A culture of evaluating people based on their capabilities instead of gender must be brought into practice: Shristi Banka
The highest ambitions in life are accomplished when you have the will to work for your dreams without the fear of failing. Founder Partner and CEO of Banka and Banka CFO Services LLP, Shristi Banka’s story is just the same. At the age of 25, serial entrepreneur Shristi has over 6 years of experience where she has worked with industry leaders and leading multi-national companies in the finance, law, and accountancy sectors. Shristi has well-rounded work experience ranging from areas of international taxation, internal audit, direct tax litigation, mergers and acquisitions, due diligence, and capital market transactions like IPOs, qualified institutional placements, rights issues, and debt offerings.
Shristi has launched her venture, Banka CFO which is engaged in providing outsourced chief financial officer services, book-keeping and tax compliance, corporate compliances’ management, legal support, and business advisory services respectively to early-stage start-ups and micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises located in India. She has been recognised amongst the 5 women entrepreneurs who are empowering MSMEs in India by HerStory.
Before founding Banka and Banka CFO Services LLP, she completed the Chartered Accountancy course and became a member of the ICAI at the age of 21.
Shristi has been passionate about poetry writing that led her to pursue a master’s degree in English literature and is now a published author of a best-selling poetry book. She was invited to be a part of India’s largest online literature festival with a total viewership of 75,000+ and has been on several esteemed panel discussions on topics such as, ‘Poetry and Its Relevance’, ‘Young Guns in Literature: How Young Writers are Enticing the Literature World’, ‘Poetry in Motion: How to Reinvent Poetry’ garnering total views from more than 4,000 people. Additionally, her writings are included as reference books in the literature course of a leading IB curriculum school based in Mumbai.
Shristi also operates a popular pop culture page on Instagram that had crossed 200,000 followers with more than 20 million impressions. She was also invited to co-host a radio show in New York.
Shristi has presented on ‘Gender Equality to Financial Prosperity’ for more than 200 women. She was the only female expert to be featured on an all-male panel of experts by Amazon Web Services and YourStory on the topic of ‘Business Continuity’ for 250+ SME business owners. She was invited as a guest speaker at the Women Entrepreneurs’ Summit among several other leading businesswomen by the SME Chamber of India. She has interacted with 1,200+ business owners on ‘New Normal for SMEs and Advantage India’ and has been awarded as ‘Young Woman Achiever’ by Goregaon Sports Club for academic and professional excellence.
Shristi believes in an engaged community citizenship approach and has launched a Financial Literacy Project with two of India’s leading non-profit organizations namely, Salaam Bombay Foundation and Narottam Sekhsaria Foundation. This project is called, ‘Finance Mantra’ wherein she and her team have been imparting financial literacy to 100+ individuals belonging to the underprivileged slum communities in Mumbai.
Apeksha Sandesh had a chance to interact with the extremely talented Shristi Banka. Check out the excerpts!
Tell us something about how you laid the foundation of Banka CFO.
A year-long internship with Ernst Young at the age of 18 in the international taxation team instilled professionalism and collaboration in my workstyle while enhancing my cross-cultural communication skills. Such formative exposure sparked in me an ardent interest in finding out-of-the-box solutions to help clients in their businesses. Thereafter, at 21, I joined my family’s financial services business. This was my first experience of reporting professionally to my father, and I came to appreciate first-hand the complexity and the deep sense of accomplishment that can result from achieving business success with family members.
With an intent to diversify my family-owned business into uncharted areas, I joined a top-tier law firm to understand the intricacies of corporate law. As an associate, I led due diligence and fund-raising mandates across India in a broad range of industries, including financial services and manufacturing, developing my leadership acumen. Specializing in accountancy plus law allowed me to comprehend business risks and obtain a 360-degree view whilst making decisions. Working in cross-functional roles instilled the required technical and soft skills I needed to run my venture and manage a profitable enterprise. And that is how I launched Banka CFO to drive impact for the grossly under-served SME sector that constitutes 90% of all businesses and employs 40% of the workforce in India.
How has been your journey so far as a serial entrepreneur?
