Viraj Kulkarni

Global Custodian speaks to Viraj Kulkarni about his journey from custody intern to running a multi-market consultancy.
Inducted: 2022

With a three-decade career encompassing various responsibilities along the transaction chain both in India and Europe, Viraj Kulkarni founded the ever-expanding Pivot Management Consultancy, which he runs from its Mumbai headquarters. 

How did you first get involved with the securities services industry? Was it by design or by accident? 

That is an interesting question. I would say more accidental than design! Thirty-two years ago, I entered the capital market through a three-month internship with StockHolding, the then largest custodian in India. I didn’t know what custodians did. I said, “Okay, I’m going to be here for three months, let me understand this, and then go look for a job.” All I was interested in was the three-month internship that I needed to complete as part of my training to become a qualified company secretary. 

My first job soon after my internship was working for the BSE, then the largest stock exchange in India. I was head of investor services and we would try to see how the market issues relating to institutional investors could be resolved. One of my responsibilities was resolving market issues which involved custodians. So almost every custodian’s head of operations would meet up with me. I would sit with them to understand custody and how it worked, though my responsibility was more resolving market infrastructure issues! 

The third part of the journey came when I joined Morgan Stanley and set up its broking operations in India. Morgan Stanley used to trade for a lot of foreign investors and one of my responsibilities was the operational aspects of the interaction between the broker and the custodian.  

The fourth part of the story began when I joined Citibank custody. That involved getting into the thick of custody, understanding the product and everything that goes with it.  

Every stage was a discovery. The fifth part, setting up PIVOT to advise in the custody space, is hopefully the discovery, because I never thought I would ever set up PIVOT. We were the first to set up a custody consultancy in India. So that was another phase of discovery. Every stage of the journey has involved an interesting discovery. Who knows what the next discovery will be? Just like I never thought I would be in custody when I was a five-year-old and my dream was to join the police! 

By the way you describe it, there is a logical progression there. You weren’t falling from one job into another just by chance. 

Well, there was an element of chance because, as I said, I wanted to complete an internship just to get my degree as a qualified company secretary. I knew StockHolding was a company in the capital market. I didn’t know anything beyond that. I was just keen to get my degree. 

Interning with StockHolding was an accident. When I was at BSE, I never thought I would get into broking. When I was in broking, I never thought I would get to work as a custody country head. Joining Citibank as country manager was an accident. That was my first job directly in the world of securities services as head of custody. So again, that was an accident. 

After having worked in Citibank in India and Switzerland, JP Morgan and BNP Paribas, the business area became a sort of passion. PIVOT was not something that I had thought about. It came about after some discussion with my family.  That was eight years ago. Thus, this too was accidental. But look at it today, eight years on, we are the largest consulting company in Asia. We are doing projects in Europe and Middle East too. So, I think in that sense, I’m looking forward to more accidents happening! 

Over your time in the industry what do you see as the biggest changes? 

The big change in my mind is the industry has moved from being principally responsible for clearing and settlement to being now what we can rightly call wealth protectors. As economies grow our clients create wealth, but they look to us to help protect their wealth. I think we should call ourselves wealth protectors and be proud of it. This besides the other often discussed developments in the industry. 

You’re now running PIVOT, your own consultancy.  Is there anything that you have in mind for PIVOT that you haven’t yet launched? 

Every evening is, “What more can we do?” and every morning is, “Okay, let’s make this happen.” If I look at Pivot’s footprint in the last eight years, we’ve moved from a one-member shop to six members. We’ve moved from one country to multiple countries. We’ve moved from the custody consulting to seven verticals. So, it’s always been, “Let’s do a little more.” 

One thing I look forward to doing that I’ve been discussing with my peers and colleagues globally is invest more in education, training and mentoring. I think our industry needs a lot of skilled people across the globe. At the same time, we have a lot of skilled people who may have retired but have deep expertise and knowledge to offer. I think we should draw on that expertise as our industry will only grow bigger and diversify. At PIVOT we will keep collaborating and making change happen while being part of the change too. While business re-engineering, market advocacy and infrastructure development will continue to be our mainstays, we also plan to increase focus on DLT, blockchain and new markets.