‘Women are killing it whenever they are given the opportunity’

Interview
Shruti Raj
Shruti Raj

Business Leader recently spoke to Shruti Rai, Chief Growth Officer and a Co-Founder at Novus, a sustainable banking app, about the company and what it means to be a female entrepreneur this International Women’s Day.

What inspired you to get involved with co-founding Novus?

I met Hris (pronounced Chris) when I was still working at my previous company and not only was the idea of the app itself inspiring but the team that was building it. I am driven and energised by the people around me and seeing the enthusiasm of the team to use payments as an actual force for good in this world made me quit everything and get on board with Novus.

What was your most insightful/inspiring experience in your career pre-Novus?

During my time at another Fintech start-up, Remitly, seeing the impact that a financial app can have on the well-being of individuals and families around the world was the most inspiring part. Fintech or financial services is considered boring and functional in its essence, but the reality is that no matter where you live in the world, you have to deal with financial systems to live your life. Your financial well-being is almost directly related to your mental well-being and that’s what makes me continue to stay in the fintech industry because the impact potential is just huge.

How has the last 12 months affected your plans and goals for the business?

With COVID hitting and also with growing awareness about how big companies have been careless and sometimes exploitative in the usage of resources, there has been a growing sentiment (especially in the UK) about shopping more sustainably. We have been driven by convenience – same-day deliveries, quick car waiting to pick us up within 5 minutes – but I think COVID has made people realise that convenience is not the factor we should optimise for. I see a lot of support for local businesses in my area and shopping habits changing from convenience to being more purpose-driven.

How does it feel to be a female in this sector? Are you taken seriously?

I have personally been lucky enough to have great male mentors. Fintech is very male-skewed, especially in the non-marketing functions like product, business development, executive leadership levels and so on. I had to learn early in my career that I would need to change some of my behaviour to succeed in a male-dominated environment – like speaking up, not letting “mansplaining” happen, asking for more work, pay raises, etc. I was able to do that, but I did see some of my other female counterparts in the fintech world struggle with their male counterparts. Now I have a 7-month-old daughter and I hope that by the time she is ready to go out and face the world, there will be enough gender diversity in all sections of the economy, so she doesn’t have to change her behaviour just to fit in.

Do you think there is more room for female founders in this industry?

There is – and women are killing it whenever they are given the opportunity – the recent Bumble IPO is testament to that. There are several trends emerging such as growing VC interest in female-led start-ups and products built for females that should see improvements in the number of start-ups that are currently female-founded.

How do you feel you can inspire confidence in women who want to follow your career path but feel it is too male-dominated? What would you tell them/how would you encourage them?

I am personally a strong proponent of coaching and mentoring because I learnt a lot that way. The confidence of quitting a stable job and taking a pay cut with a child and mortgage to pay wouldn’t have been possible without a strong mentor network. My advice to any woman would be to not listen to anyone around them who tells them that life will be difficult in a male-dominated industry. We are in the social media world now where it is a lot easier to speak up and find support on issues of gender discrimination. There are also a lot of men now showing support, so you will find your place! Personally, I am 100% focused on having a 50/50 male/female ratio in the company. At Novus, we are partnering with Gradfuel to hire some great young talent; we are looking for amazing females to come and join our start-up.

How do you think companies are approaching diversity and inclusion, especially on the topic of gender?

It’s great that companies now have objectives to drive a better male/female balance but in my experience, to be genuinely inclusive, we need to first empower current employees and put more grassroot effort in to attracting fresh talent and training them to be successful. At Novus, we are looking forward to utilising programmes like the kick-starter scheme to give young grads (especially females) the opportunity to kick-start their fintech start-up journey.

The Novus company vision is to become the Super App for the growing conscious consumer segment – to promote, inspire and create meaningful change in the world. Where do you hope the business will be in 12 months’ time?

In 12 months, we hope to add new features in the financial services and also expand internationally to get more users. Also, I am personally looking forward to hearing from our first users – we have thousands on the waiting list – on how we can make our product more suited to their needs and enable them to live a more sustainable life.

What sort of impact do you think it will have?

At its core, Novus gives to different causes on behalf of the users that use the card. American Express reward their customers with points to buy more stuff, but in the case of Novus, the rewards help you give back in the form of impact points that fund meals, education for those in need, to plant trees, contribute to ocean cleaning and so much more. We work closely with NGOs in each of these categories and hope to share as much information as possible with our user base when we go live.

Do you think it will change people’s perception of the typical digital bank?

We hope so. We hope that COVID has put a light on the loopholes of the current digital banking model and the reliance of just one stream of revenue (FX) to operate. Also we think that the current banks are doing well in digitising a more traditional banking experience, but now is the next phase in the digital banking evolution for financial services.

On a personal level and away from the potential of Novus, what do you do to contribute to the wellbeing of the planet?  

I come from a country where electricity and water are not a 24/7 commodity. So I follow what I was taught growing up (and David Attenborough agrees) that we need to minimise the usage of energy and reduce demand – for example, switch off the lights and appliances that don’t need to be on constantly, turn off the tap when you don’t need it running (for example while brushing your teeth), re-use jars to reduce plastic waste and use solar energy for outdoor lighting etc.

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