Interview by Bhawna Rawat
Professor Aman Aggarwal is currently serving as Professor of Finance, Dean (International Relations) and Director (Rektor) at Indian Institute of Finance. He holds his graduation degree in B. Com (Hons.) from Delhi University. He has completed his MBF from Indian Institute of Finance and M.Sc in Accounting and Finance from The London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). He has done his MPA from Columbia University in the City of New York.
Prof Aggarwal is editing the quarterly refereed journal of finance - FINANCE INDIA as its Executive Editor. He is was formerly Director at IIF BUSINESS SCHOOL [GGS Indraprastha University] and is Editorial Board member/Co-Editor of The Empirical Economics Letters, Research in Financial Economics, Global Finance Journal, Les Cahiers de la Recherche ISC, Euro-Mediterranean Economics and Finance Review, Research in Quantitative Finance and Business Management, the Journal of Financial & Risk Management Asia Pacific Journal of Finance and Banking Research, Global Journal of Finance and Banking and the Journal of Entrepreneurship and an invited Financial Expert. He is a gifted researcher & an excellent speaker. He has organized national & international conferences & chaired technical sessions, presented papers & participated in over 168 conferences, world over including several Universities in U.S.A, U.K, UAE, Austria, Australia, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, China, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, Italy, Israel, Malaysia, Macau, Poland, Portugal, Australia, Philippines, Romania, Jordan, Singapore, Slovak Republic, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Norway, Kazakhstan, Thailand, Tunisia, Uzbekistan, Vietnam. He is a visiting professor to universities in USA, UK, Europe, Latin America, Russia and South Asia. He is invited member on scientific committees of international conferences/associations & observer to research projects.
His in-depth analysis and views appear frequently on Radio, TV and Newspapers with regards to financial policies, education, capital markets & economic scenario of the country and the world. Some of these are All India Radio (AIR); Sveriges Radio (SWEDEN); Radio Radicale(ITALY); BBC World Radio (UK); Radio Russia (Russia); 94.3 My FM Dainik Bhaskar Radio; Pondichery University Radio; Lok Sabha TV; Rajya Sabha TV; Delhi Doordarshan (DD News TV; DD India TV; DD National TV; DD Kisan TV); BBC World (UK); Bloomberg TV (USA); China Central TV (China); Russia Today RT TV (Russia); RAI TV (Italy); CBC TV (Canada); ATN TV (Canada); Vietnam Television (VTV Vietnam); ITU TV (Turkey); Romania TV (Romania); Uzbek TV (Uzbekistan); AzTV (Azerbaijan); Nippon TV (Japan); News Nation TV; NewsX TV; Sahara TV; Aaj Tak TV; NDTV; Republic TV; PTC News TV; News World India TV; India News TV; CNEB; APN TV; ITMN TV; Market Time TV; Jain TV, Collegedunia.com and others.
Prof. Aggarwal has been felicitated by being Enthroned to a Chair position of the St. Emilion Brotherhood (from 8th Century AD) by the Heritage City of Bordeau, France (on 28th June 2007) a special Honour and Privilege given to World figures in Business, Arts and Science. He has also been felicitated by a nomination for the Honorary Doctorate of Finance by the University of Cergy-Pontoise Thema, France (in 2007) and the Honorary Professorship as Professor of Uzbekistan by Tashkent State University of Economics, Uzbekistan (in 2002), a 87 years old prestigious university in Uzbekistan (estd. 1931), in recognition of his contribution to academics and literature. He has also pursued a specialized program in Finance on Options, Futures and Other Derivatives from London School of Economics. He has also pursued the joint Japan/World Bank initiated Senior Executive program in Economic Policy Management from Columbia University at School of International & Public Affairs and has had a short stint at The World Bank in Washington DC, USA.