It has been indeed an exciting journey so far, though there is a long way to go! I work at the heart of strategic decision-making and develop long-term visions for my business in an ever-evolving financial services industry. I have always been passionate about entrepreneurship. I started my first venture at an age of 20 which was a digital marketing account on Instagram and became a social media influencer with 200K+ followers. As a social media influencer, I collaborated with media giants like Apple Music and Sony to raise sponsorships of $25K on my Instagram page and led engagement-driving activities, garnering 20M+ impressions and even got featured in various entertainment websites. By creating a thriving digital ecosystem from scratch, I offered a platform for businesses to showcase their products and supported 400+ local businesses. I look forward to leveraging my hands-on experience in impacting communities in the future.
Living my long-term entrepreneurial aspirations has helped me become a more inclusive leader. With my experiences of heading diverse teams of 50+ members and speaking at several entrepreneurship summits, I actively contribute my finance knowledge to fellow entrepreneurs while learning from their experiences.
Shristi Banka recognised at Women Entrepreneurs Meet of ICAI
Which is that one skill that is important for the success of any woman, from any field?
The ability to create a strong network that can be tapped into whenever required is an important skill. Moreover, I believe effective networking with industry leaders provides unparalleled resources needed to strategically scale your operations on a national and global level or achieve success in your field.
‘Work from home’ and ‘flexible work schedule’ are the new trends. However, most women find it more difficult in such a work environment. What is your take on it?
Be like water and mold yourself according to the circumstances and demands of the situation. But this is definitely easier said than done. I believe we must take a balanced approach when choosing between work and family in difficult conditions.
What barriers have you faced, as a woman, in becoming successful in your field? How did you overcome them?
When I started my venture, it was difficult to compete in a traditionally male-dominated field. It was not at all easy being a young female entrepreneur and I did face a lot of insecurities. I had to compete with established players and leave a mark with my quality of work. But I had decided to never let my insecurities get the better of me. So, I just focussed on improving my work and deliverables, as well as on our core financial/legal advisory for small-medium-sized businesses, and got many clients through the door successfully. Gradually, I ended up with a sizeable client base, generating profits, 100% business ownership, while I advanced my industry exposure and learned the trait of self-belief.
How can we encourage more women to pursue entrepreneurship as a career?
It can be done by designing incubation centers exclusively for women-led start-ups. We can work with women founders to create products by applying their knowledge, networking with industry stalwarts, and learning new skills in business expansion. Moreover, there is a scope for increased rebates, incentives, or subsidies for women-led start-ups.
Building a pipeline of successful women mentors who have managed their businesses, along with their families, thus creating a platform to look at more examples of success from every field is also a great idea to encourage more women to pursue entrepreneurship as a career.
In your opinion, why are traits such as “innocent”, “sensitive”, “nurturing”, etc. associated with women as compared to more aggressive, competitive terms for men? How can we best promote a more accepting, gender-neutral society?
Women are natural multi-taskers, so such terminology is a testament to her loyal character. She will put in her best foot forward at work and by earning recognition at work, she also earns the respect of her family. People belonging to the top management level must encourage and believe in the ability of a woman professional. A culture or a thought process must be inculcated wherein people don’t take a biased view simply on the face value that a woman will give more importance to her family as compared to work, rather a culture of evaluating people based on their capabilities instead of gender must be brought into practice.
I am an extremely emotional person, but my analytical side had always superseded my emotional side. I resorted to poetry as a means to channel my emotions. I began writing and pursued an education in English Literature to hone my writing skills further. Keen to put my poems for the world to see, I secured a publishing deal. And before I knew it, my book was trending on Amazon’s ‘Top 10 New Releases.’ In business and beyond, I plan to continue blending my left-brain and right-brain to foster professional-relationships and tackle VUCA (volatile-uncertain-complex-ambiguous) business-problems at scale.
How do you feel about the way women are represented in the media, films, music, etc.? Can you see yourself in any of them?
I feel that older Indian films portrayed women as helpless and dependent. But now they are increasingly portrayed in more empowering avatars such as in Pink, Padmavat, and Gunjan Saxena. It is very encouraging and inspiring to watch the stories of such women. Having said that, I don’t see myself in any of these movies. If there was a movie on a young businesswoman then, why not!
What do you believe will be the biggest challenge for the generation of women behind you?
The challenges for the next generation of women and men will be the same as workplaces are adopting principles of diversity, inclusivity, and equality.
