Sam Ghosh is a man in a hurry. Since taking over as CEO in April 2008, after two decades as an insurance executive in the Asian and Australian businesses of Germany’s Allianz, Ghosh has been working feverishly to build Reliance Capital into one of India’s biggest and most diversified financial groups. The 50-year-old executive has restructured the firm’s retail stockbroking business, ramped up its consumer finance arm and ventured into wealth management for affluent Indians and investment banking.
Next up is something close to his heart: insurance. Ghosh is waiting for regulators to draft guidelines for insurer IPOs so he can list Reliance’s life insurance subsidiary; he is also exploring bringing in a strategic partner for the business. In all these areas, Ghosh’s goal is as simple as it is ambitious: Be among the country’s top three providers. Currently, Reliance is India’s No. 4 private sector insurer.
“The penetration of financial products in India is negligible, even after the growth we have seen in the past five to ten years,” he says. “The savings rate is around 30 percent, and bank deposits account for over 55 percent of these savings. The opportunity is phenomenal for products like insurance and mutual funds.”
Reliance has been pursuing growth aggressively since 2005, when Anil Ambani took control of the business as part of the division of the family’s vast holdings between him and his older brother, Mukesh. Revenues have grown more than 14-fold over the past five years, hitting 61 billion rupees ($1.3 billion) for the year ended March 31. When Ghosh was approached to take over as CEO two years ago, he didn’t hesitate. “India or China were the markets to be in for the next 20 years. Being Indian, the choice was easy,” he says.
Reliance’s mutual fund subsidiary is the biggest fund company in India, with assets of 1.1 trillion rupees, 15 percent of the market.
The only missing piece of the puzzle is a bank — but not for long, perhaps. Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee announced in February that the government would consider granting more banking licenses to nonbanking finance companies like Reliance Capital. A banking license “will give us a source of retail funding and a client base to sell our wide range of products to,” says Ghosh.
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