Aman Aggarwal’s experience in the education industry
For Indian Institute of Finance (IIF) which was set up about 31 years, in June 1987, back in a period which was not a license raj period. Although India and Indian industry are going through reforms in license raj and deregulation of license raj, the Indian education sector has moved into the licensing framework after the AICTE coming into the picture and a large number of the institution have popped up post-1991. Then a large number of institutions, technical institutions offering management courses, technical courses, like the technological and science-based courses started coming into the picture. Prior to that, there was a requirement that first any institution had to launch itself, serve the society and wait for an appropriate response. If the people of the country accepted the organization only, then they could apply for the Ministry of HRD after a period of 3 years for a recognition. So the institution never started for the purpose of making a profit or seeing it as an industry and was purely in interest to serve society.
The institution was initiated by professors and the basic structure was to develop it along the lines of Delhi School of Economics or London School of Economics which is specialized purely in Finance and the founder chairman and the director, Prof. Dr. hab. J. D. Agarwal, wanted to create a place of research where finance could take place just as Economics has grown up in the last 50 years. As the field finance had become important but there was not sufficient emphasis given in terms of education to finance people. So that was the purpose of its creation to foster and enable disseminate education, research and emerge as a centre of excellence recognized globally for its contribution. So it was never seen as what I said earlier, as an industry. Lately in the last ten years or so everyone sees education as an industry. Everyone sees it in terms of making money. Indian Institute of Finance never came in with such objective. The only fact that this institute is offering only one program Management of Business Finance (MBF) and one Ph.D. level program – Fellow Program in Finance and shows the intention the institute’s founder have cherished and built upon.
This institute has been instrumental in facilitating over 20-25 FMS institute and university in this country to settle their programming and the faculty. But they diverged from finance to different disciplines. We have some of the best faculty from almost all over the world. We have a library which houses about 75000 of volumes of materials which include about 58500 book titles plus other researched materials. So for only one program MBF to create such a big place, like the library is about 65,000 square feet of space in the building, with one floor of about 45,000 square feet of space dedicated to the Knowledge Center Library. I would be happy to see if other institutes would offer such large space like us keeping library resource as the epicentre for an educational institution. IIF Library is a public library and anyone can access this library at free of cost. One only needs to give their ID and a request letter stating that from when to when (the period) do they want the access to the library. We have professors from even the IIMs, University of Delhi, IITs and other prestigious institutions coming to refer our library in the last 31 years.
So, basically, the objective to set up the institute is to set up a center of excellence which could actually emerge to promote the area of finance and financial economics. Many students could have good or even brilliant ideas but without the presence of a good financial backing, they could not flourish. Those ideas can’t see the reality. This is where I feel that people need to undertake, even if not a full-fledged course, but a short-term course on finances to know about its nuances. This institute has been started by professors unlike most of the institutes which have been started by states, governments and industrialists. Fortunately, in the last 31 years, this institute has reached a position where this institute is very well recognized and accepted at an international level. Various international agencies like ADB, IMF, World Bank, EBRD, OCED keep inviting us for various meetings on a regular basis for the last 28 years. To the best of our knowledge, we are the only education institution which is invited at such meetings. Even here in India, other than the government institutions it is valuable to be part of decisions regarding implementing new policies in a country, which we have been doing through our research findings and interview in various media channels as yourself in the last 31 years. If you look at KISAN credit card, suggested by us in 1995-97; corporate farming; oil pool account; money laundering act; Budget Time Change from 5 pm to forenoon in 1997; European Constitution; post office banking and more than 25 such other decisions taken by Governments and International agencies based on the research findings dissemination of our professors. KYC norms introduced by World Bank and IMF was based on our work done in 2003-04 (in April 2004) and even prior to that. There were some steps, like Indian parliament consulting us for the articles published in Finance India in 1994-96 on Capital Flight from India to USA jointly done by professors here in India and overseas who as a joint study on these issues. These are some things which have fortunately been brought forward in the last 31 years.
