“As the company’s CEO, I am right now running three different strategies- regain, reinvent, and recreate”: Sundeep Sikka
In a chat with Radhakrishnan Chonat of AlphaStreet, Sundeep Sikka, Executive Director & CEO, Nippon Life India Asset Management Ltd recapitulates his journey in the last two years.
To say that the last two years have been challenging for Sundeep Sikka would be an understatement. For one, he has had to deal with the dynamics of a change in promoters. In October 2018, Nippon paid Rs 6,000 crore for 75% stake in Reliance AMC, making it the single-largest promoter. The Japanese company bought 26% stake in the company in 2012. This was followed by the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns across the globe. “Both happened at the same time. The transition from being a purely Indian company to a Japanese company was like chalk and cheese, you know, because of the difference in how they operate. However, the management team was the same, and this helped in making the transition very smooth. Then COVID-19 struck, and in one shot our offices and branch networks were closed. This happened when we were on the path to recovery after the shareholding change,” said Sikka.
However, the man at the helm surprised many, and the numbers speak for themselves. Of the 20 lakh new investors that entered the industry last year, nine lakh came to Nippon. Sikka explains the reason behind this. He says, “A large part of our investments were focused on digital over the last five years. This helped us adopt the new normal very fast and new investors were also added to the industry. We feel this was the best year for us as more than 50% of the business that we do right now comes through the digital domain.”
“Also, I think it’s ultimately all about local execution. I have learnt that to be successful, you cannot see the investor as a data point. I think every investor is unique, and you must understand what he wants,” Sikka adds.
“In a country like India, the majority of investors will save for a reason, such as for the next generation, or goal-based investing. They are not looking for superlative returns, rather they want consistent returns and very simple products which they can understand. Most importantly, the money they invest should be available when they need it,” he says.
The growing popularity of mutual funds accompanies declining investment in real estate and gold. “The way I see it, I think the time is not far away when 25% of Indian households will be investing in mutual funds,” Sikka says.
He describes his management style as one in which he backs his people. “I think, as a leader, I believe everybody is good, everybody is right, and everybody is giving his best till the time he does something wrong,” he said.
Nippon has been amongst the first to introduce passive funds – ETFs and index funds – in the Indian markets, and an increasing number of people are choosing to invest in these. Data from the Association of Mutual Funds in India (AMFI) shows that, the assets under management (AUM) of gold and other ETFs have grown from Rs 0.94 lakh crore in September 2018 to Rs 2.19 lakh crore in September 2020. “This reflects an encouraging trend among investors, as more investors are moving towards passive investing. By design, we are a faceless organization with very institutionalised processes. I mean that we don’t have – or want – the halo effect that accompanies any individual, whether it’s the fund manager or CEO,” says Sikka.
In passive schemes, other than implementing changes in the benchmark indices, fund managers are not proactive in the decision-making process. Owing to this, these financial instruments carry lower fund management charges, which translates into lower expense ratios. So, passive funds emerge as a low-cost investment option.
An avid reader and browser, Sikka’s interests range from psychology to food. He says, “I keep myself updated, I read a lot. But more than books, I enjoy surfing. My interests are varied, especially human psychology, because I feel that helps you when you’re with your family, your team, and also the consumer”. He confesses to being a foodie and reads on the subject too.
The man who has been in the midst of a fast-changing scenario summarizes his strategy. “I think if you were to ask me, mentally we are presently running three different strategies- regain, reinvent, and recreate. Regain what we lost in the last two to three years, reinvent ourselves in the present environment, and recreate for the future,” he says.
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