In my view, innovation will be the biggest challenge. The opportunities are limitless, but customers are overwhelmed with a wide variety of dynamic products and services to choose from. In such a world, marketing and branding in a way that highlights your unique capabilities will be very crucial. Founders with a strong voice and the ability to stand up for their principles and values will be differentiated. Leaders must also act to build consensus among divergent viewpoints, and simultaneously empower their people to take ownership.
Is social media a risk to women? If yes, in what ways?
Social media is a double-edged sword. If used imprudently, it can lead to negative public perception and loss of productivity/financial resources. Often as we have seen, strong female voices face backlash and hate on social media for their views. Excess free time created during the lockdown fostered intolerance among people in general.
Having said that, I believe in limited social media interaction. I don’t believe in posting achievements or success stories till the time they have taken place. Digital media is simply a tool that can be positioned to your advantage by creating a robust marketing model.
COVID-19 pandemic had its effects on each one of us. How did you deal with it?
COVID-19 impacted my business’ operations hard with inevitable revenue losses and layoffs. Unperturbed, I decided to turn this dire scenario into an opportunity to alter our course to help clients and move the business forward amid uncertainty. Working with senior executives, I spearheaded the development of a plan to transition our operations into cloud-based systems, and within a few weeks, delivered the project on time and under budget. This not only enabled us to go digital and provide service continuity to our clients but also prevented our employees from potential job-losses.
Heading the digital transformation of my business, I decided to leverage technology to reach out to Mumbai’s underprivileged. I wanted to create a more sustainable and lasting impact rather than simply donating food. Hence, using my knowledge of finance, I decided to help them build financial acumen to survive the economic crisis.
Pre-COVID, I had conducted financial literacy workshops with Salaam Bombay Foundation, one of Mumbai’s largest NGOs. So, I reconnected with them and created a unique curriculum in financial planning and savings.
90% of our target audience lacked a basic understanding of technology. But I was certain that I can convince this socioeconomic stratum to adopt a tech-focused functioning to train them. By creating an intersection between technology and finance, I conducted the program for 150 volunteers earning less than $180 per month. I used interactive methodologies to instill budget-preparation and goal setting for long-term wealth creation.
We achieved a 96% change in savings-habits of the attendees and even garnered commendations from the Great Place to Work Institute. This journey helped me realize that in the future also, I want to be a leader who gives back to the community by using the power of collaboration. It has taught me to think outside-the-box and remain calm amidst difficulty, which is crucial learning and mindset to be an entrepreneur.
Tell us something about your upcoming projects.
My immediate focus is business-expansion by incorporating cutting-edge financial technology to pivot our business into a pioneering fintech company. I aspire to grow the business 3x within seven years and be among the top 50 financial institutions of India.
We have been fortunate to be involved in very interesting projects like setting up financial systems, implementation of internal controls, advising clients in fund-raising, thereby being a trusted partner in their growth stories.
Our clients have grown, and we have also grown with them over the years. Long-term, armed with relevant experience and cross-domain expertise, I aim to lead my business from being a local player to a global professional services organization.
I am very passionate about leveraging my business experiences to uplift others and I hope to make similar contributions to the community through my business.
International Women’s Day celebrates the scientific, political, economic, and social achievements of women. In your experience as a successful woman, what is its significance?
To me, it is the one day especially set aside to acknowledge and applaud the contributions of women pioneers from every field. It is also the one day when you grow and learn from each other’s stories instead of feeling intimidated by your peer’s success. There are so many women who fail to be in the limelight despite their noteworthy achievements as they often get shadowed by popular stories from entertainment or corporate worlds that are covered extensively. Women’s Day provides an opportunity to feature such women from all sectors - from rural to urban, from non-profit to for-profit, from technology to small businesses. I would like to conclude by sharing this poem from my book titled, ‘Summer Solstice and other poems’ –
From the Letters of That Extraordinaire Beauty
This misogynist world takes me for a bimbo. Brain and other talents
get over-looked here constantly. Delicate features cast a shadow over my hard
work. They like me for my tiny waistline, as if I have no depth. Everything
about me is in and around what they call, a pretty face, gaping at my
expressions, “Oh, what grace!”
Failed to see
that the pretty dame
was more than just her looks.
Her brains fiercer,
her dreams even bigger.
Proving them wrong
was certainly a task,
one that she thoroughly enjoyed,
as she smiled at the world
below her, from outer space.
Apeksha Sandesh congratulates Shristi Banka for her contribution and commitment in the field of finance with her works, and wishes her all the best for her future endeavours!