Girish Agrawal, senior executive financial consultant with Investors Group and founder of Calgary’s Agrawal Associates
When he was growing up in India, Girish Agrawal says, he was “a receiver.” His family was poor and circumstances were difficult, and an act as simple as a neighbour giving him an old, unloved shirt brought him great joy. He learned early on to appreciate what he had, and it’s a lesson Agrawal has never forgotten. Today, as a senior executive financial consultant with Investors Group and founder of Calgary’s Agrawal Associates, he is proud to call himself “a giver.” Agrawal supports the Alberta Cancer Foundation by donating his time and expertise, including speaking at a special educational dinner presented at the Calgary Zoo Enmax Conservatory Hall this past May. As an informal get-together for donors, the event included a reception, dinner and guest speakers who offered their expertise on the topic of wealth and estate planning.
According to Alberta Cancer Foundation’s gift planning specialist Derek Michael, “Our goal was that donors who have made the choice to donate would learn how they can give more effectively, benefiting themselves and the foundation as part of a sound financial plan.” Michael and Agrawal wanted to convey the importance of having a sound financial plan.
Effective financial planning empowers donors to create a giving strategy that benefits both themselves and the charity they’re supporting. It’s an area that Agrawal has considerable expertise in but, more than that, he feels that his time advising donors how to help others is a way to show appreciation for the foundation’s contributors. “I want to thank those donors on behalf of the charity, because most of the donors donate with no expectations of a return or recognition,” he says.
He confides that, although he always wanted to help people, it wasn’t until he and his wife suffered an immense personal tragedy – the death of his only two children – that he truly dedicated himself to working on behalf of others. In 2005, Agrawal’s first son died of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), and in 2006, he lost his second to the same cause. “When they were with us, they brought enough value to our lives by giving happiness to us and anybody else who came in contact with them,” Agrawal says. “When I give back, I think that I’m bringing some value to my life.”
Giving is a philosophical matter for Agrawal, who has spent some serious time thinking about his journey from childhood poverty to his present wealth. He has the resources and ability to give and he says he feels an obligation to help others. “Otherwise, would I really deserve to have those abilities, resources or strengths if I weren’t using them properly?” he asks rhetorically.
Taking this idea even further, Agrawal employs a team of nine financial professionals through Agrawal Associates, despite the fact that it’s not really necessary for his own prosperity. “If I have the capacity to create employment, then I should use that ability,” he says. “Now I am happy that there are nine other families that are being supported because of the business activities I do.”
Brian Mennis, a regional director with Investors Group, hired Agrawal when he was a chartered accountant with KPMG a decade ago. Like anyone in the midst of a career change, Agrawal struggled that first year. But his interest in learning from top performers and ability to apply that information effectively soon separated him from the pack, as did his almost-magical ability to build rapport with clients.
“I think it’s because they see that he’s very genuine, very caring and very sincere, and he’s truly interested in helping them be better off financially,” Mennis says. “I’ve never seen anything like it in my 25 years here.
There’s no other advisor that’s invested that much back into the community, back into the business and back into himself.”
Agrawal clearly has a knack for what he’s doing: in 2012, out of 4,700 Investors Group consultants across the country, he ranked third based on new business credits, and first in Alberta. Yet Agrawal isn’t mainly motivated by profit: he routinely gives his advice away for free to those who need it, holding talks on debt reduction for clients’ colleagues, sessions on how to cope with job loss for employees at a friend’s troubled business, and financial planning discussions that deal with issues faced by new immigrants. “I really enjoy doing speaking engagements. It’s not just the charities directly – I will be very happy to support directly all of our Canadian citizens, or any person,” he says.
Along with providing financial advice to virtually anyone who asks, creating scholarships close to home at Calgary’s Mount Royal University and abroad in India, as well as donating large quantities of his time and money to a host of charities each year, Agrawal spends his free time skiing, taking long drives and enjoying the outdoors. He also does random acts of kindness. Yes, he is that person who anonymously pays for someone’s meal at a restaurant and asks the server to tell the recipient it’s on the house, just to see the smile on the person’s face. Why does he do it? It’s simple, he says. “I know in my heart and my mind that I did something good.”
Two topics Girish Agrawal enjoys: Cars and finances
Lose Your Wheels: On behalf of the Alberta Cancer Foundation, Donate a Car accepts vehicle donations including cars, trucks, RVs, boats and motorcycles. The vehicle, depending on its condition, age and location, will be recycled or sold at an auction to generate funds for cancer research. The Donate a Car organization provides free towing for most areas across Canada in addition to a tax receipt for your generous donation. Visit donatecar.ca for more information.
Lose the Stress: The costs associated with cancer treatment tend to be more than most families expect and beyond what some can afford. The Alberta Cancer Foundation funds a Patient Financial Assistance Program that provides short-term financial support to those in need. It also helps redirect a family’s focus back onto getting the patient better and not on financial stresses. Call 1-866-408-5465 for more information.