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"The Indian market hasn't moved much"

Ajay Srinivasan, heading the Asian region for Prudential plc, tells Mutual Fund Insight, that how he transformed the fund management business from nothing in to a $10 billion business in five years

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With assets over Rs 13,000 crore, Prudential ICICI Mutual Fund is the second largest fund house in the industry. Barring a brief stint with ITC Threadneedle, Ajay Srinivasan, now the managing director of Regional Mutual Fund of Prudential plc, Asia, has been associated with ICICI since its hey days as a financial institution. In 1998, when Prudential picked up stake in ICICI Mutual, Ajay Srinivasan took charge as the managing director of the rechristened Prudential ICICI Mutual. From being a laggard player with just two closed –end funds, the AMC spearheaded to become the largest player by 2000. Ajay Srinivasan was then entrusted with the task of setting up regional business for Prudential plc.

In a detailed conversation with Mutual Fund Insight in July, he shares his experience on how Indian investor as well as the markets have changed and what are the opportunities that lie ahead.

How did you begin your career?
Over the years, I have had the good fortune of being associated with most of facets of business and finance. These experiences have enriched me and I believe that it will hold me in good stead today. Let me start though with my educational background. After my graduation in economics from St Stephens College, Delhi University, I went to the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad. I joined ICICI from campus where I spent four years doing a variety of things such as project appraisals for various industries and some special projects, such as predicting signals of distress for companies and industries. It was a very interesting and rewarding experience.

The financial services boom was starting in the early nineties and I wanted to join a company that was in this industry. ITC was looking to get into financial services; I joined them and invested some of their proprietary funds for a while. Then, I helped them set up their broking business and was also part of the team that helped establish the joint venture with Peregrine. In 1996, I was entrusted with setting up the asset management joint venture for ITC with Threadneedle. When ITC Threadneedle was set up, I moved there as the chief investment officer. Within a year, I was made deputy chief executive officer, with an expat CEO as in-charge.

In February 1998, Prudential signed a joint venture agreement with ICICI covering life insurance, pension funds and mutual funds, and took a stake in the asset management company. I moved to my first CEO position in February 1998 with Prudential ICICI.

I continued to run mutual fund operations in India till the end of 2000. In April 2000, I was given regional responsibilities and I moved to Hong Kong to set up Prudential's regional business in January 2001. I am now responsible for the entire fund management business across the region, comprising of eight countries from India to Taiwan. I oversee the investment function of the life insurance businesses in Asia as well. Total funds under management are currently over $25 billion and on the mutual funds side, we've grown from having about $30 million when we started in 1998 to $10 billion today.

How have you seen the Indian investment environment change over the years?
Let me try and answer this question in three dimensions: asset classes, infrastructure and investor attitude. I have seen various phases in the Indian investment environment where a lot of things have happened. Mutual funds, for instance, were not as big five years ago as they are now. Funds are today much more a part of people's lives than they were five years ago. Of course, we believe, given the low penetration of mutual funds even today, they still have a long way to go. Company fixed deposits, on the other hand, were a big part of the savings pie five years ago, but they are much less significant today.

The stock market hasn't really moved muc
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