Hey there, My name is Rekha, and I had the opportunity to interview Salil Ravindran, a finance transformational leader with over 20 years of finance and strategy experience in various industries and geographies. He has served as CFO at MIC Global, Senior Partner and CFO at Apexon Corporation, EVP and CFO at Marlabs Inc, VP and Global Head of Finance Transformation at Capgemini, and VP and Head of Corporate Finance at IGATE Corporation.
Here are some of the questions I asked and Salil’s responses:
1. Rekha: Can you tell us about your background and how you got into the finance industry?
Salil Ravindran: I could not pursue a career in Engineering as I had wished due to certain unexpected circumstances. Since I was good with math and numbers, I chose to pursue Chartered Accountancy, which enabled me to use my ability with numbers to my advantage. Today, having worked as CFO of many technology and tech-enabled companies, I have the best of both worlds as I work closely with engineering to drive optimal results for the stakeholders.
2. Rekha: Having worked in various industries and held multiple leadership positions. What has been your most significant achievement in your career so far?
Salil Ravindran: Leading IGATE’s $1.5 billion fully-leveraged acquisition of Patni Computers in 2010, along with the CEO and CFO, is my most significant career achievement. Patni presented iGATE with a chance to move to the billion-dollar league, which would position IGATE as a leading player in the fragmented global IT industry. The transaction was highly complex given that it involved two companies listed in different countries, reluctant sellers, the need to raise equity and a large debt, regulatory compliances of two geographies, and tax challenges. I worked on the ground along with the investment bankers, lawyers, auditors, banks, private equity investors, management, and the Board to make the deal go through. Pulling it off against all odds, including the media, which reported negative stories throughout, is my most significant achievement in my career.
3. Rekha: Can you tell us more about your role as the Chief Financial Officer at MIC Global and your responsibilities in that position?
Salil Ravindran: MIC Global is a US-headquartered insurtech that focuses on selling embedded insurance through platform businesses, with operations in 12 countries. I was the Consulting Chief Financial Officer responsible for global accounting, tax, finance systems, and secretarial functions.
Given that the company was an amalgamation of four different entities with scattered operations in multiple countries, one of the first tasks was to create a centralised Corporate Finance and Tax team in Bangalore. I also made uniform and standardised accounting policies and processes across the entities. The next task was to redraw the budget to reflect the new business model and revise the investor pitch accordingly. During my stint, MIC launched Lloyds Syndicate, which was a significant milestone for the company, and I had to manage the launch and related compliance with the help of advisors. We also obtained term sheets from two investors and pitched to many VCs and impact funds for our Round C financing. Next, I shut down or merged four legal entities and facilitated the exit from two countries to simplify operations. Next, I implemented Global Transfer Pricing, which allowed me to charge costs appropriately. Finally, I selected a single global accounting system and created its migration plan.
4. Rekha: As a CFO, what strategies do you use to maximise the return on investment for your company?
Salil Ravindran: I believe today’s CFO is a value enhancer, along with the CEO, from being a value preserver they used to be a few decades ago. Hence, I always got involved in the company’s strategy and took a front seat in company matters. I have used many techniques to enhance ROI depending on the circumstance and context, but the common ones are as below:
- Alignment of vision across the organisation, including the employee at all levels
- Set quantitative goals for everyone and cascading of the same set of plans down
- Relevant budgets with detailed investment plans for growth/hiring
- Align incentive and bonus policies to organisation goals
- Build strong relationships with other leaders and ensure alignment and cooperation
- Benchmark against the competition on various parameters and challenge the business teams to optimise performance
- Analyse segmental profitability and ensure investments are going in the right areas
- Identify margin levers and drive improvement
- Budgetary control and expense management with appropriate policies for travel, credit card, IT, compensation and bonus, hiring, marketing, etc
- Simplification and optimisation of back-end business processes with a particular focus on automation
- Ensuring proper corporate governance and best practices like early hard close every month, following compliance calendar, independence of procurement function, etc
- Cash flow optimisation and tracking ‘EBITDA to operating cash conversion.’
