In an interaction with Bfsinxt, Shweta Aprameya Founder and CEO, ARTH, a micro-MSME financial service provider with a focus on non-digital businesses, shares her thoughts on how her journey has been so far, how she sees risks and how her risk taking ability has changed over the years.
Apremya earlier founded a payments firm called YTS, which was bought over by Airtel Payments bank. She served as the Airtel Payments bank COO for one and a half year before moving on. Shweta has served as Digital Finance Advisor to IFC clients in Srilanka & India on large scale digital transformation projects. She has studied MIT Sloan MBA, MSc Economics Management & Policy, BA (Economics). She was recognised as the Principle Innovative Leader 2019 at MIT Sloan School of Management. Edited Excerpts:
Q. How do you view your career trajectory? How exciting has it been for you? InIn
I started my working life with an internship with ITC e-choupal, moved to NCR, Airtel Payments Bank, and IFC-World Bank within the first decade of my career before starting my own fintech venture called YTS – a Micro Payments Fintech. However, what really defines my trajectory is my growth towards impacting a few thousand lives to a few lakhs and hopefully much more soon.
In my early days after completing my graduation, I interned with ITC on their e – choupal flagship program, which used solar and internet platform capabilities to connect farmers with price and weather discovery at the village level. IT was a game changer to see technology as a key enabler in empowering the farmers to improve their lives and their crop selling process.
From my early career days from 2005 onwards, use of technology at grassroot was at a nascent stage across agriculture, health care and financial services- but it gave me a perspective that technology has the power to transform and redefine process to create large scale impact.
Thereafter, I consciously chose options that had the amalgamation of technology and impact. In my role at NCR, I had the opportunity to design and develop a unique Digital Financial Inclusion machine for emerging markets with India being one of the key; an innovative & frugal micro deposit machine that offered a single note deposit with biometric identification for the underserved daily micro saver community. This was one of my big wins to break the glass ceiling rethinking the use of advance technology to real life problems with simplicity and scale.
Post which, I moved on to start my own fintech YTS- largely focused on supporting micro payment solutions for domestic migrant solution in India. I successfully exited the venture when Airtel bought over the business and relaunched it as Airtel Payments Bank.
As a COO of Airtel Payments Bank for instance we launched the first payment banks licensed by RBI with the aim to establish a micro banking and payments platform in the remotest corners of India at scale.
When I started working on launching ARTH, the objective and the mission was very clear. I wanted to create a platform that reached and addressed the needs of one of the most underserved sector- the women micro-entrepreneurs. ARTH today has impacted more than 3,50,000 individuals in less than 4 years. While we started with small-credit products, we are planning to expand our product suit to a combination of payments, insurance and other services soon.
Q. Has it been going as you had planned or was it more like you tapped opportunities as they came along?
I would think it’s a combination of both. It is important to have a broad vision as to what you want to achieve and then choose / create opportunities along the way. For instance, my choice of projects and work places were clearly influenced by my decision to work in the impact sector.
Q. Not intending to stereotype, but as a woman, how has the journey been so far?
For both my startups- – YTS and now ARTH – I have been a solo woman founder. Right from bringing in the first investor, first client- I have spearheaded the strategy and the execution. However, one cannot deny the unconscious social gender bias that are subtle, especially in the financial services sector. Having said that, once people see the determination, grit and your passion biases often turn into positive outlook.
Q. Over the years, how has your risk-taking capability changed? and perception towards risk?
Over the years, I see risk as part of my decision-making process, both professionally and personally. I feel what’s important is to be self-aware and seek advice to understand the possible outcomes.
As an entrepreneur, exposure to various risks is a given, but it is the experience of dealing with situations logically is what counts. Also, I always prepare myself for the worst-case scenario, it enables you and your team to stay calm even in a difficult situation.
Q. Where do you seek inspiration/motivation from to get going in what you want to achieve?
My biggest motivation comes from the customers I serve and the impact that we can see. Majority of our customers are entrepreneurs in their own way like me and hence I can empathise with them a lot more. This was especially relevant during the covid times when we as a team realised their need for immediate credit to restart their business and took quick actions to launch products such as interest free loans for micro-enterprises. Most customers had used their savings during the Covid times and needed the capital to restart any type of economic activity. Witnessing the impact, albeit on a small set of customers, is truly inspiring.
At a personal level, my inner strength to deal with the challenges comes from my ma & pa.
Q. Lastly, any advice/message to young women out there trying to rise in their career trajectory be it corporate life or entrepreneurship?
You can turn every disadvantage into an advantage by your hard work and determination. Each obstacle, each roadblock is only as strong as you make them.