Being an NRI for half a century and achieving success is no mean feat. But what makes Malayali entrepreneur K V Shamsudheen stand out is the way in which he has transformed the lives of thousands of expatriates by bringing the gospel of financial discipline and wise investment to them
When 24-year-old K V Shamsudheen set out for the dream destination of Sharjah on July15, 1970, with just two dollars in his pocket, the UAE was not even born then. The emirate was still part of the Trucial State under British protection. Onboard the vessel from Mumbai, while being buffeted by the monsoon winds, he battled seasickness with determination to forge a better future in the new land. During the voyage, the words of his dad rang in his ears: “Never send hawala money; don’t look at money that is not yours even if it is a pile.”
Half a century later, much water has flowed through Sharjah Creek and Shamsudheen has become one of the towering personalities in the Malayali diaspora in the UAE and is well known as an eminent entrepreneur, peerless financial advisor and stock market savant who has helped thousands of NRIs manage their savings judiciously, invest wisely and reap rich dividends. The founder and director of the prestigious Barjeel Geojit Financial Services in the UAE, he celebrated his golden jubilee as an expatriate on July 21 with a virtual ceremony in which the guest speakers included Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi, Chairman, Barjeel Geojit Financial Services, C J George, MD of Geojit Financial Services Ltd, and Dr Azad Moopan, MD of Aster DM Healthcare.
How it all began
But how did he go on to become the Warren Buffet among NRIs in the UAE as one media publication called Shamsudheen? He goes down memory lane to narrate a painful incident he witnessed while staying with a relative. He noticed two elderly roommates from Kerala who were about to return finally after spending more than a decade there. Their bags were packed, but even after a few days, they did not leave. “It was then that I came to know that they didn’t have even Dh 1,000 to buy ship tickets to Mumbai and from there to Kerala by train. I was shocked to realise they did not have any savings back home either,” said Shamsudheen, who realised the value of investment at the age of 13 when he bought 100 ten-paise national savings stamps with the Rs 10 his mother gifted him. He started saving and advised his friends to do the same.
He soon found out financial indiscipline and ignorance of investment options were plaguing Malayali expats, especially from the low, middle and upper middle-income segments. “For a good number of Malayalis, all that they earned each month was sent home through the hawala conduit and it was splurged,” said Shamsudheen, who hails from Chavakkad. Then and there he took on the mission to cultivate the investment culture among expatriates and there has been no looking back ever since. As he was working in the government service those days, he was free after 2 pm. Shamsudheen made good use of his spare time carrying the gospel of investment to the Malayali diaspora.
Say no to hawala
Overcoming barriers, Shamsudheen gained the confidence of the diaspora, convincing them of the necessity to open NRE accounts. He opened one and helped many others do so. The change was magical.
This made the financial wizard in Shamsudheen seek better options. That led him to Unit Trust of India’s US 1964 mutual fund. “I procured an application form and applied and ordered for more such forms. Slowly, I was able to help fellow NRKs park their savings in mutual fund and it began to yield results,” he said. In 1976, UTI invited him and appointed him its first overseas agent.
IPOs come calling
In the late 70s when many corporate entities started raising capital through IPOs, the visionary in Shamsudheen lost no time in jumping on the bandwagon, applying for one in Keltron. But it hit a roadblock. Those days NRIs were barred from investing in IPOs. Not one to be deterred, he sent several representations to the PM, finance minister and the RBI governor. Shamsudheen’s cause was taken up by Kerala MPs in Parliament and it sparked a debate and finally, in 1978, the hurdles were lifted by permitting NRIs to invest in IPOs with repatriation.
“TELCO was the first public issue that entertained NRIs, and I fetched and distributed 200 application forms among NRIs here. They all applied. Seeing my potential, the merchant banker of that IPO appointed me their sub-broker,” he said. During these 40 years, he could help Indian companies to raise more than Rs 25,000 crore by promoting IPOs among NRIs.
One of the major milestones in his life was when Mr C J George invited him to join his Kerala firm Geojit Financial Services in 1994 as an NRI promoter. “I also made investments and so did my family members, friends and acquaintances. I was part of their board till 2002,” said Shamsudheen.
When the investment boom descended on the UAE, fly-by-night brokers came flocking to make a killing. This made Shamsudheen think of ways to start a trustworthy brokerage house. “That was when I met Shaikh Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi, a turning point in life,” he says. Thus was born Barjeel Geojit Financial Services LLC in October 2001, which offers diverse products and services to suit the investment needs of individuals, businesses and corporates. Today, it has grown to have a client base of two lakh and 60 employees.
Shamsudheen, who has witnessed tumultuous events in the Middle East like the Iran Iraq War, Kuwait invasion, world economic crisis and the Arab Spring has conducted 582 classes on inculcating a saving habit and financial discipline aptly titled “For a better tomorrow” in the GCC and India apart from more than 1,000 radio programmes and 800 TV shows. Even during the pandemic, he was busy conducting 42 webinars. The programmes and classes are not limited to financial discipline. “I make the participants make lifestyle changes such as quitting drinking and smoking and pledging not to accept dowry while marrying,” he says with a smile “I have a very simple formula that if an NRI follows my guidance and saves 20% of his earnings, invests it monthly, I can assure them they can live happily when they go home.” His most beatific moments are when he sees expatriates he has saved from the brink of suicide burdened by piling debt, start from scratch and invest carefully following his advice and lead a happy life.
A case in point is an NRI who had eight credit cards and a debt of 2 lakh dirhams. Shamsudheen’s guidance led him to become a successful businessman.
Often, when people ask why he has not become a billionaire despite being in the Gulf for so long, Shamsudheen’s answer is, “I never wanted to be one. But in terms of the people I have helped make millions, I am a multi-billionaire,” says the 74-year-old, who enjoys the support of his wife, Samiyya, sons Sameesh and Shamil, daughters in law Fazla Backer and Rena Najeeb, and grandchildren.
He is equally happy that back in India, his Pravasi Bandhu Charitable Trust spreads his message by hosting financial education classes, workshops and programmes in the media. Shamsudheen can be contacted at 00971506467801