How Sapient Wealth’s Amit Bivalkar aced 14% returns | Mint – Mint

  • ‘I don’t invest in small-cap funds, and I prefer to take the flexi cap route; my average holding is seven years’

Amit Bivalkar, the founder of Sapient Wealth, has built one of India’s largest wealth management businesses with assets under management (AUM) of 12,000 crore within a span of just 13 years. He was alerted to the need for financial literacy early in life. When his father died, his family invested the provident fund corpus in some corporate deposits, on the advice of an agent. Some of that debt defaulted, dealing a serious financial blow to the family. Bivalkar joined the asset management industry and worked at AMCs such as DSP and AIG. After the market crash in 2009, he quit AIG to start Sapient with an AUM of just 70 crore. In this interview with Mint, he shares his journey of building Sapient Wealth brick by brick over the years and also throws light on his own investment strategy. Edited excerpts from the interview:

Can you describe your current portfolio allocation?
I am right now at 40% equity, 60% debt. The larger position in debt has more to do with some liabilities which I have to pay. Otherwise, I am a balanced kind of an investor with almost 60-65% in equity and 30-35% in debt.
In equity, is the allocation more to a large cap or mid and small cap? Do you have any rough percentage on this?
It is more of a flexi cap and there is some exposure to international funds. About 20% is in international funds and the rest are in flexi cap.

There is a freeze on international funds incrementally. Do you think it will hurt the portfolio?
We have seen that these kinds of restrictions stay for some time, and then they open up. ETFs (exchange traded funds) are still open. You can take the ETF route, and invest globally.
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What was your first investment?
I started my career with Sajag Securities in Pune, and that was an equity broking house. So obviously, stocks were my first investment. Back then, I was investing without any research or homework. I had beginners’ luck and made some money, and then I incurred some huge losses. After that, it only went through SIPs, and in the past four-five years, I think I have added PMS and advisory and private equity.
What has been your longest-held fund since you started investing?
I was investing in DSP since I was working for DSP Mutual Fund. I have an investment in DSP Opportunities Fund in my child’s name since 2004. Another long-held fund is a Fidelity scheme — now L&T Flexi cap fund— that I bought in 2005. Generally, I don’t move unless there is a tactical call or we see the markets moving sideways for two-three years. My average holding should be around seven years.
Did you make any changes when Covid-19 hit the markets?
I switched to 90% equity and 10% debt. That 10% debt was there because I didn’t have the courage to put 100% in equity. Also, the period was such that everybody had said the Nifty would go back to 6,000 levels. So, I thought, let us wait for the bottom and maybe I will add that 10% too then but that never happened.
How many funds do you hold?
I have seven equity (and commodity) funds in my portfolio and three in debt. These seven funds have a combination of international, domestic equity and gold and silver as commodities. They all are active funds.
Do you have a ballpark figure of Internal rate of return (IRR) of your portfolio since inception?
It would be close to 14%. This is over about 16 years.
Do you have life or health insurance?
Yes, I have both life and health insurance. I think you should have life cover 20 times your monthly income, and I am close to that number. I also have a mediclaim cover. I also have a top-up policy that kicks in when medical costs go beyond what the base policy covers. It has a relatively low premium because of this conditionality. I have an overseas travel accident policy as well.
If you have to name a scheme that has generated the most amount of wealth for you, what would that be?
It would be very difficult to answer this, because time-period wise, the investments have not come at one date. But I think mostly, it is flexi cap funds. Earlier large-cap or multi-cap funds did the job. I am not a guy who invests in small-cap funds. I go through the flexi cap route.
What is your approach to real estate investing?
The house where I stay, and the office where I work is my real estate investment. I say that if you want to enjoy your life, you upgrade yourself from 2BHK flat to a 3BHK and then to a 4BHK because that flat is your own; you are enjoying the property. What is the fun in buying a property where you are not going to stay or giving it out on rent? The rental yield is 1-2%, while your housing loan is at 7%.
Describe the circumstances surrounding the start of your Sapient journey.
In 2008, I was with AIG. It went belly up in the US. Post that, we had just launched our infrastructure fund because infrastructure was the theme then. After the 2008 crash during September and October of 2008, a lot of investors were calling directly on our office landlines. And that made me think about why these people were not calling their advisor or banker. The clients used to tell us that the advisors and bankers were not picking up their calls. That is when it struck me that a lot of clients are orphaned. So, that was the period when we thought of starting Sapient. In June 2009, we started it.
So, what was the AUM in the first or second year, and how has it progressed since then?
The first year was about 70-80 crore. Half of the portfolio belonged to my partner Janak Shah who merged his enterprise with my company.
Back in 2009, fixed maturity plans (FMP) were giving 8.5-9.5%. Pune is a pensioner’s city. You have a lot of banks, a lot of cooperative banks. People are looking at fixed-income instruments. So, we chose the FMP route, and that was an easy kill.
So, everybody thinks of building AUM through equity, but we built our AUM through debt that actually made us grow in the initial years and then as the FMP money started coming back, the appreciation went into equity, and we built the SIP book and that is how we have started off. So, the first year, it was about 80 crore. Next year we went to 240 crore. Then we had a real big success when corporates in Pune started allocating their money to mutual funds, so, we went to about 350 crore the next year.
Today, we are at 12,000 crore. This has been the journey in the past 13-14 years.
Much of your growth also comes from mergers. Please tell us more about that.
It is with like-minded people in other geographies. We were fortunate we got Pallav Bagaria in the North-East as well as Paresh Karia in Mumbai. Two years ago, Rupa Venkat and Dhruv Mehta also merged their practice with Sapient. It is very difficult to leave one’s own brand and merge with another entity.
When you look at the organizational structure, we think about it as a chartered accountant firm rather than a business. Older partners might retire and newer partners might get on board.
We came together because, as an individual IFA, we don’t have any reporting boss so we are bound to make mistakes because whatever I think is correct gets translated into portfolios. So, if you have a board of directors, then you are reporting to somebody. I think this collaboration bought various assets and talents of the industry like DhruvMehta who was the CFO of a very big listed company, and it was doing very well in lubricants. So, we bring in that expertise. Pallav has been doing business for so many years. Paresh is a chartered accountant.
I think all of this culminates into the betterment of the organization. So, everybody brings in their own skill set and then you are accountable and responsible.
Any lifestyle changes you made post-pandemic that you think will continue?
I used to love my whisky, I have completely stopped it post pandemic. I am a keyboard player and I keep playing the piano. I am a big collector as well. There are about 1,200 gramophone records at my house. I walk a minimum of 3-4km everyday.
Do you involve your wife in your family finances?
Of course, yes! In a household, your spouse should know where you are investing. I have a one-page net worth statement at home, and I update it every month.
It is very important that you have your family members involved in your finances. You might not give away the executive decisions of investing but you should definitely impart information and knowledge to them so that they can manage their finances well.
Since my wife is a doctor, she has her own opinions as well. So, her portfolio runs according to what she feels; the guidance might come from me but she takes her own decisions when it comes to finances.
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