Organised by Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Finance, Central Bank, and Capital Markets Authority – the Financial Sector Conference in Riyadh is a highly anticipated gathering of industry experts and decision-makers from across the globe. This exclusive, invite-only, Conference started in 2019 and takes place every four years, this year it is taking place on March 15-16. It is Saudi Arabia’s attempt to bolster its agenda of being a regional Financial power in line with its vision 2030. The conference provides a unique platform for dialogue and knowledge sharing among top-level financial executives – shaping the future of the financial services industry.
Among the attendees who have been invited by Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Finance to participate is Pravesh Rijal, an expert and executive leader in the field of Quantitative Investment Strategy. Rijal was born in Biratnagar, Nepal, and came to Kathmandu only after completing his SLC from St Joseph’s School, Biratnagar. His journey took him across continents, from Australia to Europe to North America. His academics include degrees from New York University and Oxford University. Starting his career earlier, he worked for hedge funds managing 100+ Bn dollars in his 20s and since then has held many high-level roles on Wall St for global banks including Citigroup. Today, this New York-based Banker is Head of Quantitative Strategies at Crossriver – where he enables global fintech players to shape the future of finance via his team’s strategic investments, instrumentation, and market building.
The 32-year-old is probably the only Nepali privileged to attend the Financial Sector Conference as a delegate this year. In some sense, Mr Rijal is bearing the flag of Nepali soft power in global financial services in Riyadh. For someone who has been a driving force in advancing fintech solutions and pushing the boundaries of financial innovation globally, the conference provided an excellent platform to share his expertise and knowledge with global financial leaders, who is who, and experts.
Excerpts of a brief interview with Mr. Rijal:
Could you please describe your career journey?
I come from Biratnagar, a place that will forever be close to my heart. After completing my high school education in Nepal, I moved to Australia for higher education. During my time there, I had an opportunity to go to the US for summer school and was lucky enough to do an immersion program at a firm on Wall Street. The allure of Wall Street was too strong, and I knew then that I wanted to become a Wall Street banker.
After completing my education in Australia, I moved to the USA and obtained my Financial Engineering degree from New York University. At the same time, I worked for a hedge fund. This experience helped me land a job at Citigroup as a Vice President, where I built quantitative strategies for Citigroup's real estate portfolio. I’ve worked for other Wall St banks covering Latin America, Asia, and Europe. Rose through the ranks to today leads the Quantitative Strategies Group at Cross River Bank.
I’ve always been passionate about the financial services industry and its capabilities. How this industry is an enabler of innovation, human expression, ingenuity and growth. Therefore, in addition to my professional work, I have also been actively involved in pro bono initiatives within the financial services industry in less fortunate geographies. I have been an advisor to other Banks, Fintechs and Universities including Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) – mostly around the area of either quantitative investment, product instrumentation or Fintech.
How do you envision leveraging your expertise for the benefit of Nepal in the coming years?
I strongly believe that financial services are about unlocking markets, enabling people, and creating opportunities through intermediation and innovation. At its core today, the financial services industry is more about technology, science, and math rather than finance, and Nepal has a huge opportunity to leverage its tech-savvy workforce. One of my agenda is to be able to enhance the human resource capital of Nepal, upskill them and send a message to the world that Nepali resources are high-value assets and not just cheap labor. What better venue than Saudi Arabia.
Another big way is through soft power and influence. I make a point to highlight my Nepali roots and carry it proudly at every conference, seminar, forum, and meetup I am speaking at. I believe that this simple act of representation can help build awareness and support for Nepal. We need to build a brand for Nepal, we need to advertise how all of us Nepalis have been contributing every day to make an impact in our respective industries globally. Above individual achievements, it is my Nepali roots I want the world to see, so that tomorrow the global marketplace sees us as doers and achievers. It helps build trust, which goes a long way.
I try to visit Nepal at least 3 to 4 times a year and spend time with my colleagues in the financial services industry here. Both in regulatory agencies as well as the commercial sector. I learn from them every day and always have my offer for knowledge sharing on the table. In the past, I have done pro bono work with Nepali institutions around knowledge sharing and capacity building, which I plan to continue.
What measures can Nepali businesses take to remain competitive in the face of growing globalization and digitization of the financial landscape?
This is a great question. In essence, you are asking me, what does tomorrow have for us? The whole world is going through a transformation. I believe there are three key trends: going from globalization to regionalization, decentralized economy, and Intelligent machines. And I feel the answer to your question is a positioning mix of these three elements.
The policy should set our orientation and we should seek to bolster our position in regional markets. The next 10 to 15 years will be characterized by intelligent machines and a decentralized economy. As business models are getting disrupted and the barrier to entry continues to lower even for traditionally very protected industries (eg. Financial services), a country like ours has huge opportunities. We should build to cater to a Web 3.0 world, we should train our workforce on intelligent machines and our policy instruments should be our enablers – giving us a chance to take share in newly forming regional markets. That is the real opportunity, and real risk is the risk of being left out and being stagnant.
What should Nepal’s financial sector focus on to transform the country?
Money is the blood of an economy and the Banking sector is the circulatory system. It is precisely how we should see banking, as an enabler – enabling markets via intermediation. Finance is broader than just banking. The Nepali financial sector, with proper policy orientation, could be a game changer in our growth path. The focus should be on how we position ourselves for tomorrow, what Nepal has to add to the world, and how we participate in this exciting age of global transformation. We want a share of the pie, we want a footing on the globe – then we need to identify our market and go meet them at the point they are. Our policy infrastructure should gear towards setting that orientation and enabling our commercial sector. Likewise, our diaspora should use our soft power to take Nepali Agenda to the world through representation.
It has been an exciting journey so far for me personally and I seek to push this agenda forward each day every day. Not giant leaps but baby steps will do the trick if we know the direction and are honestly persistent.