Think BIG : Advisor Perspectives
60 fold growth in just 4 years: BIG lessons from this niche player
Col Sanjeev Govila, Hum Fauji Initiatives, Delhi


Think BIG - a joint initiative between Reliance MF and Wealth Forum, is an idea sharing platform that encourages distributors and advisors to shed an incremental growth approach and get onto an exponential growth mode, to truly harness their full potential.

One firm that embodies the spirit of Think BIG and has truly embraced the 5 pillars of growth that Think BIG consistently articulates, is Col Sanjeev Govila's Hum Fauji Initiatives. Col Govila set up a super speciality niche financial advisory firm in Nov 2009 : by Faujis, for Faujis, of Faujis. But that's not the only thing that makes Hum Fauji Initiatives special - it's the way Col Govila has built his firm that has enabled it to set a scorching growth path that has seen AuM grow over 60 fold in the last 4 years - from 1 cr in Apr 2011 to over Rs.65 crores now. Read on to understand all about this great business that Col Govila is building.

Think BIG has been consistently advocating 5 pillars of growth, which advisors need to embrace if they are no longer satisfied with incremental growth, but want to aspire for a 10x growth in business. Such aspirations call for very different skill sets, which are captured in our 5 growth pillars. These pillars are :

  1. Articulate a vision, an overarching long term goal that focuses your attention and all your actions

  2. Upskill yourself - equip yourself and your core team with the skill sets required to achieve this vision

  3. Build processes - it is only replicable processes in everything you do, that enable rapid growth

  4. Nurture and grow a vibrant team that dreams and delivers along with you

  5. Move your personal focus to execution - transcend from doing to getting things done

Hum Fauji Initiatives is a great live example of a firm that truly embraced every one of these 5 growth pillars from day 1, which is the cornerstone of its fantastic growth over the last 5 years. After 27 years of distinguished service with the Armed Forces, Col Sanjeev Govila set up Hum Fauji Initiatives in Nov 2009, to help fauji families manage their finances better. Who better than a Fauji to understand the world of Faujis and their unique needs and circumstances? But, the decision to focus on this niche wasn't the only masterstroke of Col Govila. As you read his interview, you will see how he embraced and executed all 5 pillars so brilliantly. What did this get him in terms of business growth? Here are the numbers in terms of AuM:

Nov 2009 : Set up

Apr 2010 : Rs. 5 lakhs

Apr 2011 : Rs. 1.07 crs

Apr 2012 : Rs. 4.94 crs

Apr 2013 : Rs. 9.23 crs

Apr 2014 : Rs. 16.57 crs

Apr 2015 : Rs.56.23 crs

June 2015 : Approx Rs.65 crs

The BIG lesson from Hum Fauji's fantastic growth is this: it takes time, patience and conviction to put in place all the 5 pillars of growth, but once you have them truly in place, you are set for exponential growth, and not just incremental growth.

Read on as Col Govila takes us through his niche business, which not only assists our Fauji families manage their finances better, but lends a ready and willing helping hand to families of gallant Service men who lay down their lives in the line of duty.

WF: What prompted you to set up Hum Fauji Initiatives after a distinguished career in the armed forces?

Sanjeev: Many reasons why I chose to do so:-

  1. Personal finance has always intrigued and held out a lot of interest for me. Even while in the armed forces, I was the unofficial advisor to a large number of friends, relatives and colleagues on the subject. Hence, when I looked for options for a career outside the forces, it was a very natural choice for me. In fact, in 2007-08, while doing a career training titled 'Higher Defence Management Course' at Hyderabad, I did a dissertation on 'Personal Financial Management for Indian Army Officers' which got me my Masters of Management Sciences Degree from the Osmania University, Hyderabad.

  2. Armed forces personnel are generally not financial savvy. The biggest problem they have is constant movement on postings which makes it very difficult for them to get a proper financial advisor. This also creates a huge planning discontinuity for them. Added to this is the fact that armed forces community actively prohibits social discussions on personal finance and treats it as a taboo. Hence, there is very little domain knowledge in the community, making them very vulnerable to mis-selling. Their remote locations keep them on the fringes of financial knowledge and access. Lastly, their exposure to considerably more risk to life makes it imperative that they get ethical, credible and continuous financial advice irrespective of their location and service conditions.

  3. An armed services personnel's life is quite different from that of a civilian. Anybody who does not know about their hardships, peculiarities and service conditions may not be able to do justice to their financial planning. Having done 27 years in the Army, I felt it was a natural transition for me.

WF: How was your initial experience in a totally alien profession?

Sanjeev: You may be tempted to feel that it was an alien profession for me - I was a Radar Engineer by profession, having done my B Tech and M Tech from IIT, Kanpur. This was followed by M Sc as also M Phil in Defence & Strategic Studies from Madras University. However, I entered the financial profession after about two years of strenuous preparations to the extent that the day I left the army, my website was up and running, I had almost earned my CFPCM qualification, had already made a few informal comprehensive financial plans for some close friends, and was already speaking the industry lingo. It would not be out-of-place to say that I was thrilled and rearing to go at full speed. A few months in the profession convinced me that my hunch was right. You see, I was working more than 16 hours a day and still not tired at the end of it due to the satisfaction and feeling of déjà vu I was getting from it. My company made no profit for about two years but I was convinced that I am on to something good and satisfying. My wife's whole hearted support through it all was the biggest reasons that I could continue. She has been handling a large part of the Company's operations since the very beginning.

