Meet Hesha Irani, a truly inspiring businesswoman who immigrated from India to New Zealand with a clear life goal – to follow her dream and build a strong career in the finance industry. A series of exciting job experiences, including positions out of the finance industry to other industries such as hospitality, retail, and IT, brought her to where she is today.
Now Hesha owns a women-focused start-up business platform HerFI, based in Auckland, New Zealand. The idea behind her business model is to empower women through education so that they can start on their journey to be financially independent.
In 2-3 sentences, please tell us a little about you! (your background/story and anything you feels you’d like to share)
My passion for working in the finance industry was ignited at the tender age of 16 during a Commodities trading course at the Multi Commodity Exchange. This course laid out the pathway to the intriguing world of investment. Ever since I have spent the majority of my time studying finance or working in a financial market-related role. However, growing up in a patriarchal society dominated by male role models in the finance industry was very unsettling. My experience, as an immigrant and a woman of color, which mirrors that of other similar women is that there is a lack of strong female role models in the predominantly male-dominated finance industry. I’ve personally witnessed behavioral differences and changed conversations and mindsets around money matters between men and women. The financial knowledge gap between genders was and still is so real that it literally inspired me to act which in turn led to the establishment of HerFI.
Why did you sign up to be a part of OneUpOneDown?
With my business primarily focused on empowering women, I believe that a women mentor can provide the needed outside perspective. A mentor who is a step further than me in their business journey can help me to understand the challenges that I will face both as a woman myself and as a young entrepreneur. This will prepare me in creating a successful business for myself. The mentorship model is a perfect fit for a women-oriented business like HerFI and I signed up with a mindset to not just learn and grow from it but also to facilitate the sharing of our experiences. I look forward to building transformative relationships that will play an instrumental role at HerFI.
What does success mean to you? How do you align with your definition at the moment?
Success, to me, is defined as having the ability to live life on my own terms, which includes having the freedom and flexibility to do what matters most to me. Furthermore, it means working in a role that interests me, spending time on things that I am truly passionate about, and most importantly, contributing towards making a real difference in people’s lives. Of course, none of this is possible without gaining financial independence. With the help of my platform, HerFI, I am motivated to bring about this same positive change in the lives of other women.
What prompted you to pursue the career or business you’re working in/on now?
During my time in financial markets, both overseas and in New Zealand, I could see stark differences in how men versus women within the industry perceived investments and discussed personal finances. Even in social settings, I was mildly surprised to find that women do not discuss money matters with their friends, family, or colleagues at all. More so, on several occasions, my experience was that women are entirely excluded from such conversations as it is considered a taboo topic among females. Despite these differences, women often depend on men to make financial decisions for their teams, themselves, and their families. This narrative was heavily biased in creating a toxic dependency of women on men. I am determined to play my part in changing this narrative by helping women become financially savvy so they can make independent decisions for themselves and their families enabling them to live life on their terms.
How did you know this is what you wanted to do?
The societal norm in many immigrant families, that millennials have witnessed when growing up, is to approach the male member of the family for engaging in any money conversations. Regardless of whether the women were breadwinners, financially educated, or made wise money choices, all purchasing and investing decisions are made by the male members of the family. It is largely agreed by millennials that this calls for change. I strongly believe in this too and hence I knew that I wanted to play a vital role in bringing about this change by normalizing money conversations among everyday women, so Gen Z and upcoming generations have the opportunity to grow up observing their mothers being able to participate in household financial decision making. This representation at home will contribute towards gaining the confidence to implement the same in their future lives taking them a step closer to living life on their own terms.
Have you made any big transitions or changes in your career? What were they? How did you do it?
I live by the motto “Go big or go home”. My career until now has been a series of exciting experiences that brought me to where I am today. One of the most significant changes in my career was when I immigrated to New Zealand from India, a few years ago. I had to make the hard choice to transition out of the finance industry to other industries such as hospitality, retail, and IT. It was a very unsettling phase that lasted about 2 years, but it taught me an important lesson- life may not always be what you want it to be but don’t lose sight of your goals and aspirations. I’d honestly say that passion and support are what kept me going. Having a strong support system from friends, family and my husband kept me going each day. In hindsight though, my experience in different industries enabled me to develop a broader skillset and gain a wider perspective on how finances are perceived by women in diverse sectors. This has contributed largely to my ability to resonate with women from diverse backgrounds, ethnicities, and age groups at HerFI.
What is something that has been particularly challenging throughout your career?
Having worked in a male-dominated industry, the most challenging aspect I perceived was the constant struggle to make my presence felt, my voice heard, and my decisions valued. To- date I have not come across another immigrant woman or woman of color in a leadership role in financial markets, the so-called Boys Club.
What have been your go-to tools and strategies to overcome challenging experiences or people in your career?
I believe challenging experiences and opportunities are important to help you to grow and learn from. To overcome the challenge, I faced (which I am sure other women have felt too) of being noticed and heard as a woman, I used education as my biggest tool. In the ever-changing finance industry where knowledge is key to growth, my higher education and certifications were well received. I accomplished a Bachelor of Commerce in Financial Markets, followed by a Master of Commerce in Business Management. I also completed the CFA program and was awarded the CFA charter in 2017. Apart from these, I have upskilled myself through diplomas and certifications. That’s why I truly believe that Knowledge is Power and strive to provide education to those who yearn for it.
