Ashvini Chopra of Avendus Wealth Management on Building a Fit-for-Purpose Multi-Family Office Services Platform
Avendus Wealth Management is the private banking arm of Avendus Group, a prominent and diversified financial services group in India, founded more than two decades ago, and since 2015 with US-based private equity giant KKR and another private equity firm as core shareholders. Avendus Wealth has since then powered into being amongst the top five wealth management firms in India for its target segment of HNW and UHNW clientele, and the firm has its eyes set on pushing its way to a top-three ranking. Avendus Wealth offers its private banking model centred on the upper tier of HNW and UHNW investors and leverages the group’s extensive investment banking, lending and asset management capabilities to expand relationships and boost revenues through cross-fertilisation. Ashvini Chopra is an Executive Director at Avendus Wealth and Head of the Family Office Solutions team. He has over 27 years of experience, of which eleven years have been as an Estate & Succession Planning Professional, during which time he also headed a large Single-Family Office in India. His diverse educational background, coupled with his experience as a manager, a private banker, a trustee, and the head of a large family office, means he is in a unique position to combine elements of management, law, and tax in offering Estate & Succession Planning solutions to his wealthy clients and to the family offices he works with. Hubbis had the opportunity to ‘meet’ with Ashvini recently and learn more of his approach to Estate & Succession Planning, and to hear of the eclectic range of books he likes to read, as well as of the joy he has riding his Harley-Davidson motorbike.
Avendus Wealth Management (AWM) was launched in 2010, roughly a decade after the first business of the firm, investment banking, was founded. AWM, in its first 10 years, reached critical mass and, especially in the last two years, has become the second-largest business in the wider Avendus Group. AWM is a full-service wealth management platform with products and advisory services across all asset classes, family office services, and lending capabilities, offering everything that one might expect of a private bank.
Focus on HNW and UHNW clients
AWM steers clear of the mass affluent segment, instead focusing intently on clients who have at least USD 5 million to USD 10 million to invest, and on family offices with upwards of USD100 million to invest. The firm has now built a client base of roughly 1500 UHNW and UHNW client families, half of whom have more than USD100 million to invest.
Aside from the private banking operation, the Avendus Group has a major investment banking presence - in fact, CEO Nitin Singh fairly recently told Hubbis that the firm is today the market leader in investment banking in India, as well as having a strong asset management operation and being a significant lender, providing clients with loans centred on structured credit, buyout finance, and Lombard lending for the wealth segment. All these key elements give the firm excellent access to numerous business owners and entrepreneurs across India, especially in new industries where so much wealth creation has been happening. The IB focus is very much on growth segments such as digital technology, consumer, healthcare, electric vehicles, warehousing and other new business spaces.
As Head of the Family Office Solutions, the firm has given Ashvini the mandate to establish a multi-family office (MFO). He has started the services by focusing on the core of succession & estate planning, from where the firm plans to expand into the administration of trusts, providing secretarial support to Family Councils and Family Business Boards. It aims to help its clients with preparing and implementing family constitutions, tax planning, citizenship planning, tracking the implementation of Shareholder agreements, etc. The concept encompasses risk assessments at the individual level and the family level.
“The biggest challenge these clients face is so often overcoming the communication gap between generations,” he reports. “Typically, Indian families are very hierarchical in structure, so you are expected to respect elders, you are expected to listen to them and not speak too much, and that serves as an impediment to clear and transparent communication among generations. And that, in turn, often causes disharmony.”
Building for the future
He explains in more detail what the family office means to himself and to AWM. One key component is around family governance; another is philanthropic planning, while a third element is risk management and wealth planning, then there is the investment management side, as well as handling the tax implications involved.
“We help the clients assess all sorts of issues around their assets and their lives, to make sure their businesses, and they themselves are well located and structured, that they operate and live in the right countries or jurisdictions, that they have the right structures in place, that they have planned properly from a tax perspective, and of course, using specialist advisors such as tax experts wherever necessary. We are almost like the old description of the typical family solicitor in England, advising the family on a whole range of issues to keep them on the right track, legally compliant and minimising their risk exposures wherever possible.”
But another crucial area is enhancing administrative services, he reports, noting that the minutes of the trustee meetings, and whatever other written documents available, have an evidentiary value in a court of law.
“The reality today is that most families that have structured trusts, and might have family constitutions as well, meet up regularly, but they all too often don't properly log the meetings, the decisions and actions correctly,” he explains. “For example, they might have bought properties, but their minutes of Trustee meetings are not very clearly recorded. Quite often decisions are taken, and the resolution says so, but they have not captured the reason they bought the property, or why it was a beneficial decision for the beneficiaries. These decisions should record the reason behind an action. This has two important aspects – one it has, as shared earlier, evidentiary value, and two, it educates the next gen on why decisions were taken the way they were. So, the key function of administrative services is focused towards ensuring that all the records, all the titles, everything to do with the families will be transparent and well documented.”
The new MFO operation of Avendus Wealth is in its early stages, and the team is still small currently, with Ashvini himself, a company secretary and a lawyer, as well as a long-term associate, who is a practising attorney at the Mumbai High Court. Ashvini explains that the firm is still discussing on how to charge for the administrative and other services they will roll out, but he does report that he has signed up more than 25 clients for estate & succession planning in the 16 months since he joined, and all of these families have paid appropriate fees, outside of the mainstream AWM wealth management platform.
