Billimoria’s financial journey: from just 1 client to ₹550 crore assets | Mint

Billimoria’s financial journey: from just 1 client to 550 crore assets

Dilshad Billimoria started in 2001 with Birla Sun Life Distribution as a business development officer.
Dilshad Billimoria started in 2001 with Birla Sun Life Distribution as a business development officer.

Summary

Dilzer Consultants founder Dilshad Billimoria tells why she has not charged any advisory fees in certain cases.

Bengaluru-based Dilshad Billimoria started her advisory journey from Birla Sun Life Distribution in the early 2000s, much before market regulator Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi) carved out a separate category for financial planners—Registered Investment Advisers (RIAs)— in 2013. Billimoria recounts her financial journey over the years, from having just one office boy and handling one client to now managing around 550 crore of assets under advisory (AUA), in this special Mint series commemorating a decade of Sebi’s creation of RIAs (Mint has been speaking to advisers who have completed or are nearing a decade in the profession), and explains why she has not charged her clients any fees in certain cases. Edited excerpts from an interview:

Describe your career before you became an RIA?

I started in 2001 with Birla Sun Life Distribution as a business development officer for two-and-a-half years before the entrepreneurial bug bit me. That’s when I started Dilzer Consultants. So, it has been almost 22 years now. Earlier, it was mainly product-centric, or selling various types of investment products. But in 2008, when I did my Certified Financial Planning, (CFP) course, there was a drastic change in the way I looked at investors, money and finances and thereafter it was all about serving clients’ interests better.

An RIA's Journey
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An RIA's Journey

How was the financial advisory landscape before the RIA regulations were introduced?

Back then, everyone could advise clients on their overall financial planning or wealth management, regardless of whether they had the requisite certifications/qualifications. There was a category of brokers and stock tip providers who gave wrong advice. All this prompted Sebi to come out with a detailed regulatory framework for RIAs.

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The RIA regulations have evolved over the years. Sebi brought out four discussion papers where it proposed changes and sought comments of the advisory community. There have been changes with regard to compliances, fees, client segregation, certification, qualification, experience requirements, etc., in the interest of investors.

This has helped the overall industry to mature and clients to recognize there are fiduciary professionals working in their interests.

Tell us about your first client.

Our first client connected with me when I was at Birla Sun Life Distribution. He was in his 50s then. It was almost accidental in the way he became my first client. He had called up the company (Birla Sun Life Distribution) with some query and as the business development officer, I had attended to the call. He later told me that I had tried to understand what he wanted, rather than merely trying to push a product. So, two years later, when I told him that I was starting on my own, he very gladly joined me.

Can you walk us through the growth in your practice?

We started in July 2001. It was just me, one client and the office boy. Luckily, my father offered to share space with me in his office. Then, we hired an operations person. In 2008, we recruited some planners. Later, we hired researchers. All this happened between 2011 to 2015. We also added compliance and accounting teams, besides human resource personnel. Today, we are a team of 14 people across various departments.

What has been your proudest moment of serving a client?

There have been many. When our clients realize their financial goals, whether it is related to their children’s education, marriage, retirement, etc. it gives us a sense of great satisfaction. We have also reduced debt to a great extent for a lot of our clients, improved their free cash flow and helped them do better budgeting.

Amid all this, I remember one very interesting case that we were involved with during the covid pandemic. This is about an 82-year-old man who had just recovered from a surgery and reached out to me, saying he wanted to donate his entire life savings to charity. His only relative was a sister but he did not want to will her anything. Instead, he wanted to give away all his assets to children orphaned by covid. We did not charge him anything for this. We did a lot of research and tried finding specific covid-affected victims but couldn’t really get that data. Finally, we zeroed in on an NGO in Bengaluru that could be entrusted with this. We were able to ensure that the client visited the place and see for himself the work done and he was very happy with it. He has made his will and donated all his savings to the charity. That case gave me a lot of satisfaction. The NGO also started investing with us two months ago when it realized we were doing this in right earnest.

Did you ever regret something that you had recommended in good faith?

From the early days, we mainly regretted promoting insurance products, which, at times, didn’t even cover inflation. More recently, it was the episode related to Franklin Templeton. We had recommended investments in the Franklin India Low Duration and other funds which were meant for a very short period and for emergency money. It impacted some of our clients negatively. That episode, I think, led to the research methodology that we are following now in terms of due diligence on all kinds of investment assets.

Do you put into practice what you advise?

Of course! That is most important: doing good for the client, being fiduciary. My husband always says that I don’t actually pay as much attention to our own portfolio as that of our clients. That’s a drawback I hope to rectify in the new year. But, one thing that has helped us earn the trust of our clients and reduce client attrition to below 5% is the ethics we follow in all our activities, advisory and services.

What has been the most challenging part about being an adviser?

There could be advisory biases, which could impact the overall planning sometimes, and needs to be nullified by teamwork so that it’s not just one person’s advice that is going into the practice.

Is there anything in the Sebi regulations that you would like to change?

As part of the board of Association of Registered Investment Advisers (Aria), we had worked on a risk-profiling frequency research paper, in association with the Suitable Advice Institute, where we are trying to create awareness on how often risk-profiling should be done for clients.

First, the risk profiler should be able to capture all the necessary information. There is a need to standardize risk profiling across various intermediaries. Second, we need to know whether the nomination process be standardized across various regulators, whether it is do with insurance, pension, mutual funds, PMS (portfolio management services), etc.

Another new initiative that we are working on at Aria is how widows can make the best use of the proceeds received after the death of their spouses, and how they can channel it into investments that could help them in their growth. Currently, we are working on two such cases: for people who want regular income, and at the same time, capital preservation for that money.

India has only 1,300 RIAs now. What more can be done to see this number grow?

The future of advisory is in financial advisory and fiduciary roles. There is a lot of scope for growth in the industry.

As part of the Aria board and the women’s committee, we are working with colleges to try and reach out directly to the students and showcase the importance of wealth management and investment advisory as a career choice for women. To showcase that even if there are any career breaks for any reason, you can still do a lot in this industry.

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