I have been advocating for last five years at Lok Sabha interviews, all India radio interviews, Delhi doordarshan (DD) interviews to include post offices as banks for financial inclusion. They already are doing some kind of banking. So then why not make them a full-fledged branch in the post office and upgrade themselves so that they can do complete banking as well penetrating the nerves of India reaching far-fetched villages of India. And fortunately the finance minister in the last union budget in 2017-18 did give a hint to introduce it and I am happy about this. We are not on any political side but our objective is to give voice to local voices and serve the people of our country. We are quite independent of any kind of influence. We are happy about the contribution we are making to the society are not only in India but also at international level. I see it as a continuing contribution to serve our nation and we are trying to achieve what the co-founders especially our founder chairman and director Prof. J.D. Agarwal had wanted to achieve for this institution.
Our institute and quarterly journal Finance India is indexed by 35 agencies internationally (including UGC) and has over 38 MOUs academic collaborations worldwide. Then it also has very high impact factor rated by two or three agencies of 6.778 (rating it as 3rd out of 21,000 technical scientific journal globally). It has six Nobel laureates associated with the journal Finance India and another four-five Nobel laureates are associated with other activities of the institute. We feel proud of these facts. The fact that these Nobel laureates allow and accept to be associated with us is a matter of pride, honour and recognition of the small contributions we are making to the world economy. Not only for the institute but also for the country. We have been fortunate again that Government of India and Ministry of the finance, Department and Revenue; Ministry of Defence and others have been nominating its senior officers to come and pursue research programs and other programs at this institute despite being a non-government institute. This gives more credit to us that they wish to consider us for research studies rather than the well established famous institutions in the government sector in finance, giving us the opportunity to contribute and be an integral part of the growth of the economy. Zero funding coming from government altogether. We have built all this without a single penny of fund or donation from anyone, however have been blessed by book donations to our library by large number of institutions and individuals. So we see it as a service. When our students meet us, they tell us they are happy, their parents are happy, they are getting acknowledged for their work and are successful in their fields. We see them grow and that makes us feel that we are going in the right direction.
Mr. Aggarwal’s philosophy of leadership
I think there are different patterns of leadership in existence. But for an educational institution which wants to contribute in the society, I think leadership is when they are able to create people, a human resource not only in terms of alumni but them as true citizen of a country along with strengthening of the key human resource faculty. There was a survey done under a Spanish Government agency headed by Nobel Laureate in which IIF was ranked at 30th in one year and 35th another year among 4000 universities in Asian Continent. And we were ranked at about 4000 amongst all the 15,000 universities worldwide. That it is also a kind of recognition for leadership in finance. Only producing students with high packages isn’t leadership for me. I remember being called for a meeting held by AIMA of directors in Mumbai where I pointed out that an institution should make its resources available for the students in their region, that is what leadership is. How is a link up or tie-upping between the top-notch institutions going to benefit the country and its people? What kind of leadership are you trying to do? What kind of a framework are we trying to create? XLRI Jamshedpur director pointed out that they have done library tie-up with IIMs for their faculty and students to share the resource, instead the library as a resource should be such that anyone can bring their IDs and access it, now this is what I call leadership from which everyone gets the benefit not a select few or the elite. When universities and colleges become guide lamp for students, giving them opportunities and resources that is when they become leaders. In my opinion, such guiding lamps need to come forward and bless the society.
When MBA Finance Program was started in universities people said oh they are going to be a competition for you. No, we felt very happy and saw that as an extension and growth of the field of finance, which had been the dream of the founder of IIF. Knowledge must spread and not be constrained to one or a select few. We are very small organization. We can cater to a certain number of people but we want more and more people in the field to grow. How will it happen? I think when you start becoming an empowering organization rather than as an individual, that is when you start to take on the role of leadership. Leadership means that you are supposed to enlighten people’s lives. That is why we do a lot of scholarships too. We launched scholarships for college toppers and university toppers way back in 1987. A student cracking an entrance exam has altogether a different aptitude than a person scoring good marks in a university exam. This is applicable all around the world. As the pattern of the two exams are different, one being objective and the other being subjective. We want to recognize this. We want to facilitate it, making things grow. Grow beyond yourself. We feel proud when somebody comes up and says that oh we have hired your faculty. We don’t feel bad that we spent two-three years in training a faculty which has gone now to other institution. We feel good that other universities offer jobs to the faculty who have worked here considering them deserving.
