"Invest in yourself": Q&A with Jay Kumar of Foresight Analytics

Nearly two years ago Jay Kumar harnessed his "life-long personal values, corporate and investment experiences" to launch Foresight Analytics, a quant-based analytics, research and advisory firm. He tells Industry Moves about some of the joys, lessons and challenges he's experienced in the business so far, shares the best advice he's been given, and reflects on how his upbringing in Fiji has shaped the man he is today.


Nearly two years ago Jay Kumar harnessed his "life-long personal values, corporate and investment experiences" to launch Foresight Analytics, a quant-based analytics, research and advisory firm. He tells Industry Moves about some of the joys, lessons and challenges he's experienced in the business so far, shares the best advice he's been given, and reflects on how his upbringing in Fiji has shaped the man he is today.

What excites you the most about your career?

I am passionate about making a meaningful difference to the lives of my colleagues, clients and the ecosystem that I operate in. Establishing Foresight Analytics two years ago permitted me to harness my life-long personal values, corporate and investment experiences as well as a vast professional network to create a leading quant-based solutions firm. As a nimble and innovative business, it is our mission to solve complex client problems using data science and big-data technology. This is an extremely exciting field of focus for us. It has an enormous run-way of growth with a real potential for productivity gain across the entire industry. I don't believe data science is fully embraced by many of our competitors to deliver intelligent client outcomes across disciplines such as asset consulting, manager research, investment monitoring and investment risk analytics.

What has been the best part about starting up your own boutique business?

One of the key drivers behind establishing a data-based solutions business was to tap into an important gap in the market for evidence-based research and advisory solutions. We have successfully capitalised on this niche across institutional asset managers and asset owner segments. As a business, we have a unique ability to combine our deep industry expertise with industry-leading technology applications and access to a wide range of unique datasets to deliver insight-based solutions.

...and what has been the most challenging aspect?

Like any other start-up firm, we had to delicately balance short-term business priorities with longer term customer focused innovation. We had to be quite lean and efficient while leveraging heavily on digital technology and data to create a scalable business. Since inception, we have been able to successfully execute on our modest growth plans and deliver a wide range of solutions to over 15 clients across Australia, Asia and USA. We have been great at deepening our relationship with existing clients that has resulted in over 85 percent client retention rate. In our way of thinking, these are highly satisfactory results.

What has been the greatest lesson that you've taken from working for larger organisations such as Morningstar?

"To begin with an end in mind", and by that I mean focusing on customer outcomes. I learnt this insight while working at Morningstar and it has stuck with me ever since. Joe Mansueto, the founder of Morningstar and whom I had the pleasure to meet in 2003, placed end investor interest and outcomes at the centre of everything Morningstar stood for. I believe that is very powerful, culturally. I also think that as an industry, we often overcomplicate outcomes and processes that run the risk of losing the big picture - the client outcome. At Foresight Analytics, we bring to life 'customer centricity' as a key corporate value in every client project and solution we deliver. This attitude has also underpinned our innovation agenda.

Have there been any new developments within Foresight Analytics since we last spoke to you in February?

New developments at Foresight have been incremental and organically driven, as expected. Our steady growth has permitted us to further invest in our capabilities and resources. In particular, we have continued to expand the breadth of our global datasets and forge new partnerships with specialist technology companies. This in turn has allowed the team to innovate and offer additional solutions such as portfolio scenario testing and factor-based ESG analytics to our asset owner clients. We have been able to develop new industry intelligence tools to better serve our offshore-based clients wishing to launch new products in the Australian institutional market place. We have also added to our team in order to strengthen our ability to deliver investment process automation and digital technology solutions to clients.

Can you tell us a little bit about your involvement with Sathya Sai International Organisation of Australia & PNG?

Sathya Sai International Organisation is a values-based, philanthropic and services organisation with a global presence. I have been an active volunteer and office bearer of this transformative organisation for the good part of the past 15 years. The organisation provides a platform for like-minded people to promote values-based services and charitable activities in the community. I'm affiliated with this organisation because it is highly aligned with my personal belief of contributing meaningfully to a greater social cause and purpose. Through various programs of this entity (for example donating time and resources to the Exodus Foundation in Ashfield), I'm able to contribute towards services that are targeted at the homeless and underprivileged citizens of our community.

Where did you grow up and what was it like?

I grew up in a small town called Labasa in the Northen Fiji Islands. Growing up there was very different to living in Australia as you can imagine. Adapting to difficult cirucmstances in Fiji whilst growing up has had some lasting impact on my personal character and philosophy. It is during these formative years of growing up with my hardworking and entrepreneurial family that I polished my skills of self-reliance, determination, foresight, and the spirit of giving and sharing. I have never forgotten these personal values and indeed aspire to live by them within my community, amongst my peers and business.

What's the best piece of advice that you have received?

The best piece of advice received from my parents and mentors has been to continually "invest in yourself" through education. Of all the investment decisions I have made in both personal and professional capacity, the return on human capital for me has to be the most enduring and rewarding. I think this piece of advice is still relevant today for anyone in our industry who aspires to stay on top of their game.

What was your very first job?

My first paid job was as an investment officer of the Reserve Bank of Fiji. I started off in the foreign currency department of the bank. As a freshly-graduated finance student from Queensland, I quickly developed a passion for quantitative analysis economic cycles, interest rates and FX markets. This macro-economic knowledge became very handy when later on, I decided to pursue an investment research and portfolio management career, initially in New Zealand and then in Australia. I have been very lucky to spend a significant part of my career analysing capital markets, managing institutional portfolios and picking skilled managers across various asset classes. It gave me a real insight into what it takes to win in the money management business.

What's something that most people wouldn't know about you?

As an investor, I have always had deep affiliation for investing with social conscience. I was very lucky to be introduced to the values-based investing concept very early in my career (early 2000) when I was working for an ESG pioneer and expert in New Zealand. I remember my mentor and boss, Dr. Rodger Spiller (who had just completed his PHD on ethical investing practices of global corporations) sharing his insights with me at that time. I was absolutely fascinated by this idea of 'doing well while doing good'. Seventeen years later, I have taken Roger's inspiration and insight in strides and plan to foster a deeper understanding of risk and rewards attached to values-based investing style. Today at Foresight Analytics, we provide our asset owner and manager clients advanced analytics and advice on the sustainability risk issues with institutional investment portfolios.