Most kids dream of becoming musicians, actors, or firefighters when they grow up.
Me? I lived and breathed technology.
From a very young age, I remember making it my mission to get my hands on every gadget under the sun and daydreaming new ways technology could be used to make people’s lives better.
But in one of those unexpected twists life throws at you, I didn’t pick a career in IT.
Instead, I ended up in finance.
On the shoulders of giants
My interest in finance was sparked when I took a trip to Mumbai to spend some time with my aunt.
At the time, most Indian women didn’t even work outside the home, let alone have high-powered careers. But here she was, the first female trader on Mumbai’s Stock Exchange, driving around the city and negotiating multi-million dollar deals on her brick phone while her pet dog slept on her lap.
To say I was hooked is an understatement. I was transfixed by the numbers flashing on her screens and the excitement of deal-making. So I was determined to get myself through an internship and follow in her footsteps.
I got my first taste of the trading room as an intern at HSBC and BayernLB, before cutting my teeth on Sucden Financial’s trading floor.
Things have a funny way of coming full-circle, though.
Not long into my career, I got the opportunity to build a high-growth OTC derivatives trading business with a global client base. This allowed me to marry finance with my first passion — technology — and get involved in the development of an OTC FX options platform.
When Covid-19 lockdowns hit in 2020, I suddenly found myself with more time on my hands. So I decided to study digital disruption at the Cambridge Business School. This really helped me broaden my understanding of technology and its role in challenging the status quo, as well as showing me how to build robust digital strategies that help businesses thrive in fast-changing environments.
So when I got the call to join ALT21 as chief commercial officer, it’s like everything finally fell into place.
Bringing finance to the people
It wasn’t so long ago that the world of finance was very different to what it is today. The masses tended to keep what little money they had at home, possibly hidden under a mattress. And trading… Well, that was for wealthy mustachioed men who spent their days in sumptuously furnished drawing rooms looking at ticker tape.
Technology has completely transformed the sector. It’s now a race to be the most convenient and accessible — and to the victor, the spoils.
But if, globally, there have been great strides toward financial inclusion and fairer distribution of wealth (though much, much more still needs to be done), trading tends to go over most people’s heads, despite it having an important role in their everyday lives.
Hedging is a case in point.
Financial instruments like options and forwards help keep the price of airline tickets stable.
An instrument called an interest rate swap has made the fixed-rate mortgage possible and, so, homeownership more accessible for everyone.
And even the Chicken McNugget wouldn’t exist if an infamous trader called Ray Dalio didn’t have the brilliant idea of creating a hedging instrument to protect chicken farmers against spikes in the price of corn.
Yet, many people regard hedging as irrelevant to them, boring, or downright wonkish.
There’s strength in simplicity
When I first started out as a trader, I quickly learned that the secret to success lies in building relationships that are based on trust.
Once you build a certain level of mutual trust, people will keep wanting to do business with you. But in order to get to that place, you need to make it easy for them and put processes and systems in place that help you operate as efficiently as possible.
That’s why one of the most ambitious projects I undertook entailed tearing up our most complex product’s operating architecture and moving it over to a new technology stack.
As scary as it was to take the leap, moving to a low touch model paid off. It elevated the customer experience and made it more accessible. And that brought with it a record period of revenue and new signups.
But as proud as I was of what I’d achieved thus far, a decade into my career felt like I’d reached a turning point.
I was determined to make broader, more sweeping changes that make the capital markets more easy to understand and accessible for everyone. And I realised that, in order to do this, I needed to leave my comfort zone and go somewhere where I could have a bigger impact.
‘Help us build the ideal firm’
When ALT21’s founder and CEO Barry McCarthy called me up to tell me they were looking to hire a chief commercial officer, I didn’t think anything of it. I have a good relationship with Barry and thought he was asking me if I could suggest someone that might fit the bill.
But our meeting left me nonplussed. I couldn’t shake the feeling that he was covertly trying to ask me if I’d be the one who’d be interested in joining. So I picked up the phone, asked him outright, and he admitted that this was exactly his intent.
Leaving somewhere you’ve grown comfortable is never easy. And it’s even harder if it’s a place where you’ve helped build something important from the ground up.
But when ALT21’s chairman Richard Hayes brought up an interview I’d done where I’d described my vision of the ideal operating model for a modern financial services firm and told me ‘Prit, help us build that firm‘, the call became harder to resist.
And when I saw demos and prototypes of some of the products the team was working on, it sealed the deal.
Hedging is for everyone
While it’s only been a few days since I started my new role, over the prior weeks I had many conversations about the company’s long-term ambitions and the importance of having the right culture to get there.
These couldn’t have made me more energised or fired up to get to work at ALT21.
OTC derivatives are essential risk management products for everyone — not just Wall Street types, but most especially small businesses and, yes, even everyday people.
Over the next few years I’m hoping to help ALT21 take them from exotic and elite to something as normal and mundane as car, home, or health insurance.