I went with a group of financial planners to India. The trip was organized by the Financial Planning Association and People to People. The goal with this trip was to interact with financial planners in India and exchange ideas.
I took a similar trip to China in 2011 and really enjoyed the experience. I knew that this trip would be as exciting and was not let down.
First full day in New Delhi
After breakfast, we had a short briefing of our meetings for the next 2 weeks. It will be a busy schedule, but we should have some fun too.
We took a tour of New Delhi in the morning. The most exciting part was the rickshaw ride. Our ride took us through some narrow streets filled with electrical wiring that would give any electrician a stroke. Our driver told us repeatedly how hard he was working, but he was just looking for an even bigger tip. I can’t believe there are not more crashes the way everybody drives here. Our guide told us this joke: People here aren’t afraid to take chances while driving because they believe in reincarnation.
Anyhow, here is a little video I shot of the adventure.
I really got a kick out of the three wheel trucks zipping around. Most are running on CNG (compressed natural gas), which would make T. Boone Pickens proud (see here for more info). There were also lots of stray dogs, a few monkeys, and cows playing in the roads.
Next we visited a silk rug factory. I had seen how rugs were made when I went to China. But this guy really explained how it is good to walk on the rugs and how durable they are. Still, I thought my wife would kill me if I spent $12,500 for a rug for my office. He did have some interesting tidbits. There are fewer and fewer artisans making rugs. It used to be a trade handed down from parent to child. Today’s kids aren’t interested in making rugs. He complained that his kids just wanted to sit around and text each other. Sounds like an American problem.
We had a little down time (AKA nap time) back at the hotel before going to a meeting with the FPSB (Financial Planning Standards Board) and a local chamber of commerce. It was interesting to hear about the financial planning business in India.
Here are some things that I found interesting
- Large underground economy
- People buy gold and real estate for safety
- Not enough bank branches – rural areas underserved
- Foreign banks may start doing business in India if 25% of their branches are rural
- People may now buy foreign stocks/mutual funds
- India is on schedule to be the 3rd biggest economy in 2030 behind the US and China
- About 1800 CFPs in India. Not too bad for a program that started in 2002.
That’s about it for now!
Today we met with financial advisers in New Delhi. We broke up in to 4 groups. My group’s first adventure took us to a firm called Asset Managers. It took us about 30 minutes to get to the office although they had allocated 60 minutes just in case.
We met with Surya Bhatia and discussed the challenges we have in our respective countries. Surya started out as an accountant and then added financial planning to the list of offerings he offers his clients. Here are some interesting takeaways from the meeting:
- Many Indians have 70-80% of their net worth in real estate
- They don’t make much on the rental income, 2.5% -3.5% returns.
- Mutual funds and stocks are often added due to the high liquidity
- They can do something similar to a 1031 exchange to avoid taxes in real estate
- No capital gains taxes if you hold a stock/mutual fund for over a year in India!
- As a country, they have an envious savings rate 20-30%!
- They recently came out with a color-coding system for the risk of mutual funds. Brown (most risk) – Blue (moderate) – Yellow (least). Nobody seems to know why those colors were picked…
We gathered back together at a central location for lunch consisting of some local Indian fast food. It was vegetarian, but really good.
Next we had a ‘knowledge café’ where we met with approximately 30 local financial advisers. Again, we broke up into groups and discussed topics such as social media, women and investing, and risk management. It was interesting to hear how similar our businesses are. Things I noted from this meeting:
- More and more single Indian women looking for financial planning
- Wives are becoming more involved in financial aspects of the family
- They have limited transparency in their investment products. It is hard to see what the fees really are (much like the US where expense ratio doesn’t cover everything)
Finally we left the knowledge café and drove as groups to our next meeting. Our group went to the International College of Financial Planning (www.icofp.org). This school offers the coursework necessary to take the CFP exam. Their students range from college kids to financial advisers in the industry. They asked if we would be interested in meeting with students via Skype. That sounds cool!
For dinner, we went to a local BBQ restaurant. This was a neat experience. They put a small BBQ (maybe 1 foot square) in a hole in the table. They kept bringing us meat skewers as long as our flag was up. When we finally turned the flag down, we were done.
Communicating with people in India has been pretty easy. Most Indians take English in school. With a dozen or so official languages and many more unofficial languages, English is the language that is common all across the country.
Our next day takes us to Agra where we will get to see the Taj Mahal.
We took a bus up to Agra. Our route took us on a big highway, which was pretty empty. I noticed many private universities being built along the route. They don’t seem to be near any towns, so I assume part of the buildings must be dorms.
There was plenty of new construction along the highway too. Many high-rise buildings with apartments were being built. Apparently people who don’t have enough money to buy real estate in large cities will buy these apartments just for the appreciation. Sounds strangely familiar…
The Taj Mahal was beautiful. It is definitely something you should see. The grounds were as beautiful as the structure itself. The inlaid marble is amazing.
We had “High Value” tickets ($13 or so) so we got to avoid lots of the long lines (like the Disneyland EZ Pass!). The part I did not like was visiting the actual tomb. There was very low light, we were all squished together, and you really couldn’t see much because of the screens.
