From dropping out of CA to joining the fintech startup world way back in 2013: Meet this unconventional Credit Risk professional
- Hi, my name is Ashutosh Tiwary and I hail from a very small town called Bokaro Steel City, in Jharkhand, India.
- Like most Commerce students, I too decided to take the CA route only to realise after 1.5 years and a few attempts that CA is not my calling. So, I am NOT a CA.
- I did my MBA and eventually started my career at Citibank in Credit.
- Over the years I worked in very traditional setups (leading banks and NBFCs) and somewhere in 2013, I took the unconventional path of joining a Fintech startup!
- Fintech is the talk of the town today, but back in 2013, it was new in India. So mind you, it was a big risk for me...but I leaned on my intuition to guide me back then.
- It all paid off as in less than a decade I have worked with the largest and best fintech startups namely Capital Float, MoneyTap, FlexiLoans & now Razorpay Capital heading their Credit and Risk teams.
Growing up in my hometown, we had no credible options for higher studies post Class 12. The only qualifications parents aspired their children to pursue were Engineering and Medicine. So, being a Commerce student by choice, in our city was very unusual in itself.
Post my Class 12 unlike my other friends, I moved to Delhi to pursue B. Com (Hons). After graduation, I enrolled myself for the Chartered Accountancy Course - the most obvious choice for B. Com graduates.
While I cleared my CA Inter, it took me around 1.5 years and a few attempts to realize that CA was not my calling. I decided to quit CA.
What next? As a plan B, I prepared for my MBA entrance exam and was fortunate enough to eventually get into the International Management Institute (IMI), New Delhi, one of the premier B Schools in the country.
Starting my ‘Credit’ journey with Citibank
After two well-spent years at B-School, I got my first break with Citibank in their Credit Underwriting team.
I was frankly not very clear on what a Credit role was all about. What influenced the choice was that we had a few seniors from our previous batch who had gone into the Credit role and their pre-placement sessions with us had given me a broader idea of what the role could be. That’s how my interest in credit spiked and it seemed like a good choice for a Finance major like me.
Also, Citi used to be one of the most sought-after companies on campus back then and so I took up the role!
Being a Credit Manager at Citibank, right from day one, I, along with my colleagues, had more than a 25-member team to manage.
Moreover, at Citibank, not only do you have to underwrite, but you also have to manage the entire processing hub. This includes disbursements, customer service, escalations handling, operations, and even exposure to restructuring/forbearance cases.
Fortunately, this diverse exposure happened very early in my career.
After a 4 year stint at Citi, I moved to another well-known bank and later to an NBFC.
Risking it all to build a career in Fintech Start-ups
By 2012, I was doing reasonably well in the traditional setups but was looking to take my career to the ‘Next’ level!
Around the same time, I came across a completely different world known as ‘Fintech’.
After a little more research, I discovered that several tech-led companies are innovating big-time products, underwriting techniques, etc. This hit me hard and I found myself to be really ignorant of the “parallel revolution” called Fintech going on in various parts of the world.
Being a curious learner, I decided to take the plunge without fully knowing the upside and the downside of the move.
Fintech is the talk of the town today, but back in 2013, it was new in India. So mind you, it was a big risk for me. Plus, I was doing reasonably well in my career in the traditional setups. But I leaned on my intuition to guide me back then.
So just like that in 2013, I joined Capital Float - a credit-led digital financial services company…and here started an amazing journey.
Over the years I have worked with the largest and best fintech startups namely Capital Float, MoneyTap, FlexiLoans & now Razorpay Capital heading their Credit and Risk teams.
Working at a Fintech start-up drives you to challenge the status quo
The culture at start-ups is very different than Banks/NBFCs and that can be unnerving for many.
My being an early-stage hire in all, the role extended beyond Credit Risk. It included new product development, building strategic roadmaps, analytics and collections/recoveries, etc.
Technology and Data orientation being the common thread across all.
Work-wise, it was demanding. I had to spend a lot of time outside work hours to learn about the latest trends in technology, analytics, familiarizing myself with new third-party solutions, and finding answers to the WHY of things that we had been used to doing in a certain way.
Since startups thrive on innovation, they force you to THINK hard. You have to unlearn, relearn and repeat the process all over again.
So, I think the experience at start-ups tests you in every way possible. It takes you out of your comfort zone, makes you question your past convictions, forces you to make your hands dirty, and makes you multitask.
I think the major learnings for me here is challenging the status quo- “This is how we have been doing till now” without logic doesn’t work in Fintech.
Believing in and being comfortable with data, especially the ones that contradict your own set of beliefs/experiences, has been a big learning. Also, I have learned to adapt better and be more patient.
Hiring the right team who would be willing to take the risk of working with you still remains the most challenging and time-consuming task in my role.
After all these years in Fintech, I still (and always will) consider myself a lifelong student of Credit Risk management and hence I am still learning each day.
"Do funded startups have less risk involved?"
Irrespective of funding, yes the risk element is always there.
If you join a startup, it is given you have to learn to adapt to uncertainty, both in your professional and personal life.
Pay-cuts are not always the norm. But yes, you have to be ready for it in lieu of ESOPs which can be a wealth creation opportunity. It’s a trade-off at the end of the day.
"Would a CA degree have made any difference?"
Since I didn’t complete the CA route, I am unsure if the career trajectory would have been different. But without a doubt, there is a lot of demand for CAs in the credit risk roles even today. I have had team members who had been outstanding in this role and were CAs.
At a personal level, I do think that completing the CA degree would have completed the full circle. Both CA and MBA would have looked good.
I must add here that being a semi-qualified CA did help me in the first year of MBA as the subjects tend to be common like accounting, law, economics, etc.
But I knew right from the beginning that CA was not my calling. I am glad I followed through with what I set out to do and that has made all the difference. Ultimately, comfort with numbers is important.
"What my unconventional choices taught me?"
I have mostly taken risky and unconventional choices in my career and in hindsight, those have played out well.
But, I think each journey is unique and hence, what has worked for me doesn’t necessarily mean will work for others as well.
I must add that such decisions are not taken in isolation. My family and wife fully supported me on this, but with a few conditions.
If I were asked to give two pieces of advice, I would say-
- Take risks. Don’t be afraid to come out of your comfort zones and pick a role/organization that challenges your established notions and the way of doing things.
- Read a lot. Spend time reading about developments in your respective field to keep abreast of what is happening in your industry.
The last two lines from the famous poem, The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost, sums up my career journey well − “…Two roads diverged in a wood, and I took the one less travelled by, And that has made all the difference.”
Now It's Your Turn...
As per online sources, the Global Fintech Market was valued at USD 5504.13 Billion in 2019 and is expected to grow at CAGR of 23.58% during the forecast period. The key factor for the growth of the fintech market includes high investment in technology-based solutions by banks and firms.
What is your take on Fintech?
Comment if you have questions for Ashutosh?