Exclusive Interview with Ajith Fernando, CEO – CAL Group
Having established itself as the preferred, full-service Investment Bank in Sri Lanka, the CAL Group is expanding into overseas markets such as Bangladesh. As the Group takes its first international steps forward as part of the Group’s expansion strategy, we sat down with Ajith Fernando, the CEO and one of the founders of the CAL Group, to hear first-hand about the company’s journey and vision for the future.
Tell us about how it all began?
As 1999 drew to a close, the other two founders and myself resigned from the company at which we were employed at the time, to begin the next stage of our own journeys. We were at crossroads. Either we joined another firm, or more excitingly, we are stared our own. With a history in Securities Trading, we first established CAL as a Debt Securities Dealer which graduated to become a licensed Primary Dealer appointed by the Central Bank of Sri Lanka. Over time we evolved into a full-fledged Investment Bank offering Debt and Equity raising, M&A advisory, Fund Management services, Stock Brokering and in house-Research services. It’s been an incredible journey.
What are the milestones that stand out to you on this journey?
In the Securities Trading industry, there are only a handful of non-Bank Primary Dealers, so being able to establish one from scratch was a great accomplishment. To have it be a central part of the Group 20 years later is something that I can look back on.
Subsequently with the end of the war in 2009, the investment arena in Sri Lanka witnessed significant capital inflows and economic activity, and we were in an excellent position to capitalise on this. We have helped raise over 17 billion rupees for companies through public equity issuances, putting us among the top players in Sri Lanka’s equity markets. Our expertise in Debt markets is apparent, as we have raised over 50 billion rupees in the last 24 months alone.
Our progress thus far has been driven by a mantra at CAL and that is “we are always only two years away from irrelevance”. I think this has kept us on our toes and ever ready for the next challenge, for there is no worse way to fade away than to become irrelevant.
What is your view on knowledge sharing?
Recently, we launched our “Wealth of Experience” campaign, which rests on the pillars of Learn, Invest and Grow, building on the experiences amassed in these areas. Through this programme and platform, we are able to share the knowledge we have gained and enable our clients and collaborators to achieve the best results possible amidst prevailing market conditions.
CAL’s Research team has constantly maintained the “Learn from a Wealth of Experience ” vertical, bringing to the fore in-depth insights on macroeconomic fundamentals, industries and companies. A testament to their research excellence has been evident through their consistent accolades at the annual CFA Capital Market Awards, having been awarded the best Research Team award in 2021.
Our unique value proposition lies in our ability to draw on the different verticals that the Group operates across. Our openness to knowledge sharing and collaboration has helped us emerge as one of the largest fund managers in Sri Lanka with Assets under Management exceeding 80 billion rupees. The CAL Investment Grade Fund is the only double rated fund in Sri Lanka, holding both A and A+ ratings from Fitch and ICRA respectively, while the CAL Income Fund has been recognized as the best performing fund in 2021.
What is the vision for the future?
Our strategy has plans to grow and consolidate our position as one of the full-service Investment Banks in Sri Lanka. In the immediate term, the Group has established its foothold in Bangladesh, having received the Trading Rights Entitlement Certificate (TREC) from the Dhaka Stock Exchange. In addition, the Group has ventured into an equity partnership with BetaOne Investments Limited, in which they will offer advisory and wealth management services. While our foray into Bangladesh has initiated our global expansion strategy, we have also considered other strategies that are closer to home. What I can say for now is that we are about to enter a very exciting phase of our journey, as we continue to steer our vision for Frontier Markets into the future.