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South Asia

Soumya Rajan, India’s private banking free radical

When Soumya Rajan left Standard Chartered to form Waterfield Advisors in 2011, her aim was to create India’s best elite-level wealth management firm. Nearly ten years and $4 billion in AUM later, she may well have done just that.

Soumya Rajan got her timing spot-on. When the Oxford-educated banker left Standard Chartered in 2010, she’d spent 16 years at the emerging-market lender, most recently working as head of India onshore private banking.

Within a year, she’d formed Mumbai-based Waterfield Advisors and set herself up as CEO. Back then, the firm was barely a speck on India’s elite wealth management map, overshadowed by the likes of Edelweiss and Kotak Mahindra Bank.

These days, Waterfield describes itself as India’s ‘leading independent multi-family office and wealth advisory firm’. It oversees $4 billion of assets, mostly for younger clients with an average of $40 million-$50 million in investable financial assets. The firm was named best bank for ultra-high-net-worth families, and for wealth transfer and succession planning, in 2020 by Asiamoney.

How did the firm achieve this rapid growth? It may help to rewind to life in the wake of the global financial crisis. The events of 2008 damaged banking’s broader credibility, but they hurt wealth management in specific ways.

In India, much like the rest of the world, there was a “realisation we were involved in a conflict of interest, where every business head – including me – was incentivised by the revenues we made on the products we sold to clients”, says Rajan.

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