If you don’t believe in your idea, nobody else will: Shalini Warrier, COO of Federal Bank, tells women entrepreneurs

Shalini Warrier, Chief Operating Officer of Federal Bank, speaks about the importance of family and institutional support systems, and why women entrepreneurs must be confident and stay on course.

Shalini Warrier - COO, Federal Bank

As the Chief Operating Officer (COO) of the privately held Federal Bank, Shalini Warrier is one of the few women in Kerala to have made a mark in a senior leadership position in the banking industry. She is a role model for a number of women who aspire for leadership roles. And, she is making sure that they get there.

Shalini has worked with Standard Chartered Bank for more than 25 years. She was the CEO and Head of Consumer Banking in Brunei before she joined Federal Bank in 2015. A member of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India and a certified associate of Indian Institute of Bankers, she is also Chairwoman, Kerala, Indian Women Network, Confederation of Indian Industry.

The Woman Startup Summit organised by the Kerala Startup Mission (KSUM) in Kochi last week, was the perfect fit for Shalini Warrier, who shared her experiences as a woman banker and as a mentor for women entrepreneurs in the state.

On the sidelines of the event, Shalini Warrier spoke to HerStory on why women need personal and institutional support systems to excel, the need for self-confidence, and why it’s imperative to be financially empowered.

Building senior leadership

Despite making a mark in all fields, why are there still very few women at the top? Why do they still face stumbling blocks?

Shalini explains: “There are two parts to the issue. The first stumbling block is the woman herself. The innate knowledge and confidence that I know the subject and can excel in it is sometimes missing. There will be failures, stumbling blocks, but if you have the confidence, the resilience, and perseverance, you can succeed against all odds. Sometimes, you create phobias around you that are non-existent.”

“Having said that, there is also a practical side: the presence of a support system around you. There are two parts to the support system. The first is your own family; the second is institutional support, which still has some gaps,” she says.

From a Federal Bank perspective, Shalini says the organisation is committed in its support to women, whether it’s the form of creches, sabbaticals, longer maternity leave, a conducive transfer environment, and returnship programmes.

“With self-confidence, assurance, institutionalised support, and family backing, we are now seeing more successes. Is it enough?” she asks.

Times are changing

While we still have a long way to go, things are definitely looking up for women.

Shalini, who is single, believes that some of her personal challenges have been around institutional support not being available and the biases that have crept in while dealing with men.

“Honestly, it’s all in the mind. I am very clear about what I do, I know my subject well, and no one can second-guess men. That, coupled with my confidence, has helped me stay on course. I enjoy and love what I do, and am happy to be where I am today.”

Helping women entrepreneurs stay on course

As a senior leader and representative of the industry, Shalini is at the forefront when it comes to mentorship and training of women. At the bank, she is part of many mentorship groups, where she helps women and young people make choices and thrive in their environments.

“My advice to most people I mentor is build your own self-confidence, don’t be diffident. You know your subject; so speak out loud.”

What does she feel about women entrepreneurs not staying on course or content with being in their comfort zone?

Shalini believes it all comes down to the same point – the support system the woman has. “This dilemma makes women choose conventional jobs. We are making it easier for them to come back from a banking perspective. We are trying to form a fintech partnership, help everyone come together, and make it successful. So we have opened up a support system in terms of the interfaces, providing a sandbox environment, where anybody with an idea can try it out,” she says.

Today’s women entrepreneurs have all the tools available, both online and offline, and it’s easier for them to understand the intricacies of running a business.

“A lot of our branches are headed by women, so it becomes easy for entrepreneurs to connect. Opening an account is easy for both individuals and entities if the paperwork is in order. We also have a gender-agnostic approach where we tell our fintech partners to explain to us all about the product, competition, and market, and we will help them.”

Shalini believes that women should empower themselves by being up to date with the financials of the business. “You have so many online courses that can help you understand finance. It’s your business and if somebody else is going to speak on your behalf, your ratings will be negative,” she says.

Ultimately, Shalini feels, it’s all about passion. “Do you have the drive to make a difference? Then, build your self-confidence, and believe in your idea. If you don’t, nobody else will.”

(Edited by Teja Lele Desai)


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