Cover story: Why the chairman of UAE's Century Financial feels a people-centric approach is a game changer
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Cover story: Why the chairman of UAE’s Century Financial feels a people-centric approach is a game changer

Cover story: Why the chairman of UAE’s Century Financial feels a people-centric approach is a game changer

The key to a strong relationship with investors is offering them best-in-class support, explains the company’s CEO and chairman Bal Krishen

The atmosphere is upbeat at Century Financial’s first employee meetup of the year.

The UAE-based financial services and investment firm has more than 170 team members supporting its operations, and they are all present to celebrate the company’s exemplary performance in 2021.

They are also awaiting direction on the firm’s ambitious plans, which include leveraging its ongoing diversification initiatives, to support further growth and expansion in 2022 and the years ahead.

Walking around the elegant banquet room – at V Hotel in Dubai – where the event is being hosted, I see consultants, analysts, fund managers and directors sharing stories – some of these are about the previous quarter’s wins, rising inflation and the Fed’s hawkish stance, while others analyse the opportunities in property technology and digital assets.

The conversations are peppered with personal anecdotes, camaraderie and warm laughter, particularly when Bal Krishen, the firm’s CEO and chairman, stops by to chat with colleagues. His demeanour is down-to-earth; his words are encouraging.

It’s clear that Krishen is admired, not just for his pragmatism and vision, but also for his simplicity and humility.

These scenes give you an insight into the company’s great work culture, which is inspired by ‘Ubuntu’, an African philosophy that promotes a community-centric ethos. It speaks to the fact that we are all linked, and that we – as individuals – can only grow and progress through the development and advancement of people around us. Coincidentally, this way of thinking has also driven the amazing growth of both Dubai and the UAE for the past 50 years.

In a conversation with the CEO and chairman a week after the meetup, he reveals that these values have been the most effective when it comes to overcoming challenges, particularly the ones that communities and companies faced during the Covid pandemic.

“We are a people-centric organisation, and have witnessed growth even in these tough times, primarily because we’ve been there with our people and for our people,” he stresses.

This people-focused approach provides a valuable support system for Century Financial’s multi-cultural team, who work in a high-pressure environment. It’s also the reason why the firm has been consistently rated as a ‘Great Place to Work’ in the region [in 2021 as well], based on a thorough and independent analysis conducted by Great Place to Work (GPTW) Middle East.

Last year, the firm also topped GPTW’s list of ‘Best Workplaces for Millennials’ and ‘Best Workplaces for Women’ in a list featuring 30 other entities in the GCC. These accolades were complemented by six other local and international awards that the firm won last year, acknowledging Century Financial’s position as one of the UAE’s top investment
consultancy firms, and its resiliency in the current environment.

The company’s approach to investor relations has also been pervaded by Ubuntu. Over 30 years, Century Financial has built a loyal client base, who rely on the firm’s expertise and a longstanding relationship based on trust, to help them successfully navigate through changing market trends, including the challenges and opportunities that have unfolded due to Covid, and those that this year will bring.

The key to the firm’s strong relationship with investors, Krishen explains, is offering them best-in-class support, backed by the latest technology and global best practices.

Innovation is also critical, as is keeping a close eye on what investors are interested in.

“We care about our customers, and are always open to exploring new areas of growth, more so, if it benefits investors,” he says. Krishen explains, “Earlier, Century Financial was driven by customer preferences that primarily tapered to investments in forex and commodities, with a focus on traditional investment products. Now, with changing investment preferences, we’ve introduced trending and contemporary products focused around ESG, digital assets and global stocks, among others. The entire emphasis has shifted to sound and proper investments, with an emphasis on value and long-term growth.”

Shifts in the investment landscape have also complemented Century Financial’s expansion plans, which include adding new business verticals. This, Krishen says, not only provides an additional revenue stream to the company, but also complements the existing business, while meeting the needs of the firm’s customers.

He adds, “We are committed to providing smart trading and investment decision-making solutions and have introduced ‘Quantifier’, a quant and algo strategy building tool for investors.”

The tool is a product of the research and work of the firm’s Innovation Lab, which was launched in 2021 to provide and implement end-to-end investment solutions by leveraging artificial intelligence, machine learning and other technology tools. Century Financial has been an early adopter of these technologies, which according to Deloitte Global’s Artificial Intelligence – The next frontier in investment management report, are “helping advisors to generate more insights, customise content more effectively, and deliver it to clients with greater agility and speed”.

Recently, the firm launched Century Private Wealth, a bespoke wealth and asset management company, operating under the Category 3C licence regulated by the Dubai Financial Services Authority, to focus on asset management and wealth management. The asset management arm just launched its first hedge fund, aimed at serving professional clients with a unique investment strategy.

Century Bank Brokers, also launched in 2021, includes a core team of banking veterans who offer a curated portfolio of retail and commercial banking solutions through partnerships with banks, non-banking finance companies and other financial institutions. This year, the firm is looking at moving into property investments more aggressively.

“We’ve wanted to bring real estate into our portfolio for some time now, and are introducing Century Realtors to address this segment. We’re also working on launching a crowdfunding platform for real estate investments,” reveals Krishen.

With this launch, the firm will open up investment opportunities for a new type of investor. “Fractionalising ownership shares to offer lower minimum investments and undertaking the fundraising process in a digital marketplace has the potential to increase access to real estate investment by small and retail investors,” the CEO and chairman says.

The firm is also focused on the emerging investor segment comprising millennials and Gen Z. Krishen says that while Gen X forms a large part of the firm’s client base, changing market trends reveal that millennials and Gen Z are increasingly investing in international capital markets. Their preference: tech stocks, ESG investments and crypto assets.

Century Financial sees the opportunity to guide and educate this influential segment of investors, who have the buying power and are looking for good investment opportunities.

Geographically, the company is aiming at expanding its interests into Saudi Arabia and other GCC markets. “Saudi Arabia, in particular, has huge potential. The country’s leadership is firmly focused on diversifying its economy with the Vision 2030 initiative, and we are tapping into these opportunities,” says Krishen.

In January, the company also signed a memorandum of understanding to invest $100m in Jammu & Kashmir (J&K), in India. The investment will cover three hotels and one commercial-residential complex in the union territory.

Krishen, originally a native of the Doda district of Jammu, says: “I have always believed that J&K has tremendous investment potential. Making a significant contribution to my home state has always been my dream. I can now see this dream being realised, it’s immensely gratifying.”

The vision of Century Financial’s CEO and chairman, however, doesn’t end here. It comes back to the Ubuntu philosophy, as it involves contributing to the upliftment and development of the underprivileged sections of society through education, employment and empowerment.

“These goals – which support society at large – are close to my heart,” he concludes.

Taken from GB Invest February 2022 edition 

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