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Getting to Know: Binu Paul

Binu Paul is known in the industry for his fresh approach to the application of technology in financial services. But did you know about his plans to dabble in fashion?

Friday, August 11th 2017, 11:00AM

by Susan Edmunds

Who are you and what do you do?

I have spent the last four years building and growing SavvyKiwi, a fintech product for KiwiSavers and the first of its kind in New Zealand. The initial two years of my startup journey were pretty intense through the product development phase. Over the last year or so, I have taken on a few other initiatives like helping financial advisory firms with fund manager due diligence reports and consulting part-time to the FMA. Also, since last year, I have been designing and convening Finnotec, New Zealand's first dedicated fintech conference series with the aim to bring together the financial services and technology communities in New Zealand. I've been watching the relentless impact of technology on other industries and I haven't seen any compelling argument to say it won't be the same with the financial services industry. It's a really exciting space to be in, and you don't want to be caught napping.

How did you get into the industry?

After attaining an engineering degree, I had the option of pursuing a masters program in technology, but then with some corporate experience under my belt, I decided I was more passionate about wider business issues. So, I quit a day job to spend a couple of years at business school to earn an MBA. Business school is where I picked up an interest in financial markets - primarily what fascinates me about it is its ever-changing nature. I came to New Zealand in the late 90s and since then has been in investment management and related fields including back/middle office, portfolio management and accounting, asset allocation. investment research, fund manager diligence, technology etc. across both institutional and retail segments.

If there is one thing you would like to change about the financial advice industry, what would it be?

Having engaged with the funds management and financial advice communities from the early 2000s, I take comfort from the fact that even though its growing pains continue on, the sector is imminently headed in the right direction. I attribute this to the large enough pool of individuals I have come across in the industry who are passionate about what they do for their clients. I think we have had enough and more changes going on in the industry. On the flip side, the one change I'd like to see is more consumers starting to recognize the value of advice and more importantly being willing to pay for advisory services like in any other service sector, rather than expect things for free. Such a cultural change will fix a number of issues including conflicted remuneration practices and the type of talent the industry attracts.

What’s the best advice you have ever received?

If you don't try you never find out.

What could financial advisers learn from other industries?

Change is inevitable. Adapt. When I consult on fintech solutions for advisers, this is the primary focus. It's about knowing what your capabilities are today and positioning your business for that change. This requires both an understanding of where you are now and a view of upcoming technology trends that you could piggyback off.

What, if anything, surprised you about New Zealand when you moved here?

The scale of the economy was one aspect I took a few years to grasp. If my memory holds true, in the late 90s the entire funds management industry (over 20 managers), managed as much money as a single large US mutual fund. That takes a bit to wrap your head around.

Are you a KiwiSaver member?


If so, what’s your investment strategy?


Outside of work what do you do? 
As a startup entrepreneur, that's a luxury, and it's been the case with me since I quit a day job in 2013 to pursue SavvyKiwi. But as a result, any other time is spent with family.

What has made you interested in roboadvice?

My interest is not specific to roboadvice but in the application of technology across financial services. Roboadvice just happens to be the one that seems to have caught the most attention here in New Zealand. What you want to keep tabs on is not the innovations you see on the surface, but the technologies that underlie those innovations. For example, while cryptocurrencies (digital currencies) are all the rage right now, its the distributed ledger architecture that underpins cryptocurrencies which I believe has far more potential to fundamentally transform how the financial services industry operates.

What future do you see for SavvyKiwi?

I started work on SavvyKiwi with a number of assumptions, both around how the product would engage with consumers as well as its commercial model. Back then in 2013, one thesis I held was that global commission on sales of financial products would be banned over a three to five year period. On that premise, SavvyKiwi earns no revenue from any provider and instead relies solely on consumers paying a subscription fee.

Four years on, that thesis has turned out to be true in a number of jurisdictions, including the UK and parts of south east Asia, with the US heading in that direction, too. But within the current NZ context, SavvyKiwi's 'purist' model is certainly very challenging and perhaps better suited for some of the above markets. The focus in New Zealand is on disclosure and conduct. So, over the past few months, I've been working on a new fintech product on that basis, but it will have an expanded product set and not limited to KiwiSaver.

What would you say if one of your kids told you they wanted to be a financial adviser?

I would encourage them, but only after they articulate why they want to be one. That would apply regardless of whatever they want to do with their careers. Too many people get into their chosen careers for the wrong reasons and often not for the right reasons. In this industry, if you are not in it because of the satisfaction you get out of changing people's lives for the better, and if you can't handle your client's emotional side, and if you are not into process and compliance, then its not for you. Empathy is especially critical. On that note, my view is that a 'transactional adviser' today is a sitting duck, while a 'relationship adviser' has a really bright future with technology.

What’s one thing people may be surprised to know about you?

I got selected to a premier fashion design and merchandise institute, but I decided to instead gain a general management degree. But, it is still in my plans to get back to that sector once I'm done with financial services.

If you weren’t in this job what would you be doing?

Kicking myself for missing out on this journey. I wouldn't change a thing.

Tags: conduct Disclosure financial advisers fintech FMA funds management Getting to Know KiwiSaver roboadvice technology

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