Company Profiles

Finding Talent, Handling Inflation and Other Challenges – The View From VAR Capital

Tom Burroughes Group Editor London 21 June 2022

Finding Talent, Handling Inflation and Other Challenges – The View From VAR Capital

One of the top figures at the UK-based multi-family offices talks about talent, potential expansion, inflation and the work wealth managers must do around technology to stay relevant and add value.

Attracting talent is one of the top challenges for wealth managers around the world, as rival sectors can hold out more allure, the chief executive of a multi-family office in London’s Mayfair argues.

“In the early days, investment banking used to complete with private banking and wealth management but more and more [the] tech sector becomes a more attractive career choice for young talent,” Vikash Gupta, VAR Capital chief executive and co-founder, told this news service in an interview. 

“To continue to attract young talent, the wealth industry needs to demonstrate that it is evolving with time, becoming less bureaucratic, and offers faster growth opportunities for talent and the opportunity to work in interesting areas such as ESG and venture capital investing,” Gupta continued. 

As noted in a number of countries already, such as in the US, wealth managers have an age problem. Cerulli Associates, for example, noted recently that more than a third (37 per cent) of US financial advisors who run $10.4 trillion of industry assets in – about 40 per cent of the total – are expected to retire in the next 10 years.

Gupta brings the perspective of an established career in financial services. Gupta joined VAR Capital from Barclays, where he was part of the key clients and family offices team within the UK private bank. Before this, he worked at Booz & Company, providing corporate and M&A advisory services to financial services. 

The Ahluwalia family office, dating back to 2012, was relaunched under its VAR Capital brand in 2015, when Gupta joined the team.

VAR’s clients come from around the world, such as Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. It oversees more than £1 billion ($1.23 billion) in assets and acts for about 40 families. Clients are in the ultra-high net worth bracket. (Gupta agreed with the idea that the term “high net worth” perhaps needs to be redefined given the impact of inflation on real values.)

The MFO is now thinking of expanding across the UK, tapping into a regional growth trend which this news service has noted before. For example, VAR Capital is looking at regional offices in locations such as Manchester. Outside the UK, it is considering setting up shop in the United Arab Emirates, where it already has clients. The plan for a second office should take shape next year.

Besides Gupta, another co-founder is Rajat Sharma, who is also chief investment officer. And a familiar face to some readers will be James Fleming, who is vice chairman of the group’s advisory board. Fleming had been CEO of Sandaire, the London-based multi-family office and prior to that, CEO of Arbuthnot Latham Private Bank. 

Investing under the roof
An important consideration for family offices and some wealth houses is what work to carry out in-house and what to outsource. That balance is becoming ever more difficult for some firms to manage as costs rise. For VAR Capital, however, asset management is very much a “core” activity. The firm handles asset management in-house. It operates in the fields of single-line equities and exchange-traded funds.

“This helps us to manage risk because we know exactly what is in portfolios,” Gupta said. “We have a dynamic asset allocation.”

Understandably, given its family office nature, Gupta knows that a baseline requirement is guarding what clients have already built: “Capital protection is at the top of our agenda.”

And Gupta knows that looking after capital is getting tough in a world where inflation is back at levels not seen since the late 70s. But while not complacent, Gupta thinks that some of the worst may be over with improved conditions are ahead.

“We are telling clients not to panic,” he said. There are a number of contributory forces: commodity and energy sector disruptions, a decade or more of ultra-easy monetary  policy. One reason for some cause for optimism on inflation is that after a year passes, the 12-month comparison will show a less severe increase. The “base effect” will begin to make itself felt. 

“Inflation will come down to a more reasonable level. We are telling clients to keep cash on the side because there are going to be a lot of opportunities coming up in the market,” he said. 

He is interested in sectors where firms are often indiscriminately affected by a trend, creating chances to find value. For example, when electric vehicles' firms share prices fell recently amid concerns about issues such as rising battery costs and recession, it was not just Tesla that was hit, but also the likes of Volkswagen, even though the latter has very different fundamentals, he said.

“We think high-quality securities that we hold will recover faster than those with higher price-earnings' ratios. Some 'babies' are getting thrown out with the bathwater,” Gupta continued. 

The firm takes a few contrarian views. For example, Gupta gave the case of how he likes long-duration bonds – an area that people think can be hit by rising interest rates. “We don’t think rates will rise as far as some are thinking,” he said. 

VAR Capital performs a variety of services. It can create structures, advise on family governance, and handle outsourced finance and auditing for families.

About half of Gupta’s new business came to VAR via client referrals, whilst others have come via intermediaries such as lawyers and accountants, he said. 

VAR has a team of former investment bankers, fund managers, and analysts. It also partners with large firms to obtain research, such as Morgan Stanley. However, its investment decisions are made in-house.

Looking ahead, what does Gupta think the industry is going to look like? 

“The banks have made good progress in technology but further improvement can be made in areas such as inter-bank operability (e.g., consolidated reporting and risk management across different custodians). Swiss banks are getting much better at it but the UK banks still need to make more progress in this area,” he said. “The second area of improvement would be in the field of further transparency on costs, especially in the areas where the commission structure is still rife. The third area of improvement would be intergenerational wealth transfer and preparing the next generation for such transfer.”

Register for WealthBriefing today

Gain access to regular and exclusive research on the global wealth management sector along with the opportunity to attend industry events such as exclusive invites to Breakfast Briefings and Summits in the major wealth management centres and industry leading awards programmes