It is not a question of one or thousands of students that you teach and they pass out. Chanakya (Kautilya) taught Chandragupta and he became one of the leading scholars. He picked someone from the street and made him the king. And we remember him even today as the most glorious period of the the erstwhile Hindustan. His book called Arthashastra is even valid today and I refer to it as the first ever literature in economics and Chanakya as the true father of economics. He taught only one student. You don’t need to teach thousands of students. Pandavas and Kauravas both studied together. Out of more than 100 Kauravas, only Duryodhana is known. So, it is not about masses. But what you contribute, the plant which you grow that plant should be fruitful. And not eating the society like a termite. What use is of creating students who will encourage corruption or bad influence on society? That means that the education has failed to induce in them the required positivity. Keeping this in mind, our founder chairman Prof. J.D. Agarwal introduced a full paper based on Indian Sanskriti “Indian History, Culture and Business” 20 years back in 1997 replacing the normally taught course on Business Ethics and Communications. Young people are like fresh minds. What is written on their minds by their teachers is what matters. That is what even the Prime minister Shri Narendra Modi is pushing us towards, that instead of being job takers become job providers. The entrepreneurship drive which is there is to bring out that hidden quality in a large number of Indians which becomes very visible in the overseas but not visible in the country. So this is all to motivate everyone to take risks. Even the previous government tried this kind of initiative, but it was not so successful. However, this government so far has been able to at least convey the message and motivate the youth and Indians to move in the right direction.
So the people have started thinking about it. Now more and more people are coming forward from all parts of the country. They are thinking about their bright future as being a provider rather than being a taker. A leader is not titled as a leader. I think the society’s growth is more important than getting a reward or recognition for leadership. I read a scientist’s works which said that India has conquered the world without waging any war, by conquering the minds and hearts of people. That is leadership. When you are able to reach the hearts and minds of people without actually forcing them or convincing them or influencing them to do it.
Challenges faced by Aman Aggarwal as the Vice Chairman of Institute of Finance
I think, all organizations whether small or large, private or government are individual families around the world. I have worked with the World Bank in Washington D.C, which is a large organization funded by countries. And I have seen it going through challenges. So if a large organization like the World Bank can go through turbulence than small organizations like us will definitely have to go through this. This is life. There has been a large number of problems which have been there in the past. But fortunately, I would have to say that the institution has been able to handle all of them and find its way in the turbulent waters. Despite multiple troubles, even in the future, we hope that we will be able to sail through, with our heads held high.
Mr. Aggarwal on how does his curriculum ensure best practice of industry
I am happy that you asked this question as this is related to the curriculum and progress of tomorrow’s India. Out of all the curriculum around the country or even in Asia, we are the only institution which offers programs purely in Finance. So that means in the 2-year programs, out of 36 papers, 33 papers are pure Finance papers. And we have been able to maintain this for 31 years now. We are happy to see the kind of recognition our students have received. Our alumni have spread all around the world in all sectors be government, industry, media, academics, films and others. This is primarily because of the strength of the course content and how we keep revising it.
Every course outline is revised every two years. Although, minor modifications are done every year. Then all the courses and course structure are revised after every 4-5 years. And it takes us about almost one full year to do the revision process because we look at the courses which are being taught all around the world, we scan roughly about 35 to 40 institutions across the globe, leading institutions in almost all major countries, see what they are teaching in the area of Finance, what is being taught at all levels. Then we get our feedbacks from about 140-150 professors around the world from different walks of lives and after that, a call is taken by CEOs and members of the academic council at series of meetings held at the institution. Now, this is something which keeps us moving abreast.
