Firing Line: Karan Shanmugarajah

Firing Line: Karan Shanmugarajah

You have probably never heard of WealthKernel and its chief executive Karan Shanmugarajah, but their exposure is set to increase dramatically.

This is because the firm is a fintech start-up offering a service that has become a buzzword in financial services: robo-advice.

Specifically, WealthKernel provides investment management and infrastructure support for companies – be it industry providers or financial advisers – seeking to operate an automated advice service.

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Or, in the words of Mr Shanmugarajah: “We are a one-stop shop providing firms with tools to build a robo-adviser, from risk profiling to portfolio management – it is all there. If you are a one-man band and you want to start a robo-adviser, we have you covered.”

Mr Shanmugarajah, 30, holds a Chartered Finance Analyst qualification and previously worked as a portfolio manager at Barclays Wealth and Investment Management, where he was responsible for more than 700 accounts.

He decided to trade in the stability of a job at the bank to pursue the start-up venture with ex-Barclays Capital developer Joe Campbell and Yannick Brunner from the hedge fund industry.

He said: “Some people crave stability, but I was born in Sri Lanka and became a war refugee to Canada, so stability is a relative term for me. As long as you have education, experience and a good reputation, that is what you need for stability. You do not need to work in a big bank.”

Mr Shanmugarajah admits the business is bootstrapping – with the three founders not taking a salary until September this year, even though the business formally listed with Companies House in July 2015.

However, the firm, which operates from Google Campus in London and employs six people full-time, is in the process of closing a seed round totalling more than £300,000 with Seedcamp, which provides first round funding for start-ups.

Mr Shanmugarajah is not the typical CEO of a company that operates in the financial arena. He gets around town on a fold-up bike and makes the point of not splashing out on clothes, wearing trousers that have been mended, a plain shirt and a black jacket featuring the company’s logo.

The logo, he explained, symbolises the firm’s philosophy with technology, represented by the cog supporting the human adviser in servicing larger and smaller clients – represented by big and small leaves respectively.

Mr Shanmugarajah, said: “Full advice is the best standard. It is the BMW of financial advice. Right now, if you can’t afford that, you are forced to take the bus. We have created the middle layer – we are the Peugeots of the world.

“It is not better than full advice, but for those people who want the benefit of face-to-face, we are trying provide that by reducing the cost of the process through digitisation. We are trying to empower IFAs, bankers that are turning away small clients because they are unprofitable.”