The right kind of communication

This article first appeared in Entrepreneur Magazine | Intelligent Entrepreneur | May 2014 edition

AICL is ensuring that there is just the right kind of communication coming through
India's companies. 

Hailing from a traditional Marwari family in Kolkata, I knew that I had to learn number crunching early and quickly, too. I started out at the age of 15 by helping with the accounts in the family business. While I was in school, I was interested in participating in extracurricular activities like debates, and would also contribute to the school magazine. My passion for writing later resulted in a job, that of writing for The Statesman, the local newspaper in Kolkata. After completing my Bachelors in Commerce in 2002, I decided to be a chartered accountant. In the meantime, I worked for an audit and finance team of a steel fabrication company in Kolkata, that same year.

Number crunching

At the steel firm, I took on a lot of responsibilities with respect to financial restructuring and operations.

In 2003, financial awareness was high in the people across the country - it was a decade post the economic reforms and we saw Indian firms acquiring companies abroad and vice versa. We heard more about joint ventures and mergers.

The concept of news channels dedicated to financial information became a trend. Annual reports and disclosure of financial information was always a mandate. With the banking and finance sector opening up, loan contracts became a crucial aspect. However, the annual reports at that time were not reader-friendly.

Being a CA, I knew how important a financial disclosure is and how relevant it is to communicate the information to all stakeholders. Advertising agencies were in charge of communicating all company-related information to the investors. There was a basic flaw in this process — advertising agencies are not designed to understand balance sheets, annexures and other financial aspects of an annual report. Without a complete understanding of these aspects, communication of results to investor groups would not be either precise
or qualitative.

A new business

I identified the opportunity and decided to merge my knowledge about financials with my ability to write. I knew that there would be a demand for the kind of product I was looking to offer. With this vision in mind, I headed to Mumbai, the financial capital of the country in 2005. I began doing research on the financial markets, launched AICL Communications Ltd. formerly known as Atherstone Investor Communications Limited (AICL) and in a year's time, started my first project with a team of three and a seed capital of Rs. 1 lakh that was sourced through personal savings.

The seed capital was used to purchase basic equipment, rentals and operating costs. The work was not capital-intensive and hence there wasn't much initial investment required. Today, we handle over 100 projects for companies across various parts of the country.

We started out with making annual reports but today, we are a fully integrated communications consultancy that is looking at creating value and giving information to diverse stakeholders in an effective and innovative way. We work with companies like Hindustan Unilever, Tata Group, Mahindra and Mahindra and many others and provide consultancy and reporting solutions.

Financial affairs

Around 60 percent of our work is related to financial reporting, which accounts for nearly 80 percent of our revenues. However, over time as the markets have matured, the need for information has varied according to the group of stakeholders. That is when we made a foray into the sphere of non-financial reporting including sustainable and business review reports and long-term prospects of a firm.

We have a team of 40 comprising designers, writers, chartered accountants based out of Mumbai and Kolkata. In 2010, we brought about a change in our work strategy by setting up a sustainable communication practice where we design and create employee newsletters and corporate biographies for internal communications. We also provide financial solutions to companies for their websites. For FY14, our operating income was 40 percent of our sales and we work on 5 crore of our top line.

These eight years have not been a smooth ride and unlike manufacturing companies, the challenge here is not about increasing capacity.

It is in ensuring that the quality of the deliverables is maintained across all projects. It is about creating value addition for the client, which is a huge challenge. In addition to this, hiring has been extremely difficult in this niche field. I feel that there is a lot of potential in the market and we have just scratched the surface. There is room for a lot of players in the market.

Not more than five percent of the 8,000 listed or to be listed companies in India are accessing any communication or advertising services. We have ambitious plans for the growth of the company and international expansion is something that we are looking at this year. However, we are also looking at doing government projects and work for non-profits.