There will be times when you feel as though you have to be the hardest working person in the room to prove yourself. While there’s nothing you can do to prevent those unfair situations, treat each one as an opportunity to potentially change someone else’s bias simply by doing the best job possible.
Practice gratitude and recognize the successes, big and small.
Constantly evolve yourself. To you must keep up with your competitors and industry, especially as a business owner.
Is the American Dream still alive? If you speak to many of the immigrants we spoke to, who came to this country with nothing but grit, resilience, and a dream, they will tell you that it certainly is still alive.
As a part of our series about immigrant success stories, I had the pleasure of interviewing Khalid Parekh, entrepreneur and founder of Fair, attributes some of his vision for the platform to the banking challenges and opportunity gaps he faced as an immigrant from India. Today, his IT firm, Houston-based AMSYS group, is valued at nearly $350MM. As an immigrant with no credit history, however, he didn’t initially have an opportunity to secure a business loan or even an office lease. Plus, sending money overseas was costly to both him and his family. What’s more, the pages of advanced fine print outlining bank account fee structures are often difficult for U.S. born consumers to understand, so you can imagine the potential challenges for an immigrant, which many traditional banks have profited from for so long. Parekh’s vision for Fair is to improve people’s lives with ethical, transparent banking.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
Immigrants never forget where they came from, as it shapes your values and world perspective. I was born and grew up in Mumbai, India — the middle child with two brothers. Family played a central role in shaping my values personally and professionally. In fact, one of the pillars of my business is family — to treat other with care and respect, practice open communication and ensure everyone feels heard and valued. Growing up, I was always highly driven, and I completed the engineering program at NIIT in India before moving to the U.S. in 1998. It was this drive that allowed me to start by first business just five years after moving to the U.S.
Was there a particular trigger point that made you emigrate to the US? Can you tell us the story?
My story mirrors the experience of so many other immigrants who come to the U.S. in search of opportunity. Growing up in India, my family struggled to put food on the table, and I wanted to seek out education and career opportunities not only to be able to survive, but also to support my family back home and build something to uplift others in a similar position.
The opportunities afforded to me, along with a dedicated and driven team, allowed me to start a small break it & fix it shop, AMSYS Group, which is now valued at nearly $350 million two decades later. My latest venture is Fair, a multilingual neobank and financial services platform that will aim to solve the financial barriers immigrants, underbanked and underserved populations face in the U.S. by putting people over profit.
Can you tell us the story of how you came to the USA? What was that experience like?
I came to the U.S. as a teenager with just $100 in my pocket with an airline ticket I had to purchase on borrowed money. The irony of coming to the U.S. for opportunity is that you can spend months or years living with a similar quality of life and challenges as you did back home. I struggled still to put food on the table and there were many nights I went to bed hungry. My first job was working in my uncle’s convenience store, and I would have $1.07 budget to eat lunch every day.
However, the drive for me and, many of the millions of other immigrants in this country, was the belief in achieving the American Dream even when it seems like everything is sacked up against newcomers and people of color. Like so many others, I struggled to get a foothold in the U.S. due to the complicated banking and financial system. I found it nearly impossible to open a bank account or get a loan to start my business. Arriving in a foreign land thousands of miles away from your family is certainly not an easy feat for anybody, but with the right support, opportunities and drive, people can change their lives.
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped make the move more manageable? Can you share a story?
Every immigrant in this country is either thankful to a family member or employer who sponsored their legalization. For me, that was my godfather and uncle Aslam. He’d lived in the U.S. for 20 prior to him inviting me to live with him. He taught me so much and gave me my first job working in one of the gas station convenience stores he owned in Houston.
In a way, he taught me how to prioritize what matters most and not live in a scarcity mindset that limits your growth. An example of this was when I was working a solo shift in the convenience store. A man filled up $50 worth of gas and drove off without paying. I jumped in my car and drove after him and asked him pay for his gas. He apologized and explained that he didn’t have the money now and that he would come back and pay what he owed later. Like so many others in this county, he wasn’t able to make ends meet.
What I didn’t fully realize at the time is that I left the store unlocked and unattended. My uncle explained that I couldn’t leave the store unattended for one gas and dash customer — my first priority was to look after the store. It seems like an obvious lesson in hindsight and it’s a now an experience I can laugh about, but it’s also an important reminder that it so important to focus on the big picture and act in the best interest of your overall goals. It can be so easy to get caught up in details and a limited mindset that holds you back. I thank my uncle for taking me under his wing to navigate my first years in the U.S. and set me up with the knowledge I needed to achieve my dreams.