Insurance as a subject was introduced by us 1999. It was not an open industry at that time. Now in the last ten years, it has been coming in the private industry. At that time, it was only a close industry. We introduce courses based on the financial perspective and the way it benefits the larger society. E-commerce is the talk of the town after demonetization but we introduced this paper way back in 2001 or 2002. so we did not know that digitalization will so important that it will be the cashless economy. But we still introduced these looking at the trend going on. Even if you will look at our course there will be 8-10 papers which are not taught at any level of MBA which we are teaching here. These are the areas where people will engage in the coming years. That is why we thought that it is important to teach our students in these areas now given the futuristic outlook of changing shits in the world economy. I remember one of the deans of UCLA came in India and was with us for almost 2-3 days, in 2003, he took our course outline and said that I will show it at UCLA and will see if we can introduce some of these papers at UCLA. This is something to be proud of. One of the deputy prime ministers and finance minister of Poland addressed at IIF multiple times in 1990s and is now an Honorary Professors here. One of the ministers of economy of Italy wrote to us, that I would like to come and deliver talks at the institute. We felt happy and privileged that such people from all over the world came to visit us. This all what makes us feel that our curriculum is updated and not out of time. Many universities suffer in this country as they are unable to revise their course for decades. So the teacher is teaching what they have been learned as students and taught, so there is no motivation to go about researching. We feel happy to break this tradition.
Mr. Aggarwal’s views on the growth of students through placement opportunities available at Institute of Finance
I think it is important to highlight that the most important role of an educational institution is to give education. It is a misfortune that most institutes not only in India but even internationally publicise extensively about placements. Why don’t they come out with some research? They should be motivated and come forward to do that work. In my opinion, the importance of education should be foremost and placements come thereafter. If the student is empowered with right kinds of skills and tools there is no dearth of jobs. Today the challenge is that a young student joins a company or an organization and they are expected to deliver results within a month or a week. This is weird. Since we are not developing them as the market demands that is where the gap comes, which we see the industry complaining about.
Fortunately for this institute, all of the students have been placed, with 2-3 placements, they have a choice to make. Even those students who have ER in their results and haven’t completed the course technically have been placed profitably in organizations. The fact that you are coming from Indian Institute of Finance or IIF has its own value. Our students have been going and working overseas. But most of them want to settle here in India. And we feel happy about it as whatever we have been able to imbibe in them the right set of values and ethics and that they are willing to contribute it to the growth of this country. A student with the thought of placement in his mind will not sharpen his mind in education and is thus lost. We can see this in real life too. A large no. of graduates from leading universities get a very good job but within a span of one or one and a half year, they are thrown out. This kind of trend is not acceptable.
Mr. Aggarwal’s relationship with the students of Institute of Finance
I remember when I was in Columbia and at LSE and studying there in New York and London, a good thing I saw in these two institutions that the deans/directors would come and interact with their students. So my door is always open, any student can walk in and in every semester I teach them, one class at least, if not two to interact with them more as their guru than an administrator. We have created large number of committees for different activities. So a bridge is established and the fear is broken which lies among the students about interacting with the professors. Fortunately, we have been able to do that in the last 31 years. We make them participate actively. I talk to them on the formal note and informal note. So that each student gets different types of exposures and he can adjust and choose whatever is suitable for him. We always keep asking them. We have a feedback process after every quarter. Students’ feedbacks are put in public domains so that other students can go through it and choose whether they should take the class of a particular professor or not. One must make a point to listen to the students. This is what we try and inculcate and practice in the institution inducing transparency and togetherness. At any level of administration, you need to interact with the students.
Mr. Aggarwal’s idea of an ideal school environment
The ideal school environment is when people speak their mind keeping in their mind what the restrictions are and what is inappropriate. Freedom of speech doesn’t mean that you can speak anything. Encouraging them to participate in various events, not only in the institution but outside too. I think it is very important. Engagement of students in faculty is also important. I think the interaction between them, more homogeneously open ups the mind of the child and the faculty. As when we are teaching, it is not only the student who is gaining, even we as teachers gain from our teachings. Because sometimes there are some questions which come ups to me, which are quite unique and different and that makes me think on that lines.