WF: How did you go about acquiring the skills for this profession? What were some of the initial challenges and how did you overcome them?

Sanjeev: I was convinced that I have to join the very best, have to acquire the best of qualifications required for the job and there is no way for me or my company to do the job in any manner other than the most ethical, transparent and professional way. The biggest challenge I have faced, initially as also even now, is getting quality manpower - it remains my biggest bugbear in spite of quite liberal pay scales and good working environment in my company. Apart from this, there have been no serious challenges other than what any other start up faces.

Probably it is so because I was clear from the very beginning that there are to be five pillars on which the company's structure is to rest - highest professional qualifications for me and my team, and a very good training system for new hires so that they imbibe the company's ethos at the word go; highest standards of ethics and professionalism; a sustainable business model through efficient replicable systems and processes; a very clear vision of where we would like to be in next five years on a rolling basis; And a total belief in our internal motto that 'we win only if the client wins'. Once the road map is known, I believe the road blocks are easily negotiable.

Hence, I personally got the CFPCM certification and also the SEBI Registered Investment Advisor (RIA) certification when it came. We encourage all our team members to constantly upskill themselves by sending them for training and seminars, get research done by them and they make presentations on a regular bias to all other team members.

WF: What is the key differentiation in your customer proposition that attracts clients?

Sanjeev: Probably the fact that I am a niche company catering solely to them - we don't take any clients other than armed forces officers and their relatives. If we are approached by some civilian prospects, we politely refer them to other good financial advisors that we know of. Hence, I and my staff exactly know our clients' and prospects' needs, situations and challenges of life when they approach us. In fact, personally, I am a financial advisor, career counsellor, family disputes' arbitrator, marriage counsellor and what-not to so many of them - a faith developed in us over a period of time. Niche businesses have these undeniable benefits.

Within a few days of associating with us, our clients know that we do what we said, and we do it in a very professional manner. I am absolutely clear and confident that efficient and prompt client service is the only way to work. Without any doubt I can say that my existing clientele is more precious to me than my future clientele. In fact, we had stopped taking new business for almost five months last financial year as we ran out of our capacity to take new business and we did not want to lower down our service standards to our existing clients.

Consequently, we have a very strong word-of-mouth publicity due to the good work that we do in a professional manner.

WF: How has business been growing in the last couple of years?

Sanjeev: It has been better than I ever thought. We have been growing at an average 200% per year since inception and last financial year we grew at 590% year-on-year. I expect to continue this speed, as evident from what we have done so far this FY. We are adding new verticals which would make our offering complete and wide-ranging so that we become a One Stop Financial Solutions company for the armed forces personnel, irrespective of their location and age.

WF: What are the key factors driving your remarkable growth?

Sanjeev: Domain knowledge about our current and prospective clients, highest level of integrity and ethics, strong emphasis on working by replicable systems and processes and continuously improving upon them, great motivated team and of course, ear on the ground remain our key drivers. We prefer to work by financial planning and financial goals route for our clients rather than giving them financial products solutions from the beginning itself, unless the client insists on it in spite of our advice to him otherwise.

We are also very clear that ours is a premium offering delivered at down-to-earth costs to the client. Hence, we charge for everything from the clients - advisory, investments, income tax filing, etc. We offer them more than value-for-their-money and our clients have never had a problem with our charge structure and the very fact that we charge for everything. Nevertheless, we clearly know what type of clients we want and what we don't, and we firmly stick to it. We see ourselves as financial doctors whose job is to see that our clients are financially healthy and continue to remain so.

I also conduct a large number of financial management seminars all over the country. For example, I am conducting 10 workshops in 6 locations at Ambala, Ludhiana, Meerut, near Shimla, Pune and Ahmednagar in the month of June 2015 itself where I would be connecting with more than 1000 armed forces personnel. The aim of these workshops is purely investor education while actively dissuading any form of company marketing.

WF: What is the size and structure of your team?

Sanjeev: We are right now 12 strong team, basically limited by physical space and quality of manpower available for hiring in this field. We aim to solve the space problem in a month's time but we know that we will continue to be hard-pressed to get the kind of financial planners that we desire for our team. However, efforts continue to get good and committed planners. I'm looking at doubling my team size in the next 1 - 1 ½ years, and the team will continue to be largely qualified Financial Planners.

WF: What are plans for the next 3 years? Having tasted great success, what is the long term vision you have set for Hum Fauji Initiatives?

Sanjeev: Next 3 years will definitely see us become a major force in the field, present at multi-locations. We would be into everything where my clients' and prospects' finances are involved - financial planning, financial advisory, physical assets, financial assets, wills and trusts, general insurance, loans or anything else that comes up. We continue to improve upon our offerings and make especially the financial advisory part robust. However, the running thread through all that we do will always be ethics - we have not sold even a single life insurance policy to any of our clients in our entire existence because we are convinced that everybody should only take online Term Insurance as the life insurance.

My dream is to continue to work at national level but operate at local level irrespective of how big we grow - implying that the entire focus of the team-members will continue to be personalised and customised attention to each individual client. Conveyer belt advisory and investments will NEVER be the vehicle to grow at Hum Fauji Initiatives.

I also see my company as being into a lot of CSR initiatives, some of which we are already doing and some more we will announce shortly. For example, we charge no fees whatsoever from widows and similarly distressed families, and go all out to help them in whatever way we ever can.

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