After the Taj, we went to a local store where they sell inlaid marble made by hand just like they did when the Taj Mahal was built. We saw demonstrations of how they cut and shape the precious stones and got to try our hand at carving the marble. Of course there was a sales presentation associated with it, but I got out of there with most of my money.
Between the drive and the Taj Mahal, it was a long day.
After breakfast, we toured the Red Fort in Agra. It wasn’t as impressive as the Taj, but when you think how these ancient buildings were built without modern machinery, you really appreciate the work that went into it.
Instead of the highway, we took surface streets back to the airport. Lots of pretty colored water (bright blue, green, black, etc) that make some of the US pollution problems look pretty simple. Their lack of highways really make me appreciate the US interstate system. Eisenhower was a genius for getting that started.
We flew Indigo airlines from Delhi to Mumbai. It was a nice new A320 plane and they got us to Mumbai safely. After collecting our bags at the airport, we had an hour bus ride to our hotel. My room had been previously occupied (half empty bottle of water, welcome letter to some other guest, bathroom had been used) so they moved me to another room. I was able to get to bed around 11pm. Another tiring day!
We attended the 2013-2014 Financial Planning Symposium hosted by the Financial Planning Standards Board of India. The theme of the meeting was “Managing a Financial Planning Practice Amidst Dynamic Economic Environments.” There were six sessions of about an hour each. Each session had a panel of 6-8 planners and had a moderator.
I was on the panel for “Need for Regulations – Implications for Financial Planning.” I think a common theme between India and US planners is “We hate the regulators, but we’re sure glad they are there.” After all, there are some rules and regulations that just don’t make sense and only cause a lot of extra work. We would love to see them go. But on the other hand, there are some real sleazy people out there looking to swindle people.
I did learn some interesting things about India’s pension system. It is a public pension system that manages about $6 billion in assets. There are about 5 million subscribers of which 300,000 are in private industries and the rest are government workers. The private industries have been able to contribute to this system for 2 years.
When it is time for someone to access their pension, they annuitize their money through one of 7 annuity companies. Interesting that they get their choice of annuity companies.
The pension system is working hard to educate people about the system and the benefits of contributing to it. They are hoping to have more private industries participate in it.
The neat thing about this is you can hop from job to job and your pension can go with you. This is not the case in the US.
We will be meeting with some local advisers here in Mumbai tomorrow, on Nov 19.
Our day started off with a visit to the FPSB (Financial Planning Standards Board) India offices. The staff was very gracious and we enjoyed a presentation about the FPSB.
We visited the office of Amar Pandit in Mumbai. He has written several books including children’s books on financial planning. He also has a board game that teaches about investing.
Amar wanted to open a financial planning firm in 2005 but wasn’t sure if he wanted to do it in the US or India. He finally chose India and has built up a successful practice.
Our next visit was to Ambition Learning Systems, which teaches the coursework, needed for the CFP®. They have been working on quite a bit of online coursework so they can reach people across the country. You can see some of their videos at http://www.youtube.com/user/AmbitionLearning
Our day finished with a dinner at the Bombay Yacht Club. A number of local planners came and we got to know them on a more personal basis.
We visited the Gateway of India (not to be confused with India Gate). Then we visited a local dubbing studio where we saw how the voice dubbing for commercials was done. A local movie studio opened its doors to us and we saw a Bollywood movie being filmed. We parted with most of our group as they were going home instead of flying to Kathmandu with the rest of us.
Our flight into Kathmandu had an incredible view of the Himalayas. We checked into our hotel (The Yak and Yeti, what a great name!) and had a wonderful Nepalese dinner that featured some dancing girls. The food is very similar to India, which wasn’t very surprising.
We started our day by getting up early to go to the airport to take a flight around Mt. Everest. Unfortunately the clouds were too thick, so we had to cancel the trip. We visited a couple interesting sites in the Kathmandu valley:
At the Pashupatinath Temple we saw lots of cremations by the river. They cremate the body shortly after death. It was interesting seeing this part of the culture.
We had lunch at a restaurant at the Boudhanath which overlooked something interesting. A local resident had just passed away. People were decorating a box with flowers. Then they put the body, wrapped in cloth in it, and walked around the circle with horns, drums, and flags. With so many people in attendance, the person must have been well liked.
After 20+ hours sitting in an airplane seat, I made it from Kathmandu to Delhi to Newark to Vegas. Fortunately the United 777 that I spent 15 hours on had a great entertainment system. Unlike my trip home from China that had American food, this flight had more Indian food. I really enjoy Indian food (and gained a few pounds on the trip), but was really looking for something from home.
Getting to meet financial planners in India was a wonderful experience. While this profession is relatively young in India (10 years or so), they are learning from the US and embracing what works. I didn't get that feeling from China.
Some things that really stuck out to me:
- India will have a hard time convincing people to invest in assets other than gold and real estate
- India has some heavy hitters in the mutual fund industry that will help change people's ideas about investing
- There are some real talented financial planners in India
- Indians are limited by the government on investments outside the country
- The government outlawed commissions a few years ago forcing anybody left in the industry to move to a fee based model
It is exciting to see India embracing the financial planning model.