Andrew Grigolyunovich is a CFA charterholder (Chartered Financial Analyst). Currently Andrew is ranked #5 in the world for financial modelling according to Modeloff Official World Rankings. In 2020, Andrew and AG Capital team have founded Financial Modeling World Cup (www.fmworldcup.com). Before the establishment of AG Capital, Andrew has had 7 years of top-management experience in large Latvian enterprises and in also in the banking sector. Andrew received a B.Sc. degree from the Stockholm School of Economics in Riga and a Master’s degree from BA School of Business and Finance.
Andrew has more than 20 years of experience in the financial sector. The experience comes with its own stories, answers and tips. Get to know Andrew in an interview, in which we ask 14 questions about the beginnings of his career, current companies and future plans!
1. What was your first job like?
The beginning of my career was very interesting – already at the age of 21 I became the financial director of a large company. How did it happen? I studied at the Stockholm School of Economics in Riga, a 3-year bachelor’s program, which means that I obtained higher education already at the age of 20. In my first job – Trodeks (DT Mobile) – I worked for three months as a financial analyst. Then Trodeks management announced a merger with its closest competitor, Dual. This resulted in the creation of a single company, whose financial director became the head of the combined companies. I, in turn, was offered the position of a CFO. Sure, I was a little scared, but it was a fantastic opportunity, and I accepted the invitation. It was very interesting, the results were also good. I have to say that I got a very good and a very fast start. Now, at the age of 40, I can say that I have 20 years of “top management” experience.
2. You have obtained a bachelor’s degree from the Stockholm School of Economics in Riga and a master’s degree from the BA School of Business and Finance. How did both of these educational institutions help you get to where you are now?
The Stockholm School of Economics in Riga provided fantastic knowledge about corporate finance, financial analysis principles, discounted cash flows, etc. BA School of Business and Finance gave me specific knowledge, for example, about the tax system in Latvia. However, the biggest and most serious benefit came from passing the CFA qualification, which I was preparing for immediately after graduating from SSE Riga. It has to be studied for 3 years, every year the amount of study material is enormous, the exams are very long. Once I measured the size of the study materials, stacking textbooks on top of each other – there was 47cm of knowledge. It was a very interesting experience. I passed the exam, gained fantastic knowledge. This degree helps to open new doors and find common ground with clients and similar professionals around the world. By the way, we have just found out the results of this year’s exams – only 25% have obtained this qualification. This means that 3 out of 4 people do not pass this exam at all.
3. You are currently developing and also evaluating CFM and AFM exams, which are highly valued qualifications in the field of financial modeling. How did this come about?
Yes, I am. AFM exams are fairly standardized, I only participate in the assessment phase. However, for these exams, together with our partner Plum Solutions from Australia, we create test exams every year where people can test their abilities 1-2 weeks before the actual qualification exam. We also point out errors if the exam has not been passed. In the CFM exam, which is the next level of difficulty, one of the three questions this year was created by me. Therefore, I also participate in the evaluation of exams.
4. In one of the rather old posts on your Linkedin profile, you wrote that you seem to have always been interested in finance – since the age of 10, studying exchange rate changes. Did you always know that you would work in this field?
No. I would say that I came to this decision in 11/12. grade. I really enjoyed studying economics. I chose this field, got a degree, started working, and I have never regretted my choice or thought that this is not “mine”. This really is my area and I am in my place.
5. Your Linkedin profile also says that you have worked as a CFO, as a CEO, in a banking environment, and as an entrepreneur. What environment is the best suited for you?
Each environment has its advantages, its nuances. It is easier to achieve something and gain more value (also for personal development) in a entrepreneurial environment that is faster and more dynamic. Of course, you can feel much better and more comfortable when the business is already running and you only want to expand it, not when it is just starting. In the very beginning, others might be looking at you weirdly and say something in the lines of: “another overachiever wanting to start their own consulting business.”
6. It is no secret that the financial sector took a hard hit by the Financial crisis of 2007–2008. At the time, you worked for the Grenardi Group as a CEO. How much did it affect the company? How did you feel during the crisis?
I am only grateful for this crisis, because until then I worked for the Grenardi Group (jevelry retailer) as a manager and CFO. We were developing the company very quickly, we wanted to grow, but the growth plans were stopped by the crisis. It was also a good time to significantly reduce costs – the jewelry industry is not food production, thus, the company suffered more than the average economy in Latvia.
As a result of these changes, I managed to establish AG Capital CFO Services. Grenardi stayed with us as the first customers, then many others joined, and the company grew. In fact, thanks to the financial crisis, I stepped out of my comfort zone – if there is a good job that you are workiong in, a good salary, what is the point of going into the unknown, giving up all the benefits?
