For parents, I urge them to include their child in some financial decisions. For instance, explain, “The reason I chose this generic brand of cereal rather than the brand name is that it costs 50 cents less and tastes the same to me” Or talk about deals, such as buying everyday staples in bulk to get a cheaper per-item price.
As a part of my series about strong female finance leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Shanu Mehta, Co-founder of MMC Convert — a cloud-based accounting software migration company based out of Indore, India. She first studied Bachelor of Technology and then pursued her MBA but eventually landed in the field of finance. Shanu has spent more than a decade advocating for financial literacy in India and other Asian countries.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the Banking/Finance field? Immediately after completing my B.Tech degree, I interned with IBM. Then I did my MBA from IIMM, Pune and then worked as a management trainee at a forging company ZF gears, Pune.
Then starting a business wasn’t exactly on my mind as I was training to be a management consultant. Also, I got married pretty early, so I was still trying to figure out my schedules professionally. I was just 21 at the time and happily married to Ankit Mehta (25 at the time) when we went on a vacation to New Zealand. We took a cable car ride at Hawkes Bay. After the ride, when we were returning, we overheard a conversation. A man in the group was sharing how his team could not resolve a hiccup in an accounting product while the launch was due soon. Ankit, being an accountant himself, could not help jumping into the conversation. He offered the man an alternative solution while I shared the logic behind it to implement the solution. Next thing, this man called his team and asked if what we said was do-able. His tech team called back in the next 15 minutes confirming that the solution had worked the way we had explained it. Turned out, the man was the founder of the top 10 most innovative companies in the world listed by Forbes that year. We immediately got an offer to join him. Instead of taking up jobs in his company, we offered him an alternative — an accounting software solution. Soon after coming to India, both of us created a product which could enable any company considering moving their financial data from one software to another. MMC Convert was born that got me on the finance business trajectory.
Can you share with our readers the most interesting or amusing story that occured to you in your career so far? Can you share the lesson or take away you took out of that story?
The most interesting story has been our founding story that I just shared earlier. That incident got my husband and I on to a track of creating a whole new business. But the biggest take-away from that incident was — as business people, we need to be problem-solvers. We cannot stereotype ourselves and say that — oh, we don’t do that. When someone becomes your client, you need to become a shoulder to rely on. We have followed this principle throughout our business and it has always worked in our favour. Another incident happened when I was interacting with some new women entrepreneurs in a small Indian village called Pipliya near my city Indore. I asked them how they managed to get around from one village market to another village market, they laughed and said, “Google!” Whether it’s Pipliya, New York or Johannesberg, women just need an opportunity to fulfil their aspirations, and fortunately, we are living in an age of endless opportunities. This incident stood out for me.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Yes, but before that let me share that our companyMMC Convert is today an exclusive data migration partner with leading global Cloud Accounting Softwares including Xero, Clear Books, Freshbooks, and Billy App. We are working on a product that we strongly believe is the future of accounting and finance. We are working on developing a product based on intuitive accounting. We are leveraging on something called Collective Intelligence wherein we are developing a product that would be intelligent enough to label simple day-to-day transactions into proper expense heads. For instance, an employee goes to buy coffee for the rest of the staff, he simply punches in the photograph of the coffee bill into the application and the app will categorize it under the Food or Meals expense. I truly believe that intuitive accounting is the future and it will employer small and big businessmen like never before.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
We — my husband and I founded MMC Convert back in 2011 from our home in Indore. From then on we wanted to be a company that would offer complete solutions specific to our clients. We help SMEs and enterprises to move from any accounting software into a cloud-based software solution. With offices in the UK, Australia and the USA, our company has served and empowered over 5000 SMEs around the world through software technology. Along with doing the migration, the company is also making their software smarter by using collective intelligence across industries to offer smart book-keeping to many businesses and reducing their non productive time to almost 1/10th. In short, we go all the way for our clients, a quality that makes us stand out. I would love to add a story here. There was a startup from Singapore and it was at the stage of valuation. They had been running business for almost six years then and they had to get the due diligence done. Now during the process of due diligence, the audit team discovered that all their accounting records were stored at different platforms, some were offline on their computers, others were on offline software, some were on cloud accounting platform. When they came to us, we offered them a complete solution — where we brought all the accounting records of six years on one cloud platform. The startup received a legitimate valuation after that. This is the kind of work that makes us stand out, not just selling what we have but going all the way to help clients.
Ok. Thank you for all that. Let’s now jump to the main core of our interview. Wall Street and Finance used to be an “all white boys club”. This has changed a lot recently. In your opinion, what caused this change?
Yes, there are gender stereotypes, but not all are necessarily negative. There are occasions where women are held up to higher standards than men. There were many times where I was the only woman around the boardroom table. Frankly, I never felt that being the sole female was an issue. In fact, being the token woman sometimes turned out to be an advantage because I brought a unique perspective on things, which my male counterparts seemed to appreciate. Also, men have a way of doing things which includes building alliances, sourcing votes before meetings and preparing their positioning beforehand. There’s nothing wrong with this. It’s all about strategy, like playing chess and getting your pieces into the right spaces, so I learned the strategy and used it. My biggest lesson is — don’t just point to the challenges, it’s perceived as complaining, no one will listen. Instead, point to the solutions and act on them.
Of course, despite the progress, we still have a lot more work to do to achieve parity. According to this report in CNBC, less than 17 percent of senior positions in investment banks are held by women. In your opinion or experience, what 3 things can be done by a)individuals b)companies and/or c) society to support this movement going forward?
This movement can be supported by doing these things-
Individual level- Women are naturally good with Persuasion, Research and Negotiation. These inherent traits give women the edge to be in the strategic roles, however, we should try to inculcate them early on in our life. Instead of waiting for others to recognize the potential and give us the opportunity, we should go on and try to find the problems that need our attention and solve them hands on.