- Risk management and reduction, with a particular focus during the time of contracting
- Management and optimisation of effective tax rate
5. Rekha: You have won several awards, including the CFO Powerlist 2020 Award from CORE Media and the NJBIZ CFO of the Year Award 2018. How do these achievements make you feel and motivate you to continue excelling in your career?
Salil Ravindran: My primary motivator has always been to excel in everything I do and to enhance the organisation’s value for all stakeholders. I derive my satisfaction from significant contributions to make a company successful. While awards have never been the driving force, they validate the work. They are essential because they are an external recognition of the worthwhile contributions made by the respective companies. The recognitions received provide credibility to my skills and experience since they were given after rigorous evaluation and amidst stiff competition. But I am cognizant that it was possible only with the support of a great team, cooperation, and encouragement from top management.
6. Rekha: I understand you’re keen on promoting financial literacy and education. Can you tell us more about your efforts in this area?
Salil Ravindran: Many friends, family members, and other people around me often mismanage their finances, which disconcerts me. I am not referring to not having sophisticated diversification practices or retirement planning, but simple things like not setting aside a SIP or investing only in real estate and gold, etc. Therefore, I constantly influence and facilitate others to manage their finance prudently.
Teaching basic personal finance should be included in school curriculums for all students, along with other essential life skills, to prevent the mismanagement of money and vulnerability to cheating in adulthood.
Hence I am keen and jump at every opportunity I get, to teach finance and financial planning. I used to run a ‘Finance for Non-finance’ program for many years. I have taught ‘International Finance’ and ‘Management Accounting’ papers for MBA students at SDM Institute of Management and spoken at various management colleges like Christ University, Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning, Birla Institute of Technology, etc. I actively talk at multiple CFO forums, and my finance knowledge frequently earns me media quotes. Additionally, I share finance insights through tweeting and blogging.
7. Rekha: What are the current trends in the Indian investment market, and how do you see these trends shaping the future of investing in the country?
Salil Ravindran: Retail investors in India are rapidly increasing their participation in stock markets through mutual funds and direct investments, with a 59% rise in 2022. This growth is mainly due to systematic investment plans (SIPs), which have become a popular alternative to bank fixed deposits for many retail investors. This broad basing of investor base helped the Indian stock market become one of the best-performing Emerging Markets by returns in 2022, despite FPIs selling ₹1,21,439 crore and FIIs selling a massive ₹2,78,429 crore in Indian equities during the year. In addition, 2022 has been a landmark year where the total number of Demat accounts in India, a surrogate measure for the retail investor base, crossed the 10-crore mark, clearly depicting the increasing awareness and interest in equity participation.
The new-age investing platforms with robust technology infrastructure drive the trend by granting investing access to users across India, often through smartphones. This growth also demonstrates retail investors’ confidence in the Indian economy, indicating that the Indian stock markets will likely stay strong despite potential signs of a global recession.
I believe the retail investor base will continue to rise, enabled by technology, and will drive changes in the kind of assets and methods of investing. In addition, as millennials and Gen Z, with motivations and behaviours different from previous generations, enter the markets, the financial services industry will be forced to tap them through innovative ways.
8. Rekha: How does India’s current economic and regulatory environment impacts individuals’ finance and investing decisions?
Salil Ravindran: The growth in the real GDP of India for 2022-23 is estimated to be 7.0% compared to 8.7% in 2021-22. These estimates place India as the world’s fastest-growing major economy, and this economic expansion has influenced the Indian investment industry. Retail investors, mutual funds, private equity and venture capital firms have all increased their domestic investments in India during the year.
Government initiatives such as Make in India, GST implementation, Digital India, Startup India, etc., have had a far-reaching positive impact on the Indian economy and business. According to the report titled ‘Why This Is India’s Decade’ by Morgan Stanley, India’s economy will rank third in the world by 2027, and its stock market will rank third by the end of the decade. Economic growth will be more robust, equity participation will rise, and citizens will hold more financial sway.
I believe that these, along with increasing investor base and awareness, will make the Indian stock markets mature and an attractive investment avenue. Moreover, it is heartening to see youngsters starting their careers think about savings and investments, which people earlier did over 35-40 years of age.
9. Rekha: Could you share your insights on the importance of financial planning and how individuals can effectively plan for their financial future?