So how are things going today?
I’m so grateful for where I am today. Fair will fully launch this April and offer ethical banking, lending, investments and retirement services that improve traditional, profit-driven banking models. The need for a service like Fair, that is intentionally designed to help close opportunity and racial wealth gaps, allowed us to raise $20 million in 40 days. Those who are new to the country, have no credit or need access to interest-free loans will now have options.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Achieving the American dream, both for newcomers and U.S.-born citizens, is often so out of reach because of systemic barriers and inequities. Blacks and Latinos pay twice as much in bank fees and too many people suffer in our current financial model. Fair aims to break down these barriers, and I will not be drawing a salary from Fair. We will also provide free international money transfers to our members, so immigrants can keep more of their money in their pocket when sending money home.
I am very passionate about supporting refugee causes, and fair will donate 2.5% of profits to refugee causes globally. Fair will not invest in companies that are deemed to have a negative social impact, such as companies that profit from poor labor standards, harmful products such as tobacco or environmental devastation. Along the same lines, Fair also practices environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) investing measures with a focus on the sustainability of an investment and its overall impact.
In addition to all the good Fair will bring to the world, we’ve also set up the AMSYS Foundation with a mission to empower the lives of refuges worldwide and serve underprivileged families.
You have first-hand experience with the US immigration system. If you had the power, which three things would you suggest to improve the system?
I would propose three things to improve our immigration system:
- Give priority to immigrants originating from counties that have hardship as a result of U.S. interference. If U.S. foreign policy or military presence is negatively impacting innocent people, our government should take ownership and support needs of these populations.
- Give priority and support to countries facing significant social and economic hardship. The number of forcibly displaced people are at an all-time high, but in both 2018 and 2019, the ceiling for refugee admissions hit all-time lows. To be a compassionate leader and champion for human rights, the U.S. should increase their attention and care to these groups, not decreasing their ability to seek asylum and refuge.
- Enhance and update the technologies in the immigration system to make the process more efficient, streamlined and accessible. The current process is full of cumbersome paperwork and complex processes. Building in smart technology would allow immigrants to easily access the resources and documents they need, in their own native language.
Can you share “5 keys to achieving the American dream” that others can learn from you?
The American dream is elusive, but it’s certainly not unattainable. While our governments and institutions should put legislation and resources in place to break down systemic barriers that hinder success, there are a few lessons I’ve learned along the way that other immigrants can put into practice
- There will be times when you feel as though you have to be the hardest working person in the room to prove yourself. While there’s nothing you can do to prevent those unfair situations, treat each one as an opportunity to potentially change someone else’s bias simply by doing the best job possible.
- Practice gratitude and recognize the successes, big and small.
- To be successful, you have to be your biggest advocate and be proactive in securing opportunities. No one is going to give it to you — you have to get it for yourself.
- Don’t limit yourself to the status quo. You don’t have to do something the same way it’s always been done. I attribute much of my own success by being focused on optimization and figuring out how to do things better.
- Constantly evolve yourself. To you must keep up with your competitors and industry, especially as a business owner.
We know that the US needs improvement. But are there 3 things that make you optimistic about the US’s future?
While the U.S. government has a long way to improve, there are a few trends that seed optimism:
- The Biden administration has promised to overhaul our current immigration system, support more migrants and make immigration practices fairer and more humane.
- Equity-based lending opportunities are increasing. So many financial institutions are making a profit of people’s debt through interest rate. Platforms like Fair will offer zero-interest loans. This way of practicing banking is more prominent in the east, and it’s now making its way over to the west, which would greatly help struggling immigrants and disadvantaged groups.
- The rise of digital currency is making it more straightforward to exchange money internationally. Sending money to and from the U.S. to other countries can pose significant challenges, from expensive fees to not always being able to trust foreign currency in a war-torn country. Improvements in technology are making increasing opportunity in this space.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
I would love sit down and have a meal with Warren Buffet. He’s not only successful in his career but is also a philanthropist who gives most of this profit to charitable causes. I’m not as interested in hearing what made him successful — I would be more interested to learn what didn’t work. I believe we learn more from our failures than our triumphs.
What is the best way our readers can further follow your work online?
You can learn more about Fair at bankwithfair.com, follow @bankwithfair on Facebook and Instagram and @bankwithfairnow on Twitter.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!