Companies — Companies should resolve to not let the age-old biases tilt their judgement and just try to hold men and women on the same standards of meritocracy, they should set examples for other companies to follow.
Society- The society should glorify the leading women in different industries without subtly specifying that these are exceptions and not the norm.
Unless the mindset that “ Only few women can do well in leadership roles and these are just the exceptions” changes, next generations would still not see a good spike in the data of women in C-suit or leadership roles.
Let’s now turn to a slightly new topic. According to this report in Fortune, nearly two-thirds of Americans can’t pass a basic test of financial literacy. In your opinion or experience what is the cause of these unfortunate numbers? If you had the power to make a change, what 3 things would you recommend to improve these numbers?
Financial illiteracy is a huge problem in the U.S., as in other countries. Most people don’t understand how our banking system works, how to invest their money, or what’s the best financial vehicle for their savings. And most Americans can’t afford to hire a financial advisor. Here’s what we can do –
1] Educating people when they’re young is one avenue to achieve this. However, not everyone remembers everything they learned in high school, hence it’s important to continue to refresh it.
2] If you want people to be financially savvy and good investors, you have to start early and gradually and they need money to do those things because they need to have a sense of driving to get on the highway. So the timing of such a course should be when they have money in hand, maybe when they get their salaries or bonuses, or well in time before the financial year ends.
3] The government needs to provide free Financial Counsellors and camps for spreading more awareness.
You are a “finance insider”. If you had to advise your adult child about 5 non intuitive things one should do to become more financially literate, what would you say? Can you please give a story or example for each.
Ans. These are according to me five non intuitive things we can do to become financially more literate –
1] A big challenge for many Americans is that they have a consumer mentality. But’ it’s really unavoidable at first. Young adults — the Gen-Z- are targeted with ads EVERYWHERE, media promotes lavish lifestyles, social media makes them envious of others’ possessions. We need to teach them to break the consumer mentality and develop an investor mentality. The tone of financial literacy can be set up early on. Young adults can be taught about the ability to delay gratification.
2] If you set aside $100 every year starting at age 14, you’d have $23,000 by age 65, but if you start at age 35, you’ll only have $7,000 by age 65. Albert Einstein said, “The most powerful force in the universe is compound interest.” Saving when you are young is the equivalent of saving a great deal when you are older. I did not have that discipline because I naturally assumed that I was going to be so awesome that money was never going to be a problem for me. Most people, including myself, do not have the discipline to put several thousand dollars away in their 20s and 30s. If you do so, you will have economic security when you get older, and you will have the satisfaction that you set yourself up for it. I describe it as a magic box. If you need to put $10,000 into a magic box, you went back to the box after you lived your life, and there was $300,000 or $400,000 in the box, how much would you put in? Everybody has that box, so you need to ask yourself what you want to put in it.
3] Borrow Money for Investments — not to finance a lifestyle. Using credit for a life you feel entitled to is a losing proposition when it comes to building wealth. The constant borrowing will assure that there is no money available for investing, and the added interest expense of borrowing further increases the cost of the lifestyle. People who take loans at early ages are still caught up in the same cycle even many years later. As a child, my father always discouraged us to use credit cards unless it is an emergency, because he believes — Constant use of Credit card pushes us away from the ground reality.
4] For parents, I urge them to include their child in some financial decisions. For instance, explain, “The reason I chose this generic brand of cereal rather than the brand name is that it costs 50 cents less and tastes the same to me” Or talk about deals, such as buying everyday staples in bulk to get a cheaper per-item price.
5] If all you know about money is how much you have in your bank account, it’s time to get more financially literate. Look at yourself as a financial asset. Investing in yourself will pay off in the future. Increase your value through hard work, continual upgrading of skills and knowledge, and by making smart career choices. Always calculate your lifestyle cost.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Yes, I would like to give that credit to my family. I have been brought up in an entrepreneurial family, I have always seen my father taking calculated risks and hedging them well. My mother has always been very supportive of any choice we make in our career, and My husband is my backbone, he is the most secured man I have ever met. It’s not really a story but a lesson I picked up while growing up. As a child, my mother used to make use of three jars of money: Saving Jar, Spending Jar and Sharing Jar. I have followed these jars all my life. Apart from saving and spending, I learnt a vital life lesson: to share and give back to the society. This is precisely why I am part of the Women Entrepreneurship Cell at The Indian Institute of Management, Indore where I get to mentor budding women entrepreneurs; I share my knowledge and give them insights about finance management.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I have learnt and studied Hindu scriptures, so I believe life is a vital combination of facts and concepts, internal journey and external journey. Formal education and simple experiences of life can’t give you that “wisdom “. If you want to acquire it, you actually need to do two journeys simultaneously. One is the journey towards inner world and the other is the journey towards the outer world. Religion and spirituality would help you to travel within inner world whereas, science and education would help to travel in outer world. If you excel in outer world, you will get pleasures and if you excel in inner world, you will get happiness.
Finally, a time will come when there would only be just one journey. When your conscience will dominate your instincts, when your conscience will prevail over all five senses, when your conscience would be the only sense .
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
The movement that the whole world needs is — stop spending too much on comforts and luxuries and start investing money and resources in and with other people who have less. No matter what field you come from, we all must try and understand the basics of economics. We need to stop thinking that we need some professional courses to help us acquire financial literacy. Today, there’s so much information available freely. You may hit online magazines, government websites, money-related Podcasts. Talk to friends who are in this industry, don’t dismiss what the elders teach you as boring talks. These are the talks which would come in handy when you are in trouble. Try to start investing before you hit 30. The key to investing is to diversify across different companies and different types of stocks.
Thank you for all of these great insights!