Salil Ravindran: A financial plan paints a comprehensive picture of your current finances, financial goals and any strategies you’ve set to achieve those goals. It includes details about your current and estimated income, savings, investments, assets, expenditures, debt, and insurance and acts as a guide as you go through life’s journey. Financial planning can help you feel confident and unbiased when making decisions with significant financial implications.
While it is an ongoing process, the first step to creating a sound financial plan is to set financial goals. It might be futile to save or invest without clearly knowing the purpose. The second step is to identify and estimate the monthly income, expenses, and savings and decide where and how to spend money. Finally, even if it’s a long way off, think about what you want your money to do for you when you retire and create a retirement plan.
People with excellent financial plans hope for the best but plan for the unexpected. Creating an emergency fund to take care of life’s surprises is imperative. Also, it makes sense to have adequate health, disability and life insurance. Understanding and managing debt is a vital part of creating a financial plan. Also, it is prudent practice to create a will.
10. Rekha: Could you share tips on how individuals can effectively budget and manage their money to achieve their financial goals?
Salil Ravindran: Apart from creating a financial plan as described above, I would recommend the following:
- Strive to save 15-20% of your income
- Never buy or sell individual shares unless you have a financial background, can decipher financial statements, can understand business trends, and have time to do research and tracking
- Always better to invest through SIPs than trying to put a lumpsum amount into the market
- Invest in diversified mutual funds or diversify the holdings
- Pay attention to fees. Avoid actively managed funds
- Pay your credit card balance in full every month
- Reduce high-interest rate debt, but leveraging is acceptable for specific purposes if you can manage investments properly
- Maximise tax-advantaged savings vehicles like NPS, PPF, etc
- Max your provident fund (401K equivalent) employee contribution
- Buy adequate insurance
11. Rekha: What are some of the most common mistakes people make when it comes to personal finance, and how can these be avoided?
Salil Ravindran: New investors often make many mistakes that they should avoid. The common ones include:
- Investing only or primarily in illiquid assets like real estate or gold jewellery
- Locking up a lot of money in fixed deposits, or worse in savings accounts, with banks
- Mistaking trading for investing
- Failing to diversify
- Only buying hype stocks or tech stocks
- Trusting financial news blindly
- Not spending enough time researching or understanding sector dynamics
- Sell on the first drop
- Trying to beat or time the market
- Thinking that low P/E ratios always represent buy opportunity
- Not having adequate insurance
- Investing in instruments like cryptocurrency without understanding the risks
- Over-complicating or intimidated by investing
12. Rekha: How do you think technology and digital platforms are changing the way people approach personal finance and investing, and what are some of the benefits and challenges of these changes?
Salil Ravindran: The most significant contribution of technology to personal finance is to democratise investing. Earlier information was not freely available, and people did not know how and where to seek it. People can quickly become successful investors by following a few credible Twitter or LinkedIn handles.
The other significant impact technology has made to expand the investing base manifold, given that anybody with a smartphone can make investments through their mobile phones from anywhere in the world. Intermediaries like stock brokers are fast disappearing as banks, and other applications have enabled seamless investing.
Technology has opened opportunities for investors to invest in newer avenues, such as cryptocurrencies, NFTs, commodities, etc. It has also enabled people to invest in global markets. However, investments require sharing confidential information like social security numbers, bank account details, and essential information about the investor. Therefore, technology has also improved data security through encryption and added security measures.
Improved security and increased convenience have proven that technology is continuously revolutionising investments and helping investors make data-driven and safer investment decisions.
13. Rekha: Outside of work, what do you like to do in your free time?
Salil Ravindran: I am passionate about liberal arts and a connoisseur of Indian classical music. I am also keen on fitness and maintaining good health. When not doing any of the above, I engage in photography, playing badminton, or watching sports on TV.
Rekha: To conclude, I extend my heartfelt gratitude to Mr Salil Ravindran for sharing his valuable insights and experiences with us. His tips on personal finance management and the importance of financial planning will help many individuals make informed decisions about their finances. And for those interested in keeping up with his thoughts and perspectives, you catch him regularly blogging at http://salilravindran.com/ and follow him on Twitter @SalilFinance. Thank you for your time and perspectives, Mr Ravindran. It has been an enlightening experience talking to you.