What is one personal or professional skill you’re working on at the moment and why?
I am working on my professional networking skills to build and grow a community of women who share the same beliefs on success and have a similar outlook on financial independence as me.
What is something you wish you’d known when you were first starting out in your career?
The skills and expertise you gain in a role truly matter more than the title, description and/or your hierarchy in that role.
What is one piece of advice you’d give to someone who is about to embark on the journey that you have been on for the most recent period of your life?
My transition from a full-time role to a start-up founder has been full of hurdles to say the least. My advice to all aspiring female entrepreneurs is to never forget why you started on your journey in the first place. What you are about to embark on comes with its own set of challenges, but it is your WHY that makes it worthwhile!
Can you tell us about HerFI and why you decided to focus on supporting women with personal finances?
HerFI is a women-focused startup based in Auckland, New Zealand. My startup is geared to empower women through education so that they can start on their journey to being financially independent. I envision HerFI to be the platform that builds a support network for you, empowering you with the confidence to get started, motivating you to stay on track, inspiring you to help others, and encouraging you to celebrate your wins along the way!
My experience in the industry is a strong motivator that led me to focus on women and their finances. Most women are also not raised to manage their finances and/or invest money. As a result, if they do embark on their investing journey, they do so much later in life which puts them at a disadvantage at building their retirement funds at the same level as men. In addition to it, most women take maternity breaks or work reduced hours to take on the role of primary caregivers for children or parents. During this time, besides spending longer hours caring for loved ones, they are also not getting paid, which means not contributing to retirement funds. Often women end up sacrificing essentials like health insurance which means higher healthcare costs at retirement. And to top it all, statistics show that women live an average of 5 years longer than men.
When I started my investing journey, I failed to find a platform that a millennial and immigrant woman like me could use to seek education. It felt like all online content was created just for men. Even the attendees at in-person workshops were predominantly men, so I feared being judged or mansplained. Due to the lower representation of female financial advisors in the industry, my attempts to find an advisor to who I could relate to went in vain. That’s when I started looking for all these answers by myself! Having been through all this meant delay in getting started and that’s the only regret all long-term investors have-I “I wish I had started investing earlier.” That’s why I launched HerFI! So, no other female has to spend those hours sifting through irrelevant material on the internet or listening to another jargon-filled lecture on investing that they cannot relate to.
What are some of the interesting observations you’ve had about how women and men think about financial decisions?
The most interesting observation I have stumbled upon on multiple occasions is the expectations of the outcome of investing. Men often invest money with the sole expectation of earning a return. On the contrary, women are emotional when it comes to making money choices. So, when they choose to invest, they do so with the expectation of achieving a goal, i.e., plan for my child’s future, plan for my career break, plan for an expensive purchase such as a house, car, or even an international vacation or plan for my retirement. Another interesting observation I have encountered is that women spend a lot more time researching before arriving at any decision as compared to men. This is applicable across a spectrum of decisions – from hiring an employee to purchasing a kitchen appliance. Most women wait to find a steal/ bargain before they purchase the more expensive items, which implies they innately possess the qualities of a value investor (Value investing is one of the popular investing strategies). When applied to investing, this inherent Need-toknow-it-all, combined with the urge to strike a bargain works to their advantage as they make wiser investment choices in the long run.
What are your top tips for women wanting to improve their financial situation?
The fundamental to improving one’s financial situation is a paradigm shift in mindset from being a saver (where the money doesn’t grow) to an investor (where the money grows itself). These tips can help you develop a wealth mindset:
- Start by figuring out Why you want to invest, not What you should invest in?
- Set goals for different time horizons (short-term, long-term)
- Tackle your short-term financial goals first as the progress will give you the confidence to work on your longer-term goals.
- Allow yourself to make mistakes as they teach you something new every time
- Start with smaller amounts that you are comfortable investing with and let the power of compounding work its magic for you in the long term.
- Talk, talk and talk – the only way to learn and familiarise yourself with the concepts in your busy lives is by talking about them. Perhaps, your friend might share their Secret investing strategy with you just like they shared their grandma’s secret recipe that is your family’s new favorite. The only way to know it works is by implementing it. #Itstartswithanaction
How can we follow your journey?
Women’s Finance Club at HerFI is a great way to connect with like-minded women and explore what’s behind the doors to the intimidating world of finance. This is a nonjudgemental space to ask ‘silly’ questions, and get kind, humorous, blow your socks off advice from a person who gets it, knows it, and has been there. One of the outstanding features of the Club is that it provides a platform for mothers and daughters to participate in money conversations together. Being an exclusive club member gives you access to all the resources, tools, and support you need to take control of your financial future! You’ll have me and other exceptional industry experts on your team who’d be so very honored to sit beside you on this journey.
You are welcome to join the waitlist through my website: www.herfi.co.nz
My Instagram page: @herfinancialindependence
and FB page- Her Financial Independence