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The idea of wealth today is more about freedom to make life choices: Santosh Navlani

ET Money, an investment and wealth management platform, has built a solid customer base of over 10 million users across 1,400 cities in less than five years. The platform has been a pioneer in building industry-first technical solutions like paperless video KYC for MF investments, and the country’s first Aadhaar-based SIP payment feature, among others.

In conversation with Adgully, Santosh Navlani, COO, ET Money, speaks at length about how ET Money is making efforts for the investors of MF and stocks through its Genius offering, their recent rebranding and much more.

What significance does the recent rebranding of the company have for both the new and old investors in India?

ET Money has been India’s leading wealth management app for products like Mutual Funds, NPS, FDs, Term Life Insurance, and Health Insurance. Users can manage all of their long-term wealth goals without the need for any other app or platform. Typically, mobile-first users in India today slot one app each for their different needs. To ensure we stay true to our vision and are able to communicate that to our end users, we needed a more holistic connection beyond mere facilitation of transactions. We realised the need to have a more cohesive brand narrative to communicate with both our existing and new investors. This required a user first language, creating an emotional connection with the users, and establishing the right positioning for the brand. A positioning that wouldn’t just simplify our holistic proposition, but also act as a guardrail for us to build our future product initiatives around.
The recent rebranding exercise was a result of immersive FGDs that helped us discover that millennial India is breaking away from the “set pattern” of life stages and goals when it comes to giving meaning to their Wealth. Today’s millennials are looking to use money as a way to self-expression of their beliefs, personalities, and their ideas about life. The past practice of “settling in” is changing to an ever-evolving desire to do better in all facets of life. This new evolution is their idea of progress and is quite unique to each individual. Hence, the idea of wealth today is more about a way to acquire freedom to make life choices so that one can achieve progress on one’s own terms, in his/ her own personal way. We decided to manifest this via our brand expression – ‘Investing in the freedom to choose’. Since the rebranding exercise, our entire product, design, and communication strategy are now aligned to this brand expression at all touchpoints, on or off the app. In fact, ET Money Genius, India’s first Wealth management subscription service is the first tangible manifestation of our brand expression “Invest in freedom to choose”.

How is ET Money making efforts for the investors of MF and stocks through the ET Money Genius to help re-align the investors’ approach in the Indian wealth management space?

Today, a record number of people are using digital platforms to invest across Stocks, Mutual Funds, IPOs, NFOs, and Cryptos. With 1,000s of available options and fear of missing out, people are becoming more like shoppers of these investment products than asking questions that if this is what is needed for achieving the freedom to make choices with their wealth. While millennial India has evolved their aspirations from money, but the ways to achieve aren’t yet personalised. Due to this, there are more often than not impulsive investment decisions at play than careful selection of products to construct a winning portfolio.

ET Money Genius intends to bring about a change in these impulsive investing behaviours by using behavioural finance to understand each individual via our investor personality assessment, use quantitative investing models to create portfolios that have demonstrated to fall less and gain more and then marry the investor personality with a personalised investment plan that has been lacking in the Indian wealth management space. Genius goes one step further from passive annual review of portfolios to actionable investment intelligence that investors can apply to their investments to ensure their risks are always controlled and their path to achieving life goals stays intact. 

How is ET Money leveraging technology?

Cost of doing business physically, bias emanating from human advice, and operational challenges that come in the way to serve all customers equally – are all drawbacks of traditional wealth management set-ups. Ultimately, all drawbacks in traditional set-ups jack up costs, and to recover costs, the incentives get misaligned, which then leads to mis-selling. We use technology to eliminate all these drawbacks by digitising investor onboarding, using design thinking to aid product selection, simplifying and easing the transactions via digital KYC, Aadhaar-based eSign, and payments, and finally helping investors track portfolios at their fingertips so that they are always in control. We went a step further recently by analysing and finding patterns in massive datasets of market prices, inflation, interest rates, and valuations to help build investment intelligence that ensures Genius’ portfolios are more often on top of markets.

What is your innovative pricing strategy for Genius during the first week after launch to attract the relevant customers?

There is no greater marketing than word-of-mouth of actual customers. Instead of spending money on advertising during the launch week, we resorted to our millions of users using the app to create buzz, excitement, and initial traction. In the run-up to the launch, we did lots of mystery contests that culminated in gamified pricing, where we offered special pricing to our existing investors on Day 1 of the launch. The price went up every day before it reached our real all-inclusive price of Rs 249 p.m. The approach helped investors lock the special prices for the full 12 months and hence, benefit immensely.

How are you building personalised investment plans by minimising risks for the people?

There is a misconception among many investors that high risk means high returns. On the opposite end, there is an oft-repeated quote from legendary investor Warren Buffett that says there are 2 rules for investing success. Rule No. 1 is do not lose money and rule No. 2 is don’t forget rule No. 1. While this sounds like very good advice in theory, the fact is in real life this is not possible for retail investors. Between this misconception of high risk leads to high returns and this quote from Warren Buffett, there is a more practical approach that we figured using mathematical modelling, better investor profiling, and matching the right investor to the right portfolio strategies. This approach banks on the fact that if you lose less in most of the market falls, then over time, you eventually gain more. We achieve this by constructing portfolios on principles of dynamic asset allocation strategies. 

We then personalise to each investor’s personality, which tells us how much maximum risk each investor can tolerate in their investments. We then find a matching portfolio that has lesser underlying risk than the maximum risk the investors can tolerate.

Lastly, one’s wealth goals can be achieved with higher certainty if one’s investments are lesser in risky assets and more in safer assets when one’s goal is due. We ensured this by incorporating a glide path in each investor’s investment plans.

Could you help us understand customer engagement in the wealth management space?

Money is very emotional and personal. Everyone engages with their wealth differently. Some investors engage with their wealth via tracking portfolios and making frequent changes, some engage more with educational content and analytical/ planning tools that make them better investors.
However, what’s common is how people access wealth-related information. And that is via their mobile phone. People watch videos on YouTube and social platforms, and invest, track and manage all on their mobile phones. And hence, there is a great opportunity in hyper-personalising their experiences in a way that inculcates and reinforces good investing behaviours that will help them achieve the sole purpose behind investments – that is, realising a better future that is as personal as we all aim it to be.

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