Stop making excuses, Mr. IFA


For many growth hungry IFAs, the biggest bottleneck they see is creating and growing a team of salespersons/RMs to accelerate customer acquisition and seize business opportunities. Ashish Modani shares a very timely thought leading set of 3 articles, where he walks you through his own experiences in successfully creating and growing his team. In this first edition of the 3 part series, Ashish takes you through how you need to first prepare yourself to lead a team before you can think of hiring a team. And the first step in preparing yourself is to stop making excuses! Ashish is blunt with his words, but very well meaning with his message - a message that growth hungry IFAs will do well to reflect on, introspect honestly and take necessary action, to harness fully the immense growth opportunities that lie ahead of you.



I have been travelling recently across the country, meeting IFAs in Guwahati, Pune, Punjab, different cities in Rajasthan, meeting IFAs and exchanging notes on building successful practices. One common issue that came through in all these interactions is constraints that IFAs see in building sales teams that can supplement their sales and client engagement efforts. Team for most consists of back office staff and runner boys. This obviously puts a bottleneck on their growth - there is only so much that you can grow by improving operational productivity - beyond a point, you have to be willing and able to hire and manage a sales team that can help you scale up your business.

The last couple of years have given us a neat preview of the coming tsunami of investor interest in mutual funds. For IFAs, this is THE opportunity to scale up and grow - else we risk getting progressively marginalized. I believe one of the biggest risks we are therefore running is our unwillingness to build sales teams. I say unwillingness and not inability because from all my conversations with so many advisors, what comes through clearly is FEAR. Fear that we will hire a sales person, expose him to our clients and then he will take them away and set up his own practice. Fear that we will hire and train sales people and some big brand will come and poach them away from us. Fear about how this sales person will engage with our clients, whether he will mis-sell or mislead, whether he will put your reputation at risk. Fear, fear, fear.


In my business, I am currently managing a 14 member team - 7 are in sales and 7 in support functions. Over the next 2 years, I plan to add 10 more people in sales - to make the most of the huge growth opportunities all of us can see in the market. What I am going to share in this article series is my experience in building a team. I don't claim to be right - there are many IFAs who are older and wiser than me - all that I am penning down is my own experiences in an area that I see most IFA hurting badly. I hope my observations and experiences can give you some insights into how you wish to embark on the journey of building your team. Whether you find these observations useful or not, one thing I can say for sure: darna band karo - darrkeaagejeethai.

I am going to share my observations in 3 parts:

  1. Preparing yourself first

  2. Hiring and training

  3. Motivation and retention

This article will cover part 1: preparing yourself first.

I believe before you take the first step towards hiring a sales person, you need to reflect on, and if necessary, make some fundamental changes in yourself first. There are 4 major aspects that I want to share on preparing yourself to build and lead a team. Pardon my being blunt on these aspects - I do hope you will take it in the right spirit, because if there is some introspection needed, somebody has to tell the truth.

1. Stop making excuses

I met an IFA from Delhi at an AMC meet who asked me, "Ashish how do manage a team?" I did not know how to reply in few words and merely said, "Ho jatihai.." He immediately said, boss you are lucky, you are in Jaipur. You know Delhi is a big city, big market.. here talent doesn't stick, they have loads of option. If I hire someone, they leave us as they get better opportunities..I was like, Ya!! for sure Delhi is big. I did not comment further.

Coincidently, in the same meet, I also had a similar interaction but this time the advisor was from a city smaller than Jaipur.He asked me the same question, Ashish how do you manage a team.. same question so I replied the same thing.. ho jatihai..He then bounced and said you know Ashish, Jaipur is a big city, I come from a smaller city than Jaipur. Here bloody no one wants to work. At least in Jaipur you have talent and people are willing to work.

I pondered over my position: am I from a small city or a large city? Is it easier or more difficult for me to build a team because of the size of my city? Bottom line is this: stop making excuses, if you really want it. If you really want to build a team, you can do it anywhere. The question you have to ask yourself is how badly you really want to grow. And are you willing to make the necessary change in your attitude for this.


2. Working IN your business vs ON your business

I believe this is a crucial mindset change that IFAs have to make, before embarking on any team building exercise. You must be willing to let go of doing everything yourself and willing to delegate to others, for you to actually benefit from a team. As IFAs, we are all used to working IN our business - we get into every detail ourselves - sales, service, operations, research, communication etc. We trust only ourselves to deal with our clients. This approach of being neck deep IN your business won't help, if we desire to expand. We need to be able to create clear processes and guidelines for every aspect of our business so that our team members know exactly what is expected and what is not - and then we need to leave it to them to actually execute, and we need to create information systems that enable us to get prompt reports for review.

If you are unwilling to let go, you are better off not thinking of creating a team - it will just be a hugely wasteful experience for you and your team members.


3. Be prepared to invest

We tell our clients to keep investing regularly in their equity SIPs for the long term and not look for immediate returns. We educate them about the fruits of patience and conviction. In just the same way, before commencing the journey on building a team, train your mind to make a long term investment and not to look for immediate rewards. Every new member added will need huge investment of your personal time in training, coaching, guiding to imbibe your way of doing business. Every new sales team member will take his time before he can start generating any revenue and longer before he can start contributing towards your profits. You must be prepared to devote substantial time, energy and money towards the activity called team building. If you are a long term investor, you will get huge benefits in the long run. If you approach team building like a day trader, well we all know how many day traders finally land up becoming rich.

4. Define your core values and live by them

When you think of employing a person who will go out into the market and represent you, your firm, your brand, you must be very clear of how you wish to be represented. You have to articulate very clearly what your firm stands for, what it doesn't. What works in your firm, what absolutely doesn't. How you engage with your clients, how you absolutely won't. In other words, you have to first write down what are your core values that guide you - and make sure you hire people who believe in your values. Let everyone in your firm know that there will be absolutely zero tolerance for any compromise on your core values. Ultimately, when your team is out there in front of clients, giving various recommendations, advising clients on what to do and not do, they will decide on where you draw the line only on the basis of the values you clearly set out upfront.

If you believe passionately that your firm's mission is primarily to help families succeed financially, to help families achieve their financial goals and that the money you make in the process is a by-product of living your mission - please make sure you state this loud and clear. Please let every team member know that chasing revenue at the cost of doing what is not good for a client is a clear NO NO in your firm.

You are the role model that your team will look up to, and take cues from. Ensure that you behave as a role model for what you want to see in your team.


Once you have prepared yourself to lead a team, then comes the task of creating your team (hiring and training) and leading your team successfully (motivation and retention). I will cover these aspects in the next two articles of this series.


Content is prepared by Wealth Forum and should not be construed as an opinion of HDFC Mutual Fund.

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