The Conversation with Sucharita Mukherjee: Using DEI as a Strategic Lever to Build & Strenghten Kaleidofin

The Conversation with Sucharita Mukherjee: Using DEI as a Strategic Lever to Build & Strenghten Kaleidofin

Kaleidofin is a fintech platform that helps informal sector customers achieve their life goals, using financial products whose design and delivery is tailored to the needs of lower income customers.  97% of their user base is women. Kaleidofin leverages tech and data science to make savings, insurance, credit and liquidity more accessible and intuitive.

In this edition of 'The Conversation' Roopa Kudva spoke to Sucharita Mukherjee, Co-founder & CEO, Kaleidofin, on how the use of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) as a strategic lever has helped them build and strengthen their business.

Q1. You designed the Kaleidofin business model around women. Was this originally planned or did this happen organically as the model evolved?

When we started out, we realised that in India, women largely carried the responsibility of the household’s long-term goals, and therefore were much more motivated to be disciplined about regular savings. On the credit side, credit bureau data on unsecured loans shows that women as a customer segment have higher creditworthiness. So within a year of starting operations, we realised it made business sense to focus on women customers from a product standpoint.  

When designing our platform, we realized that most customers would struggle to figure out what financial plan or products would work for them, however they have a very clear idea of their real-life goals, such as saving to send their children to college or saving for retirement.

So rather than having a conversation about financial products, we adopt an approach that is more relatable – we ask them about their goals, their income levels and spending patterns. The platform then curates an individualized solution for each customer that stitches together a savings target, insurance for “goal protection” and an on demand loan for working capital/household financial management. By reframing the discussion around “goals”, we make savings, investment into mutual funds and insurance products more accessible to our customer, thus lowering the barriers to entry.  

Q2. Can you outline the design features in your products that are specifically tailored to women?

Some specific design features tailored to women are:

a. Onboarding assistance: Both smartphone owning women customers as well as those who own feature phones generally find the KYC set up process and the payment mandate set up process challenging and onerous. Our tech architecture that enables onboarding assistance -- over 3000 agents across the country help our women customers to get onboarded painlessly thus enabling a significantly better customer experience.

b. Use of voice for self-service: From customer research and our own experiments, we learnt that our women customers responded much better to voice rather than text. We designed voice stories to generate excitement around the goals as well as explain the importance of and drive regular collections. Our listen rates are above 80%.

c. Privacy: In several households, while women own feature phones, it is the spouse who owns the smartphone. We had earlier thought Kaleidofin could leverage the smartphone in the household, but soon realised that most women desired to keep financial transactions confidential from their family, in particular their spouse. Driving an independent connect to the woman (not through her spouse’s smartphone) is critical to adoption and regularity. Our design empowers women to provide an alternate contact number – a trusted woman neighbour or a friend -- rather than their spouse.

Q3. The CEO and CTO at Kaleidofin are women.This is rare within the startup ecosystem.What have been the advantages and what were some key challenges you faced?

This makes us standout in the startup ecosystem and within the fintech space. There are numerous advantages, including having higher levels of inter and intra team collaboration. We also believe it helps us deliver better results -- women have higher emotional intelligence quotient and are multidimensional in their approach to business strategy. We certainly want to leverage these strengths. We have faced a “not at all level” playing field in the funding markets; however, we have been successful due to sheer tenacity, and support from other women investors and funders like yourself has accelerated our journey towards our mission.

Q4. What is your board composition? How does having women on the board help Kaleidofin?

We are one of the few firms that have a women majority board. Two of our CXOs are women. Since 97% of our customer base is women, it is important to reflect that in the composition of our board. We’ve intentionally focused on getting women leaders on our board. Having a women majority board has led to better communication, consensus building, positive efforts on the bottom line and creative approaches to problem solving.

The lack of ego in decision making is also refreshing and I would say both the men and women on our board have contributed towards building this as the dominant culture at the Kaleidofin board.

Q5. There is a large gender gap in financial inclusion today and Kaleidofin is targeting that through its model. What more can be done to address this?

Given the historic inequality in opportunity available to women, I believe affirmative policy action is required to drive gender equal opportunity. Three specific suggestions:

a. Reimagining priority sector regulations to target more women customers and include debt to women founded enterprises as priority sector lending

b. Developing AI voice tech in local Indian languages to reach out to the last mile woman customer. This could be game-changing in tapping into the potential direct to customer women segment

c. Research to demonstrate the creditworthiness of women as business and nano entrepreneurs will go a long way in building confidence in the mainstream markets

Q6.  How has all this translated into the culture at Kaleidofin? How would you describe the culture and how do you ensure that diverse voices within the team are heard?

The Kaleidofin culture embraces customer centricity and respects diversity at every level. We encourage free flow of communication and transparency in decision-making. We actively seek out and hire diverse candidates - right from the stage of shortlisting candidates for interviews.

One of our guiding principles is “even if we disagree, we commit”.  There is no place for passive aggression at Kaleidofin, as we have found this damaging and performance destroying.  

Moreover, most of our teams are cross functional with individuals from varied backgrounds – their diverse opinions, experiences and perspectives enable us to consider all possible solutions, risks and outcomes.

Q7.   Finally, how would you explain the importance of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion as a strategic lever to young founders? How would you advise them on getting started with DEI?

We need to make a concerted effort to hire more women and queer employees specially in tech and product-based roles where there is an obvious lack of representation. Also, since startup founders play a major role in setting the culture of the firm, they can embed DEI in the building blocks, beginning with low hanging fruit, for example, using gender specific pronouns and subsequently more elaborate diversity measures.

We have found it easier to build loyalty and have seen lower attrition amongst underrepresented groups such as women and LGBTQ. This has enabled continuity and better performance and will result in a long-term competitive advantage. I am hoping this will encourage “open” young founders to respond well to DEI.

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