Building on trust

Building on trust

Soumya Rajan started Waterfield Advisors to provide families and family-owned businesses with a wide spectrum of financial and advisory solutions. In the next two years, she aims to consolidate its position domestically and take the brand global

POORNIMA KAVLEKAR

With over 17 years of experience in the banking sector, Soumya Rajan, turned entrepreneur with Waterfield Advisors (Waterfield), a professional and institutional India-focused boutique advisory firm, in 2011. During her banking career, Rajan had nurtured and groomed many relationships for her employer, ANZ Grindlays Bank. “This is when I realised that when you are working with a family or a client, the solution that the client is looking for is not always with the firm that you represent,” recalls Rajan.  She adds, “When you are working with a formal financial institution, there is always a product or service push.” She found that when representatives from these institutions met families or entrepreneurs, they were not asking questions about what they need but followed their own agenda.

She started Waterfield as an advisory firm for families, family-owned businesses and trusts. A company that Rajan bootstrapped since inception, Waterfield, has grown to currently manage around 30 different families across different verticals and has 12 people in its team.  Instead of looking for funding during the early days, Rajan and her team worked on stabilising the revenue and business model. Recently, Amit Patni and Arihant Patni have acquired a minority stake in Waterfield and the funds will be deployed to strengthen the advisory firm’s family office services portfolio as well as expand its offerings in the domestic market. Talking about this investment, Amit Patni says, “Today, the concept of multi-family offices is very mature in international markets. We wanted to build a similar platform in India to provide services to families that are grappling with liquidity issues and they do not get right advice.” Along with Rajan, the Patni brothers plan to build Waterfield in to a global company offering services across various platforms. “Our role is to connect Waterfield with other families, help Soumya build the team where we bring in senior professionals and set the goals in the terms of what should be the vision in the next two to three years. We will also help with networking, media coverage and help take the brand to a national level,” he says.

Broad strokes

The company provides advisory services to entrepreneurs, UHNW families, trusts and corporate clients under three broad verticals that include family office services, corporate advisory services and alternative asset management (private equity and real estate).  Under the multi-family office services, it offers investment management, intergenerational wealth transfer that looks at setting up trusts and estates for the next generation, family governance and family constitution, philanthropy and wealth transfer.

“Family offices business is at a very nascent stage in India as it is being showcased under investment management services by multiple financial institutions. But, in the true sense, family offices is really a structure that is created in order to avoid conflicts in families as wealth passes on from one generation to the next,” clarifies Rajan. It is a vehicle created to ensure that the segregation of wealth is neatly executed across generations, which will enable every individual member to continue their personal goals and aspirations.

In the context of the Indian business owner, as business is linked to the personal side of their wealth, the company has corporate advisory services as well where it looks at merger and acquisition opportunities and helps them create equity. As the company’s target firms are typically those who have investible surplus from Rs. 50 crore to Rs. 500 crore, the alternative assets space is also an important part of the clients’ overall assets and, hence, private equity and real estate also forms an integral part of the overall well being of the family.

Waterfield currently operates out of Mumbai and has plans of opening offices in Bengaluru and New Delhi. The company is planning to increase its team strength to 20 in the next three to four months. “As we are working with clients with a large investible surplus, we need people who have seen at least a few economic cycles to engage with the promoter family,” says Rajan.

Building trust

The firm offers a proposition of a no conflict of interest approach in dealing with clients.  “Building a financial services company is all about trust. You are not selling a product. You are trying to build a bigger brand for the longer term. It is not something you build overnight unlike a lot of other companies,” says Rajan.  Building a financial services company requires far more patience, tenacity and certain degree of leveraging the trust factor with clients. The company does not have any products but just acts as a conscience keeper for the families it works with.

Over the next few years, Waterfield aims to have around 250 families as its clients. In the next two years, it is planning to expand domestically. “We are also looking at setting up an NBFC which will supplement our growth plan,” shares Rajan. Once it has consolidated its position domestically, Waterfield plans to take its brand global. “And to facilitate that, some work will start now in terms of working with global family offices in the U.S. and U.K.,” says a confident Rajan.


ON A LIGHTER NOTE: 

Typical day: Just like how it is for any entrepreneur in their early stages, a typical day is where all 24 hours are about business and about setting the right tone, emphasis on the right culture being set in the organisation. My day revolves mostly around what my clients need and to make sure that we are delivering on what they want. In the early days one needs to put in a lot more into the business and that is really what I am doing now. 

Turning point: Getting a scholarship to study at Oxford. That changed my entire life and everything that followed from there. 

Key lessons learnt during the entrepreneurial journey: You have to set out on a mission and believe in what you are trying to create; never lose sight of your goal; people will keep coming in and sharing other ideas, do not clutter your mind, stick your plan. But, adapt if you think something is going wrong and always remember to keep it simple. 

Favourite book: It’s a management book called the Blue Ocean Strategy.  It is very simple and lucid.  

Unwind:  I love music and singing.