Meet the women at the heart of India's booming fintech landscape

This Women’s Day, AWS Women in Tech Series - Fintech brings you the journeys of three leaders in the sector, who are not just disrupting the ecosystem but also inspiring the next generation of women leaders in business.

Meet the women at the heart of India's booming fintech landscape

Tuesday March 08, 2022,

9 min Read

India is at the forefront of a global fintech revolution. Today, the burgeoning Indian fintech ecosystem is the third largest in the world, after the US and China.

Last year, 11 fintech companies turned into unicorns, with 15 more set to join the club in 2022. Out of these, at least 3 unicorns are led by women, with more waiting in the wings.

India’s fintech sector is not slowing down and women are steadily making a place for themselves in the field. Their new-age companies are revamping India’s financial landscape, connecting the vast majority of underbanked and underserved Indians with financial services through technology.

In our AWS Women In Tech Series - Fintech, we bring to you the stories of three inspiring women leaders in the sector who have not just charted out their unique paths but also proven that gender stereotypes exist only in the mind - never in action.

While NIRA enables blue-collar workers to get easy loans, Kaleidofin provides financial solutions to India’s underserved sectors. Streak AI not only empowers India’s retail trading community, but also leverages technology to help investors make smarter decisions.

Sucharita Mukherjee, Kaleidofin

After graduating from IIM Ahmedabad, Sucharita worked as an investment banker across major companies. But her stint with IFMR Group, now Northern Arc Capital, changed her journey as she noticed the need for financial inclusion. She saw the glaring gap between the formal and informal banking sectors and how broken the space was. But at the same time, there was the mobile technology revolution along with India’s Aadhaar push, which made her see the path to reach 800 million Indians.

All these factors led Sucharita to launch Kaleidofin in 2017, a neobank that provides financial solutions tailored for life goals for underserved customers. “I felt like if I didn't start Kaleidofin, I would regret it forever,” she recalls.

At Kaleidofin, the team has created a digital financial services platform that leverages technology, data, design, and networks to provide financial solutions to 600 million financially excluded customers in India.

Sucharita says their products span digital savings, digital payments, credit scoring, and tailored credit solutions. More recently, the team launched KiScore, India’s first proprietary credit health underwriting product, for their first few institutions during the pandemic.

“We worked hard, and we recently even celebrated the magic million customer mark here,” she says.

Sucharita has always aspired to work towards building a more equal society where women truly have equal opportunities. She reveals that she experienced both conscious and unconscious gender bias while working in nearly all-male teams in investment banking, so this is an issue she has wanted to tackle for a while.

She says, “At Kaleidofin we have always been aware of the gender discrimination that exists throughout society and even more so amidst the lower income groups. To counter that, we have designed our solutions and policies to support and encourage more women to use formal financial services. Noticing that our female customers require confidentiality of savings transactions, we have designed KaleidoGoals with Sewa Bank, which offers that as a vital feature, along with benefits of regular savings, goal protection, and a credit line,” she explains.

Nupur Gupta, NIRA

Born and raised in Jaipur, Nupur became the first female tech entrepreneur in her family after launching NIRA, a consumer finance business that offers small ticket loans to working Indians with low-middle incomes. The data-driven nature of India’s lending business and the potential it held in terms of societal impact drew Nupur towards the idea.

It was during her stint as a quantitative analyst at CitiGroup where her curiosity grew to leverage scientific methods in the world of finance. Her interest in the confluence of data, statistics, and finance continued to grow since then. So when her co-founder offered her the opportunity to begin the NIRA journey together, it was an easy decision for Nupur.

A turning point in NIRA’s journey came with COVID. Nupur remembers that lending fintechs weren’t favourably positioned during the pandemic as borrower’s ability to repay and lender’s books were hit hard during the period.

“With the weight of experience of past economic downturns, and maintaining empathy for the customer situation, we moved quickly on identifying and offering appropriate solutions to our vulnerable customer segments, while adopting a timely collections approach with the rest of the customers. The pandemic became the litmus test for us to demonstrate our strong risk-management capabilities substantially better than our peers during one of the harshest economic stress tests of this century,” she says.

