My journey in financial education

As I launch another financial education series, I want to share why I do what I do.

I have been working on financial education for decades.

It all started during the dot com boom

I first started working on investor education in 1999 as a twenty-something year old working at an influential investment research firm in Australia. We were trying to help investors select the appropriate asset allocation, mutual fund and stocks within their retirement accounts – given that they were about to get that choice in the middle of a raging bull market. We didn’t quite make it to them – the sharemarket bubble burst, they lost money in their retirement accounts and I lost money on the dot-com. We absorbed the intellectual capital into the parent research firm and offered it to appreciative financial advisers instead, who could now offer better advice. The idea was put on the back burner.

Leading up to the 2008 bull market, I tried to revive the idea with my now institutional consulting employer. I was excited when the Indian regulators drafted a comprehensive plan on financial education. The market crashed again, the government changed, the idea was put on the back burner again. I got wiser, okay disillusioned, and quit corporate life eventually.

I tried again in 2012 this time as a content startup that would provide continuing professional development to wealth managers and short animated videos to their investors at ‘point of sale’. The Indian industry was not interested so I folded up.

In 2014, I wrote a book, but never sent it to the publisher because a friend’s feedback was that I was trying to go from 0 to 10. I had started with the very basics of personal finance and ended up with very advanced techniques of how to select mutual funds and stocks.

Frustrated, I started blogging on LinkedIn in 2015. A few of my posts did well – and to my surprise, I found myself on the inaugural global TopVoices list for finance. I got an offer to collaborate on a web-series in which we used humour – the coin-headed Sikka was a proxy for the finance industry that spouted jargon while I tried to communicate the basic premise that finance was common sense. It worked! But then the firm shut down.

Over the next few years, I kept experimenting with formats – short videos, explainer illustrations, podcasts, some with the help of the investor education budgets of mutual funds, but mostly on my own. A few more LinkedIn proofs later, just as I was getting ready to pitch for an OTT web series, of course there was a bull market, not just in the stock market but also in the content pushed out by twenty-something ‘finfluencers’. You guessed it – it went on the back burner again.

But never one to give up completely, I pitched an idea to the folks at Zerodha/Rainmatter which was investing in fintech startups. While every fintech startup was planning to sell mutual funds, my premise was they will need more trained staff. The number of mutual fund distributors (MFD) has been stagnating at best, dropping by most accounts. Commercial training providers focus on students passing the required examination but don’t even provide an introduction to the real mutual fund industry, let alone any communication or customer skills. The regulator’s proposed sandbox to encourage internships within mutual fund houses met with a lukewarm response. In this environment, could we create an army of genuinely interested MFDs, ideally financial coaches, using a massive open online course (MOOC) with an internship?

Mindful to focus on what matters

Zerodha/Rainmatter agreed to give my idea a shot. So I am happy to present Money Mindful.

Money Mindful is a video series that will have sub-playlists –

  • The personal finance (PF) series is aimed at everyone, but also addresses the first chapter of the MFD curriculum. We intend to continue this series to cover a range of other personal finance topics, so that it compliments Zerodha’s Varsity series.
  • The mutual fund distributor (MFD) series is aimed at anyone interested in mutual funds specifically, whether for personal investing or considering a career in financial services. For anyone interested in the career option, we will embed this series in a MOOC so that learners get the benefit of a structured course with a learning community, assignments and assessments to help with the learning and links to recruitment platforms.
  • The behavioural finance insights series that builds on the personal finance series

At first glance, the videos may look similar to the millions of videos available online. But that’s the point – there are millions of videos available online. How do investors know which ones to trust? Compared to when I started on this journey about 25 years ago, we now don’t lack access to information. We now need curation. From trusted sources.

We are combining my qualifications and experience ((including the CFA charter and investment research and consulting) with the trust that Zerodha and Rainmatter bring to the table. Within the videos too, I finish each with the salient points that everyone should be mindful about – so that the message doesn’t get lost.

MFD as a starting point to a career in finance

I started my career in finance as an investment adviser, advising on mutual funds mostly. I believe a similar start would be beneficial for anyone else who wants to join the finance industry.

While most finance students I engage with want to go into investment banking, I believe they would benefit from an overview of the industry, in which mutual funds are one of the most important institutional investors. After all, as investment bankers, these aspirants will need to sell their clients’ stake to these institutional investors. They would also be well advised to understand the retail investor, who pretty much all the institutional investors, including pension funds, are managing the money for.

Beyond the stepping stone, there is actually a fulfilling end career in becoming financial coaches in some shape or form. Financial coaching/advice is a great career combining technical and interpersonal skills, allowing practitioners to combine the two aspects or choose whichever one they enjoy more. It can lead to employment within the wealth management industry (which has been hungry for talent for a long time) or self-employment which allows flexible work.

I think it’s a brilliant career for women as they tend to enjoy careers requiring empathy and flexibility.

Mindfulness about money may lead to health and environment

Lastly, I would like to stress the word ‘mindful’. Being mindful means being acutely aware. Nowadays we pay too much attention to maximising wealth – without realising that money is just a tool. It can be used to lead a better life but pursuing too much of it can also lead us astray, causing us stress and unhappiness. The mindless pursuit of money and growth has also caused harm to the environment.

Hopefully, we can learn to be mindful about money, health and the environment.

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