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Wharton alumnus who is changing the way Indian women handle their finances

Hena Mehta, Co-Founder, Basis, a platform focussing on financial independence for women
When then Hena Mehta got admission into Wharton School of Business in 2016 at age 28, she was elated as it was a long-cherished dream come true. But soon reality started to sink in when she wasn't sure how to fund her studies. She saw two choices before her: she could go for a bank loan or use the money she had saved working in the US for almost five years. 

She chose the latter, as going for a large loan of nearly Rs one crore would have dictated where she would end up working and would put her plans of returning to India on the back burner. Unfortunately, Mehta ended up using all her savings, including her retirement fund, and borrowed money from her parents. Even that wasn't enough, so she eventually had to take a small education loan.

That personal pain point was the trigger for Mehta to start ‘Basis’ along with her school friend Dipika Jaikishan. The enterprise is said to be India's only platform focussing on financial independence for women. 

"It was a wake-up call for me as I had seven years of work experience to plan my financial goals but I still couldn't do it. When I surveyed some 500 women soon after I came back to India, most respondents who were otherwise independent had a lack of knowledge, trust and confidence when it came to financial decisions." 

Also, most financial content and services in India offered by advisors and portfolio managers alike have been designed to suit a man's career progression by default, Mehta added. According to a 2015 S&P Survey, more than 80 per cent of Indian women are financially illiterate. Also, only 0.7 per cent of them invest in equities. 

Founded in 2018, the Bengaluru-based start-up targets urban Indian women who face gender-specific issues such as pay gaps, career breaks, and retirement problems associated with longer life expectancy. Dire life situations such as death of spouse or divorce also disproportionately affect women.

One of the principal features of the app is the curated content modules that are interactive and jargon-free. The topics range from the financial changes one should make while facing salary cuts to whether credit cards are bad. 

‘Basis’ is also a Sebi-registered investment advisor that offers data-algorithm driven asset allocation advice to users based on their risk appetite. 

"We seek basic inputs from the users about their goals, such as buying a car, and the time horizon to achieve the goal. Then, inflation and the risk level of the user are also factored in. The app will offer suggestions in terms of allocation of funds across the five mutual fund houses we partner with," the former Goldman Sachs executive said.

The in-house recommendation algorithm analyses the past five years' historical performance of the various funds, including simulations during different market phases. The app is also working on a premium offering where it will advise users on money management, career and other aspects that impact their financial wellbeing. 

Basis also hosts 'Community', an engagement platform on its app for users to discuss and learn with peers and experts on various financial challenges. The platform was created based on a hypothesis that women did not have a dedicated channel to discuss real-life issues in dealing with money, Mehta said. 

Basis, with over 15,000 app installatons, had its monthly average new sign-ups jump three-fold during the lockdown while it also saw a 2.5x increase in the number of daily active users. The seed-funded start-up aims to impact 10 million women over the next five years.

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