Customer empathy and staying close to the customer remain Nupur’s most distinctive strengths. Not a single day goes by when she isn’t chatting with her customers.

Today, NIRA’s loan disbursal rate is 15x of what it was at the start of COVID. As NIRA continues to grow at 25 percent month on month, the possibilities of improving the financial lives of their customers have also grown exponentially.

Jayalakshmi Manohar, Streak AI Technologies

Jayalakshmi always knew she wanted to do something innovative and meaningful with her life. Witnessing the dissatisfaction of people working in corporations made her resolve even stronger.

“My entrepreneurial journey started early on as I was finishing my engineering degree,” she remembers. She and her co-founders noticed that little to nothing had been done to empower the retail trading community.

Streak AI was born in 2017 as a platform to empower retail traders and investors to trade strategically without the need to code.

“At Streak, we have democratised trading technology for the masses, to give them the unique edge they lack to trade in the stock markets, and so far over 1.2 million active retail traders and investors have used the platform. We want everyone to bid goodbye to trading tips and bad advice from people due to which they lose out big in the markets and start relying on their own intelligence to make their trades. Our technology lets you do just that,” explains Jayalakshmi.

She considers her decision to start Streak and raise seed funding for the company, a partnership with the largest stock broker in India Zerodha, the acquisition of their first 100,000 users, hitting the 750 million mark in number of technical hits, and becoming a profitable company as some of her bigger milestones along the way.

Jayalakshmi credits her growth as well as Streak’s to the startup ecosystem.

“In comparison to the scenario a decade ago, we have come leaps ahead in empowering women in terms of workplaces, coworkers’ mindsets, etc. Work from home, a new culture that the startup ecosystem has welcomed, solves another big problem for women who may need to relocate for family reasons. They can now continue to pursue their work without any hiccups, and this should be a culture we should continue to encourage,” she says.

Breaking the glass ceiling

Sucharita advises women to not get bogged down by roadblocks or resistance they may face as they enter unfamiliar domains. Confidence and passion can surely break the glass ceiling and help women become successful entrepreneurs. Societal expectations often shackle women, but workplaces can play a key role in being supportive and enabling.

“Workspace policies should be fair. More women at every level, and especially at the top, also create a culture that is more appreciative of challenges that particularly impact women,” she says. “And as you get on the right path, do pay it forward and contribute to other women at the beginning of their journey.”

Nupur feels that traditional finance has many inspirational female leaders - one of whom was critical to NIRA’s growth.

“The leadership of Shalini Warrier, COO, Federal Bank, was pivotal for us to land our first important bank partnership. We have built up on that exceedingly well since and have partners today such as Muthoot Finance, IIFL, and many more in the pipeline funding loans to our borrowers,” she reveals.

The world needs to make more room in workspaces for women, and the easiest way for that is through women leaders.

“It is worth taking more bets on women, and further to take those bets on potential and not just historical performance. The downside is that there will be opportunities for course correction; but the upside is immense,” says Nupur.

Jayalakshmi believes that a woman is largely shaped by the values inculcated in her by her parents and the society. Therefore, initiatives should be taken at the school level for girls and boys in moulding them into their best individual selves without biases. She advises women to let their work speak for themselves and never hide their talents.

“Your mindset also has a lot to do with how people will perceive you. If you create a sense of doubt about your abilities in your own mind, that will reflect in your mannerism and confidence,” she says. She counts perseverance, optimistic pessimism, and a strong support system as her key attributes.

The AWS impact

Sucharita reveals that at Kaleidofin, they leverage AWS technology in their business intelligence dashboards, risk management, and data storage. This has allowed them to scale up their products from a few thousand to over a million active customers efficiently.

Coming to NIRA, Nupur explains that their vision is very clear - disbursing over $1 billion of loans to six million customers from the smallest towns and cities of India by 2025. She says this is possible only through scalable technology and data driven decisions.

“We see the AWS cloud platform, and the software and data services that it offers to be a key enabler in this journey,” Nupur says.

Jayalakshmi explains that for Streak, time is a crucial factor. “Our backend comprises several intricate systems working in unison and we have been using AWS machines for all our cloud computing,” she adds.