Mr. Dependable : Advisor Insights
Atul's "Less is More" approach has made him Mr.Dependable
Atul Surana, Catalyst Financial Planners, Mangalore

imgbd In an era where acquiring more and more clients is what most advisors aspire for, Atul Surana stands out starkly different - he has opted to continually narrow his focus on the number of families he serves. When he started out 10 years ago, he set himself a goal to serve 100 families. A few years into the profession, he realised he can't do justice to 100 families, in the manner he has chosen to offer his financial planning services, and therefore progressively narrowed focus to 75 and then 50 families. Today, 10 years into this profession, he serves 36 families. Does that make his practice tiny? With a SIP book well in excess of Rs.1 crore, making his SIP book among the largest in South India (among IFAs) and an AuM of over Rs.60 crores, he has clearly proven the axiom "Less is more".

Atul attributes his success to clarity : clarity on what he did not want to do, as well as clarity on what he wanted to do. Stock broking, PMS, retail distribution business - all of these were clear nos, life planning was a clear yes. Financial planning for him means being personally involved with his client families in their financial journeys. It means giving each client your best, giving them quality time, never cutting corners. Little wonder that the 36 families that Atul serves, regard him as "Mr.Dependable". Read on as Atul narrates to us how the 4 pillars of dependability that the Mr.Dependable column articulates - consistency, integrity, responsiveness and diligence - have helped him build a successful, high quality practice.

Mr. Dependable, a joint initiative between Religare Invesco MF and Wealth Forum, endeavours to showcase exactly what it takes for financial advisors to be seen by their clients as "Mr.Dependable" - which we firmly believe is vital for any advisor to build a sustainable practice. After all, dependability is what money management is finally all about.


Consistency is a way of life for us at Catalyst. Our approach has remained exactly the same over the last 10 years. We never recommend PMS, no thematic funds, no closed ended funds, no FMPs, no NFOs, no CapPros : we stick to simple open ended funds with proven track records. In the last 10 years, we have never recommended any lumpsum investments to any of our clients : it has always been SIPs and STPs for us. We were ridiculed by AMCs in 2005 for this approach, but we stuck to it, even in the midst of a raging bull market. We don't time the market. Our job is to cut out emotions when investing. We are financial planners, and we stick to our principles, irrespective of noise in the market.


Our approach to product recommendations makes it very clear to clients that we keep only their interest in mind. Integrity comes first in the thought process, and is then translated into how you act. If your thinking is in the right direction, everything else will automatically fall in place. Integrity is also about how your clients perceive you. Integrity builds trust, and trust is what gets clients to act on your recommendations, even if they feel they are not entirely certain. Trust is what clients rely on when they heed your advice not to stop SIPs in a market meltdown, despite many of their friends bailing out of the market. At Catalyst, none of our SIPs were stopped, even in the 2008 crisis.


Responsiveness for us is about predicting client needs and acting before the need can be articulated. In turbulent times of market volatility, we proactively communicate with our clients, well before they call us. Quick notes, quality information, simple language - that's the key to ensure clients are on top of what's happening and feel reassured despite market volatility. We are very particular about responding to client emails immediately. We firmly believe that investors with trusted advisors will always outperform DIY investors. For this to happen, advisors must be proactive and responsive to client needs - whether explicitly articulated or not.

There is another angle to responsiveness, which has worked very well for our clients. There were two occasions in the last 10 years when we actually went to clients and encouraged them to top up their SIPs as we firmly believed they represented great opportunities. The first time was in 2009 after the meltdown, when markets were at abnormally low levels. The second was in 2013, almost a year before the last general elections. On both occasions, every client went ahead with our recommendation to top up their SIPs, based on the conviction that we had, and both instances have worked well for our clients.


We follow a simple principle : before making a recommendation, think 10 times, because after making the recommendation, you have little scope for thinking. We never go by flavours of the season. All AMC sales people know that there is no point in coming to us with any sales pitch on any product. We stick to our knitting: we are financial planners, we believe in a goal based approach and that's the only thing that we will do. We diligently review portfolios every quarter, and don't hesitate to make course corrections, where necessary. We are diligent about protecting client confidentiality, and have unhesitatingly given up leads where prospects asked us to share names of clients. I am personally involved with every client family in helping them through their financial journeys, I know their families, I know the children, I spend quality time with every client. My clients know that I am there for them, and that we will leave no stone unturned to help them achieve their financial goals.

All content in Mr.Dependable is created by Wealth Forum and should not be construed as views of Religare Invesco MF.

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