As The Fintech Times in September celebrates the Women in Fintech, we take a moment to hear more from some of the leading female leaders in Asia. One of them is Seema Prem, who after having dedicated her career to the upliftment of the rural financial inclusion sector in India, is an expert in fintech and financial inclusion.
Seema co-founded FIA in 2012. Influenced by her childhood spent in some of the most inaccessible terrains in India, Seema felt compelled to work towards reducing the inequities she saw. At FIA, Seema is responsible for innovation of socially impactful
products and services to meet the needs of unserved communities and markets, and leads FIA’s efforts to expand its global footprint. Before embarking on FIA, Seema had an exciting time in managing transformation programs in IT, Mobility and Operations. These apart, she has also championed the operations for technology start-up and piloted Business Development for IT and ITES companies.
She is also responsible for advocacy, governance, and building strategic relationships with governments, financial institutions and other key partners to support and scale social innovations. Seema holds an MBA from Xavier Labour Relations Institute (XLRI), Jamshedpur, India and a Bachelor’s degree in Electronics and Telecommunications from Kerala University. She is a Sloan Fellow, MIT, Sloan School of Management.
Her research focus is on the impact of technology led social innovations on low income and underserved households.
Seema Prem, describe your career journey.
In 2012 I co-founded FIA Global, company focused on driving financial inclusion among the unserved and economically weaker sections. FIA is the culmination of my experiences of growing up in India, pioneering technology-led transformation in Telecom for the masses, and passion for social inclusivity.
As a recognized thought leader and a female, what difficulties have you faced in your career?
As one of the initial players in the rural financial inclusion sector, one major challenge that I still face is safety while travelling. Travel has posed some interesting challenges around safety, security and the attitudes towards single women traveling alone. Safety is foremost on the minds of female business travellers and one of the reasons why I have fewer women in my field team. Our travel policy has a special section on female safety and the support for women especially if they are traveling to remote regions.
As a woman founder, I would love to have 50% of my staff as women. But most of my work is in rural India. Having travelled to more than 70% districts in the country, I see the disabling aspect of mobility for women from rural India. Additionally, most office jobs in rural India involve significant travel with very few women takers for field jobs. It is important that male colleagues, companies and governments realize that women have a far greater risk than men while traveling, and should put in place a supportive structure for women travellers.
What are the future trends and predictions you see happening in the region?
I see rapid strides in deepening financial inclusion in India. India has a diversified and rapidly expanding financial sector, in terms of strong growth of existing financial services firms and new entities entering the market. As the Government and Reserve Bank of India (RBI) have taken various measures to facilitate easy access to finance for Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs), including the visionary Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana (PMJDY), launching Credit Guarantee Fund Scheme for MSMEs and the largest digital cash transfer program for Covid-19 relief, India has undoubtedly one of the most vibrant digital payment systems in the world.
In the next 5 years, I see:
- A financially Atmanirbhar (self reliant) Indian who is able to operate her bank account and conduct transactions on her own, is financially literate and makes data based decision on savings, protection and wealth creation with just a few clicks on her smartphone.
- An empowered microentrepreneur who has easy access to formal credit and can contribute to economic activity and employment adding up to the US$5 trillion economy.
- A vibrant AI industry having equitable access to repository of govt. and private data to create cutting edge business models for financial services.
What advice and recommendations do you want to give future female entrepreneurs and thought leaders who are based in Asia?
To future women entrepreneurs – Just do it!!!
Entrepreneurship gives you an opportunity to shape the future and there is nothing more motivating than that. The challenge of the deep rooted, discriminatory social-cultural norms still exist and breaking the cultural, social and traditional biases is very difficult. So winning despite that is what makes it even more rewarding.
Only 3% of all venture capital is going to female-led companies. But maybe that’s because under 20% of the start-ups have a woman founder. So unless it’s a mandate driven imperative, less women get funded. Women often cite difficulty in raising funds as the main obstacle to scaling up their businesses or the reason they had to shut it down. Also, how many women partners are there in the top 100% VCs? We need to acknowledge the implicit gender bias when it comes to funding and therefore gender lens investing becomes very important to close the gender funding gap
Supporting female entrepreneurs is necessary to enhance their livelihoods and transform our global economy through the creation of new ideas, new products and new job opportunities.