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What does India’s fintech leader of the year have on her mind?

Tarush Bhalla
28th Nov 2017
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ZestMoney Co-founder Lizzie Chapman continues to be optimistic about the India opportunity, wants to see more women starting up and feels that work-life balance is critical.

Lizzie Chapman has been a trailblazer in every sense of the word. No wonder her designation – Crusader-in-Chief at ZestMoney, which she co-founded in 2013 – doesn’t come as much of a surprise.

Before she co-started one of India’s few digital EMI startups, Lizzie served as the India head for Wonga, the British payday loan company. She then joined Development Bank of Singapore to help launch 'digibank’, the new mobile-only virtual bank of India. Very recently, the India FinTech Awards 2017 named her Woman Leader in the Fintech category.

When you meet Lizzie, what stays with you is her friendly demeanour that’s accompanied by humility and a sense of curiosity to learn more from the other person.

Lizzie Chapman. Co-founder, ZestMoney

The fintech leader featured in this week’s YourStory Conversations, offering her perspective on myriad topics, be it work-life balance or the future of Indian fintech.

Her conversation showed that her love for the sub-continent hasn’t dimmed ever since she landed in India in 2011.

On being asked her favourite travel destinations, she said: “I will try not to be too India-biased but there really are so many. I think I will go with skiing in Gulmarg, eating and partying in Bombay, rummaging around history in Calcutta. Oops, all India! Okay, let me add trekking in New Zealand and shopping in Tokyo!”

How did it all start?

But, before we delve in further, let’s rewind a little.

At the fore of the fintech revolution in the country now, what interested this entrepreneur in fintech?

“ I actually started my career working in an investment bank, doing research into global banks. I spent a lot of time looking at banks in less developed markets around the world and was shocked by how under-penetrated banking was in so many places - with technology the obvious solution - to both distribution and effective operations. I got obsessed with this over the years, and this became a key investment theme for me,” Lizzie said.

Eventually, Lizzie left banking to join a fintech company. She continues to be optimistic about the India opportunity.

“I think fintech, especially in India, is one of the most exciting and biggest opportunities in the world. The opportunity here is not just to build huge valuable businesses, but also make a real impact on people’s lives and the economy. I think fintech is taking off in such a big way because the timing is right. It’s such a HUGE problem to solve, and we finally have all the pieces of the puzzle in place – whether it is KYC, mobile adoption or digital payments,” she added.

She continues to bet on Aadhaar and e-KYC, which will bolster this trend.

“I don't think we have even begun to see the full potential; I think a lot more will come in the next 12 months.”

What’s up, fintech?

The conversation was also peppered with curiosity about the fintech ecosystem in India and where it was heading to.

To a question on the direction the Indian fintech revolution was taking, Lizzie enthusiastically said:

“I think India is leading the world in fintech right now, especially in payments tech. I think that will increase multifold. I think we will soon see a complete de-coupling of authorisation and authentication of a payment. We will use our bodies (irises, sweat, voice, breath) to prove who we are, thus removing the need for clunky old forms for authentication like OTP and QR code.”

However, she said more companies need to focus on things like Collections, a huge industry ripe to be disrupted, and continue to be the plumbing of the lending businesses.

So, what’s next for payments tech?

“I am biased of course, but I expect to see a lot more focus on payments coupled with credit in the form of ‘Paylater’ solutions, EMI solutions and all things related to transactional credit. This is such a great solution for this market where credit cards don’t make sense but consumers are keen to shop,” Lizzie said.

But not all that glitters is gold.

Lizzie took on some tough questions on what the Indian fintech ecosystem might be missing.

Giving a candid response, the ZestMoney Co-founder commented,

“I think we are collectively lacking ambition and confidence, and would like to see more entrepreneurs and investors in fintech. There should be more people believing in this opportunity, less skepticism. It’s ironic that global companies (especially Chinese) are coming to India and investing so heavily in the sector. Our own investor base (financial and strategic) has been more muted, save for some exceptions.”

According to her, this necessary funding will increase the risk appetite of entrepreneurs and help move consumer behaviour in the right direction faster.

However, Lizzie is vocal about the fact that the Indian financial ecosystem has some of the best fundamentals in the world (for fintech), including a relatively progressive digital government, intelligent regulator, low penetration of traditional financial services and a young mobile-internet savvy consumer base keen to adopt new solutions.

Overcoming the challenges

However, new-age mobile-based solutions seem to be struggling to target the right customer.

“Traditional digital acquisition methods like Google and Facebook are getting more and more expensive,” Lizzie said.

To tackle this, she suggested:

  • Don’t rely on one acquisition channel, whether it is Facebook, affiliate marketing, mailers, referrals or partnerships. Add a few more and just test, test, test.
  • Being good at targeting is critical in fintech as not everyone is your customer. Again, trial and error is the secret. And don't expect instant results.
  • Spread the word. Lizzie believes that the best possible marketing in financial services is word of mouth, referral or recommendation. Do a good job, create customer delight and they will tell their friends.

Of balance and leadership…

The questions for Lizzie weren’t restricted just to work; they also crossed over onto some personal advice.

Answering a question on the elusive work-life balance, the entrepreneur said,

“Firstly, I am not sure that I do (manage my work-life balance). I think everyone, especially parents, gets frequent pangs of guilt and fear on this one.”

But she has some tips for achieving that balance:

  • Learn to say ‘No’ (aka life is too short). Only make time for things that are meaningful and important to you.
  • Outsource, especially the home stuff. Lizzie said she uses Dunzo for errands and other delivery options. If she has guests for dinner, she’s okay with serving food not cooked by her.
  • Don't marry the wrong person. This is a common mistake women make; the wrong husband increases workload multifold. Find a genuine partner or stay single.
  • Last but not the least, “love what you do”. Then you won't mind doing too much of it.

What is it like being a woman entrepreneur at the helm of things? Does she see any challenges unique to Indian women entrepreneurs?

She replies, “First of all, there are not enough of us. It would be great to see more women-led companies as that would act as role models for the rest of us, and encourage more women to follow their dreams.”

But she’s not sure of any specific and unique challenges.

“I am not sure that it is any harder to be a female entrepreneur in India versus the rest of the world. Everywhere there are unique challenges that women face. These could be linked to outdated societal expectations or having to break down family barriers, community expectations or investor prejudice,” she said.

But having worked across geographies, Lizzie said India actually gives her a lot more hope than the West in some ways.

 “Here there is a strong young female powerhouse emerging, in fintech particularly. We have the best role models in the world (female bank CEOs who have broken every glass ceiling). I always think it is better to focus on the solutions than the problems, and working hard and setting a good example is one way I can make a difference,” she added.

Before signing off, the entrepreneur gives us a “jewel” when it comes to advice.

On being asked about one of her most challenging moments as an entrepreneur, she commented,

“It’s hard to pin-point one in particular, but there have been so many! I think I have a natural tendency to erase them from my memory and move on, which is a useful skill.”

So march on!

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