“Yes, there are challenges around fees,” he concedes, “but actually, there is a growing realisation that fees are necessary for good quality advice and service. We are optimistic that there will be strong demand and that this will be a core business for the firm in the years ahead.”
MFO for SFOs
He explains that his operation will also be providing services and advice to single-family offices, of which there are more and more in India. He reports they already have one ultra-large SFO as a client, providing them with secretarial and other support. “And I am in talks with two other SFOs for similar retainer arrangements, whereby we allocate a specific number of hours per month, and we take care of all the administration, we arrange all the meetings, handle all the documentation and so forth. But as I said, this is work in progress, these are early days and we are deciding internally how best to charge, whether as part of a bundled service or separately.”
As to staffing, Ashvini admits it is not easy to find precisely the right talent, but says integrity and honesty are vital first considerations, that is the nature of the function. “Ideally, we are looking for talented people with integrity and drive, as well as outstanding English skills,” he explains. “Not an easy combination to find, but we are making progress.”
Ashvini also looks at the corrosive impact of disputes within the family.
“One of my biggest learnings from working in this field has been that there needs to be a lot of focus on and development of the right structures and procedures to ensure that family disputes are resolved in a non-egoistic manner, and away from the courts,” he says. “In the nascent field of external trusteeship, they must realise how important a role they have to also play as neutral arbiters, but this role and the broader mission are seldom talked about.”
“Accordingly, I am working to advise families to bring external professionals onto the boards of their companies even though they're closely held companies and might not strictly need them from a regulatory perspective. However, I have managed in three instances to get external board members appointed to help those families and those companies basically move away from a familial and informal environment to a more structured protocol. It is not an event, it's a process, and however you structure yourselves, you should be following these key processes constantly.”
Ashvini is only just getting started on this new family office operation, but he has a set of key missions in place, ranging from launching, staffing, finalising the fee structure, and then marketing and promoting their services. Another priority is to broaden his and the firm’s skills, so, for example, he has, after completing his Masters in Law in 2020, recently enrolled for his fourth Post Graduate programme, this time a PG Diploma in Family Dispute Resolution, a one-year course at the NALSAR University of Law in Hyderabad. “We see this operation as having a broad scope advising these families in the future, and playing a bigger role in family dispute resolutions is central to that mission, as this is a core area of failing here in India,” he reports.
Great potential ahead
He closes the conversation by reminding us that his new multi-family office operation is relatively new to India but has immense potential. “There is vast private wealth here, there are more and more large, wealthy and still very private families, many with their own single-family offices already,” he comments. “There is immense potential for providing services and advice to them in the key and increasingly important areas of business and family and inter-generational governance and to ensure that their risks are managed in a whole variety of areas, and their outcomes improved. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that when wealthy individuals and families follow the right paths, they end up retaining their wealth, boosting the likelihood of the families staying united and significantly reducing the rising risks of family disputes, which are always costly, stressful and entirely negative.”
Getting Personal with Ashvini Chopra
Ashvini Chopra is an Executive Director at Avendus Wealth Management and Head of the new Family Office services. Prior to joining Avendus, he was Senior Vice President at Bennet Coleman (The Times Group), where he was the head of the Family Office and took care of Succession Planning, Tax Planning, Wealth Management, Lifestyle Management, Entity management (for investment companies & Charity Trusts) and advising on Board constitution.
Simultaneously with being the Head Family Office at Times Group, he also worked with other families on their Succession and Estate Planning issues and assisted with Family Constitutions, formation of Trusts and Wills, a field in which he has worked with over 300 large and small families, successfully completing a number of complex Succession Planning assignments.
Prior to joining Times Group, Ashvini was the Founder MD and CEO of Universal Trustees Private Limited (UTPL), a company in which ICICI Group was an investor. At UTPL he was responsible for completely setting up the company from scratch and taking it to cash break-even. He also made it his mission to make it the first system-based trustee company in India and, to that end, contracted with a global software company to ‘Indian-ise’ their existing software for use by UTPL.
In all, Ashvini has over 29 years of experience, of which eleven years have been as an Estate & Succession Planning Professional, including stints in private banking with ICICI Bank in the US and the UK.
Ashvini is an LLM (Pro) from National Law University, Delhi, and a Diploma Holder in Trust & Estate Practice from STEP UK, as well as holds an MBA in marketing and is a commerce graduate. He is also a member of Family Firms Institute, Inc. USA (FFI) and Family Office Exchange. He regularly contributes articles to the STEP Journal and The Practitioner by FFI.
He is a keen reader and loves reading various genres of books, with his favourite authors being Ayn Rand and Isaac Asimov. He has recently been reading the English translation of Samskara (A Rite for a Dead Man) originally written in Kannada, an Indian language. Another recent read is The Abilene Paradox by Jerry B Harvey, a management consultant who analyses the impact of group decisions made against the inclinations of the constituent individuals. “I usually read two books at a time, one fiction and one non-fiction, so I alternate.”
He is married to a doctor, and the couple has a daughter embarking on a career in chartered accountancy and a son heading towards hotel management. Aside from being a dedicated family man and an avid reader, he is also a motorbike enthusiast, taking his Harley-Davidson 1200cc Forty-Eight Sportster off for long rides over weekends. “Every Sunday I'm usually out for a roughly 500 kilometres round trip, leaving at around 5am and back by early afternoon,” he reports, passionately. “Those are great moments, and a great time to relax and take in the scenery and sights.
More from Ashvini Chopra, Avendus