Even in 350 BC, we had education institutions like Takshila and Nalanda which were centres of excellence. People from all around the world came to study here. What was important there was the relationship between the Guru (teacher) and the Shishya (student). Vivekananda became Vivekananda only because of his Guru. His teacher became more famous in a short span of time. Those institutions which are able to maintain such kind of goal-oriented relationships are able to create the ideal environment. Literature, Knowledge, Studies and Growth were still there when the internet was not there. Most of the leaders in the world have been from small towns and have been raised in adverse conditions. So it is not the facilities which make good students. It is the relationship and the need to learn which is required to be generated. Everyone has the need to learn but it needs to be enlightened.
The top qualities according to Mr. Aggarwal that an aspiring MBA/PGDM student must possess
Given the expensive demands and needs, the industry has been demanding. The way curriculum is being designed, I think you need to get a grip on the basics which you have studied. Those basics should become the part of your body, like milk and water which cannot be segregated. The grip on basic concepts is important which most students are missing. If the base or the foundation is not strong enough how will your building stand? In my opinion, this is what the students need to study. If you have studied agriculture and you don’t know what is crop rotation is than what is the use of studying agriculture? Such basic terminologies are ignored because many universities are exam oriented. Once you pass the exam you forget the concepts.
Suggestions for the current youth and the aspiring students by Mr. Aggarwal
The Indian youth is fortunate and blessed for multiple reasons. First of all, you have a large group among yourself that is about 65%. So you see a large population is filled with energy and ideas. They should know to channelize their energy and contribute to the nation’s growth and organization’s growth. Their growth is important but the growth of a nation is equally important. Growth in terms of only money or placement packages is not growth. That is not life. What kind of value addition do you do to yourself and contribute to yourself and simultaneously give to your society and your nation? You have to understand that you will grow steadily and gradually not suddenly in one day. If you grow very fast the chances are that you will fall very fast. So for a sustained future tomorrow, the youth should communicate with their elders.
It is important to harbour a relationship with your neighbourhood including your friends, colleagues, and parents. That bridge seems to be disappearing because in old times students used to go to their parents, professors or elderly to ask what to do. Today they google it. This makes them lost. They need to get back to the framework where they start living in the society. Not living by themselves. Not living in the virtual world but the real world. Today in this modern world, in a European country they have appointed a minister for loneliness. A big problem which their country is facing. Because people spend more time on the web than they end up spending with their kids or even their parents. I think we need to get back to the old classical social system and cherish the fruits of an enrich social fabric. I think youth needs to do that. And we are not saying that it is not possible, the way Shri Narendra Modi introduced demonetization and GST, I think the youth has strong confidence in him. The opposition tried to protest but there was no protest. This shows that the youth and the people of India has strong confidence in the policies that he is trying to bring forth. I think the youth needs to be a social animal, not a virtual animal.
Goals set by Mr. Aggarwal for his Institute for the next few years
The institution is doing fairly well in terms of international acceptability. We would like to see that happen more. The work done by our professors is getting recognition by the government, international agencies and even by the people across the globe. In due course, we intend to open different departments in Finance with different specializations. So people who want to work on those areas can come and contribute more aggressively. But if you have no financers you are at a dead end. People need to understand this whether it is government or an enterprise, given their objectives whether it is social or non-social, they need to understand finance, developments of finance in place so that they can go forward. We would like to see people even at the school level given some inputs in finance. Given the fact we are looking at cashless economy tomorrow; how does one go cashless then if you don’t know how to transact? You know how to operate a WhatsApp, Facebook but you don’t know how to operate your own account or about transacting money. Suddenly you got money and you didn’t know what to do with it and within few months you are dry again. And we have seen this in the last years that finance was made available so cheaply to organizations that it did more damage than benefits to the organizations. We aim to develop the confidence that people can manage their own finances and their institutional finances and not take risks which are unwarranted. We hope to service the society and the nation and emerge as a center of excellence through our research and teachings in the field of finance.