7. You founded AG Capital in 2010. How did you come up with this idea?
I think that this idea had been in my subconscious mind for a long time – I realized that I am good at financial analysis, I like calculations, I like helping companies make the right decisions. I saw that for many, especially for medium-sized companies, the business owners are very professional in their field, but when faced with calculations, they need help. I saw that this has its own niche, but I needed a “push for the start”.
8. In a survey conducted by one of our competitors on Linkedin, people chose passion – passion for an idea, a business, their field – as the main reason for starting a new business. To what extent was this reason important to you?
There was definitely “passion”. But it was also a coincidence of circumstances. Objectively speaking, the unemployment rate in 2009 in Latvia was around 100,000 people, with just over 1,000 vacancies available. Even these available vacancies were often only advertised to find cheaper workforce. There was no real way to get an equivalent job. So I started looking for other options. I knew that finance was my “passion”, and by putting it all together, everything started.
9. What were the beginnings of AG Capital – the biggest challenges and successes?
The first year was a year of a very rapid growth. At first I worked alone for a few months, but I quickly had to look for one assistant, then another, and a year later we had another colleague, a finance director, who managed projects. We grew fast enough during the first year, but then there were 3 years of stagnation until we took the next step.
In the very beginning, for the last money that I had I bought a chair and a kettle to equip the office. The office space was very small. Now it’s interesting to remember, but then the question was, “How will it be?” If you hire someone, even an assistant, even part-time, even just after college, it is still growth of employee count. Just recently you could barely earn a living, now you have to make sure that the other person can earn something as well. It was quite a challenging time, but fortunately we are over it and we now see that the business model is working.
10. A new idea started a year ago – the Financial Modeling World Cup. How did the idea for it come about?
For a long time, for 7 years in a row, I participated in ModelOff, which was a similar competition to the Financial Modeling World Cup. A year before we founded our competition, the owners of the ModelOff competition changed. It could be felt that times were tough for the new owners, the competition had several issues. It could be felt that they would either not continue their activities or the quality would no longer be as good.
So: we saw that ModelOff isn’t doing so well, we had a lot of ideas on how to make it better. My idea was – we do it ourselves, we do it significantly better, we do it more often, we create tasks and offer solutions, we allow people to learn and train. In the worst case, ModelOff would be forced to improve the quality of its product, and we would have a great championship in financial modeling. As a result, they announced that they would cease operations, making us the only financial modeling world championship. Microsoft joined us in our efforts and is now our main sponsor, although we were prepared to sponsor it all with our own money.
(Read more about the origins of FMWC here: https://www.fmworldcup.com/1-year-of-fmwc/)
11. What do you think is the strongest side of the FMWC right now? What is the still to work on?
I believe that the biggest sucecess is that we are gaining popularity, the number of participants is growing, the number of followers on social networks is also growing. People are not only participating, but also following us to find out interesting updates. A big success story was also our financial modeling battle – the first steps towards e-sports. In the first 24 hours, there were 85,000 views on Youtube, now 170,000 worldwide, ~ 90 media publications.
But I think and want to hope that we still have a real success story ahead of us!
I would like to achieve at least two more things:
I would like to see FMWC gain momentum not only in the field of competition. We are currently working to ensure consulting services – any large international enterprise can gain expertise in the field by hiring a top-level specialist. We want to bring talent together with customers. We also want to offer other services to companies – there is still a long way to go.
In addition, we would like to develop this competition as e-sport. Why can’t we have financial analysts competing with each other? Much like in e-sports, where the prize pool is millions of dollars, people sit in big halls and watch others play computer games. Why can’t they watch others build financial models in Excel? It’s just as exciting, at least for the audience interested in finance.
12. What is the best part of everyday work? What do you like to do best?
During these years, I have had to develop my capacities a lot – in the beginning I had to create financial models for customers, then I had to learn to sell, then I had to learn ecommerce and digital marketing, I will probably have to learn something else along the way. Every time you learn something, you develop the field and then invite people who do it better and more professionally than you. I believe I like to learn new things – develop new competencies and see how the company grows. Probably, I like to make strategic decisions the best.
13. You have worked in the financial sector for more than 20 years. What are the biggest changes that have taken place?
20 years ago there was a feeling that everything is going forward, developing, banks are providing credit loans, people are expanding their businesses, looking for ways to earn. The banking sector has now become much more tightly regulated and perhaps even tedious. I worked in this field in 2005/2006, but I would not want to work there anymore.
14. What is your one piece of advice to people in the financial industry?
This applies not only to the financial sphere, but to everyone. One of the tips is to do the thing that is close to your heart. If you work in the financial sector, but feel that you want to bake bread according to natural recipes, perhaps your soul will be much happier when baking bread. The second thing is to do your job honestly. Honesty comes back – customers value it. Honesty is what helps to gain trust.