Investors have learned to live with the new normal and the fast recovery from the
pangs of the pandemic is reflected in renewed confidence that takes all indices to
new highs. ESG strategies, financial inclusion, and renewed growth in Asian
markets are positives for investment climate, said Ashok Sardana, founder
and Managing Director of the Continental Group, a leading GCC insurance
intermediary and financial services solutions provider.
In a recent interview with Insurance Business News, Sardana said financial
advisory and legacy management firms need to align with the evolution in the
priorities of a new generation of high net worth individuals (HNIs) and added that a
market-wide focus on ESG investments means that there are massive opportunities
for growth as well.
What are some of the challenges and opportunities the Continental Group has identified, within the legacy planning services space, for high net worth individuals?
Financial advisory and legacy management firms need to align with the evolution in
the priorities of a new generation of HNIs; many of whom have a tech background
and are both the influencers of, and influenced by, a holistic approach to wealth and
social responsibilities. From asset classes like cryptocurrencies and NFTs, to the
greater emphasis on ESG driven strategies; such clients are looking for wealth
management that is on the same page as their future-ready outlook.
A values-driven financial approach is now paramount, as HNIs become increasingly
aware of their potential to create positive change in the world. Capgemini’s World
Wealth Report 2020 found a very pronounced preference for backing sustainable
growth, climate conscious businesses, ethical governance, and socially conscious
business practices ~ in addition to high returns and securing wealth - among HNIs.
And these priorities increased, among the top percentile of such individuals. So,
reconciling this agenda, with the traditional outcomes sought by legacy
management, are the challenge. But a market-wide focus on ESG investments
means that there are massive opportunities for growth as well.
How has the pandemic and its aftermath impacted financial planning?
What are some of the changes you can identify?
Investment, wealth management, and insurance have all been affected by a change
in priorities - across individuals, institutions, and governments. So, changes like
thematic investing strategies, driven by long-term structural trends, are one aspect
of the changed financial advisory ecosystem. But another critical element is the
introduction of tech-enabled remote advisory services - which became necessary
during the lockdown periods.
Clients now have access to full-stack, app-based services, chatbots, and other
automated financial assistance. Advisors have to differentiate themselves through
personalized services. The response Continental receives - for our webinars,
podcasts, and other outreach initiatives - confirms this. Clients expect a mature
omnichannel approach to financial advisory services, with empathetic, and values-
based, contextualized human advisory services, complimenting the data-driven
analytics, and AI enabled insights that technology can unlock.
Insurance has experienced massive growth as well, which is very understandable.
The pandemic-induced recognition that any one of us can suddenly be exposed to a
severe health crisis has been a very sobering influence. We are witnessing a spike in
Life Insurance, Critical Illness Insurance; and policies that secure both the holder
and their dependents in the event of a sudden health issue, or unexpected
This is complex and evolving scenario is why our biggest strength, at The
Continental Group, are our team of more than 100 market-leading financial
advisors; who are able to identify market trends, remain ahead of the curve, and
offer balanced and astute insights to investors.
The Continental Group has championed financial literacy and independence
for women, and we now see you bringing up the financial education of kids
as well, in a recent podcast. What is the thought process behind this?
Universal financial inclusion and empowerment are vital, for the individual to live a
fulfilled and productive life, as well as for the macroeconomic trends to be rational,
and optimal - especially in the context of the post-pandemic revival. As you pointed
out, one of the recent episodes of Continental's ‘the dollars dirhams and our two
financial cents podcast’, was about how to talk to our kids and teens about money.
Being well-versed in financial matters is one of the greatest advantages we can give
our kids. It empowers informed and confident financial choices, and we believe the
sooner these subjects are broached, the more sophisticated kids become in their
thinking about them.
As far as trying to leave an impact on the financial literacy and independence of
women; I truly believe that we will look back on the strides we are making in
gender-parity as being as important as the focus on sustainability. Our ‘Girls Just
Wanna have Fund$’ podcast episode is still one of our most popular ones. Helping
half the population achieve its financial goals, and empowering them through
financial inclusion, can unlock massive growth potential in the global economy. But
more importantly, it addresses inherent biases, stereotypes, and other artificial
limitations, which we need to overcome; to create a truly socially just world.
What are some of the biggest growth markets that you see emerging, in
the near future?
After being hit hard by the pandemic, both India and China are regaining lost
ground, and this is excellent news for the global economy. As both significant
producers and consumers, it was critical that both nations resume their growth
trajectory. In India’s case, we are witnessing an unprecedented acceleration, which
will have a huge impact on the GCC nations as well.
PricewaterhouseCoopers expects the two nations to be the biggest global
economies, in purchasing parity, by 2050. 90% of respondents, to an audience poll
that we conducted during one of our recent webinars, believe that India and China
will grow exponentially in the next three years. So the investment sentiment is
extremely positive, in both the long and short term.
Significantly, the capital inflow, due to this sentiment, is being harnessed by the two
largest startup ecosystems in the world - which are aggressively expanding in
cutting edge technologies and breakthrough sectors like fintech. In India’s case
there is unprecedented potential for infrastructure renewal and expansion, which is
generating huge economic impetus; but both economies are investing heavily in
green technologies, alternative energy, and ESG-driven initiatives. GCC sovereign
funds are making some savvy investments that leverage the growth of these two
giants. There is massive scope for collaboration and win-win scenarios, and an
established history of cooperation, between the region, and these two economic
What impact do you think the vision and leadership of the UAE Government
has had on the economy? How well is the nation positioned to transition
into the economic realities of the new normal?
I think the UAE has benefited from exemplary and visionary leadership, in recent
years. The pandemic and its aftermath demonstrated this very clearly, but it has
been the case for quite some time already. The UAE is number one in the Arab
world, for most major economic parameters, and this is because of its diversification
strategy, and focus on creating a future-ready, innovation-driven, and knowledge-
based economy. The push for greater transparency, allowing 100% foreign
ownership in specific sectors, offering visas to innovators, adoption of emerging
technologies, and positioning the nation as a global commercial hub; are paying off,
as a strategy. But the big shift is the greater integration with the global economy,
and positioning the UAE as the benchmark in every people-centric, progressive
metric that one can think of. All of these advantages mean that the UAE is both
attracting the inflow of funds, as well as being the partner of choice, for
collaboration opportunities in other economies. And this is all down to farsighted
leadership, as well as timely and targeted government initiatives.