a huge responsibility on you.

Dealing with regulatory change

Regulations in our business are changing rapidly. It's all happening too often and too fast. The latest one on commission disclosures is a concern. But then, one has to understand that change is the only constant. I believe the best way to navigate this successfully is to stick to your core competency and stay close to your clients. Your clients must think of you as their friend. If you are their friend, they won't leave you. At least in the retail world, relationships and loyalty matter. May not be the case in the HNI world, where people become more deal oriented. I believe retail savers need IFAs and IFAs need retail savers. Focus on retail business, build lasting relationships based on mutual trust. Your clients will be with you through all your ups and downs if you are with them through their financial journey.

Also read Prof. Mathew Mendes' 2012 article: Will SEBI act rationally only after exploring all alternatives?

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