Finance / Financial Planning

"I Want Every Woman In The Country To Become The Finance Minister Of Her House"

. 8 min read . Written by Roopal Kewalya
"I Want Every Woman In The Country To Become The Finance Minister Of Her House"

If you cross paths with Priyanka Bhatia on a busy street, you might be deceived by her unassuming persona, but on a second glance, you will notice a quiet strength that permeates her very being. While you are still looking, she suddenly smiles a warm, open smile that is so infectious that it invites you to enter a world where you have never stepped before – her world, her business, her organisation called Women on Wealth that helps women navigate their journey to financial freedom.

I have met her personally, but for this interview, we had a quick chat over the phone to understand where it all began — the idea for her business and the ideology behind it.

Priyanka grew up watching her dad, a first-generation entrepreneur who worked really hard after her grandfather passed away. And in a lot of ways, he set the path for her. Memories of him watching CNBC TV18 came flooding back as Priyanka recounted how she observed him closely when he ventured into trading, buying properties and working diligently on expanding his business.

I have seen business around me since my childhood and always dreamt of being a business person.

She also saw her mother investing in gold and post office investments. The fact that her parents took her along for all these transactions set her apart from a lot of children growing up at the time. Priyanka strongly believes that all parents should include children in money conversations at home and not attempt to protect them from it. She recalls her dad telling her that ‘If on the 7th of every month you ask for money from me, you will get five hundred rupees as pocket money, if you don’t ask for it, you won’t get it.’

Knowing a lot of women who struggle with asking for money even as adults, I marvel at the learning Priyanka received at such a young age. She adds jauntily that her conditioning has made her realise that business is not risky. In fact, for her business is like fun…it’s action…it’s creativity.

This refreshing perspective on business makes me wonder about so many children in the 80s who were conditioned under the security umbrella of government jobs that many middle-class homes coveted at the time.

Priyanka recalls that her parents did not receive any inheritance, so each rupee in the household was accounted for. ‘Why is the electricity bill so high, reduce this’. She vividly recalls her father asking her mother to increase investments in the post office. One of the first tools of investment that she understood was the National Savings Scheme certificate through which her parents almost doubled their money every three or five years.

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When asked what the correct time to save and invest is, Priyanka vociferously advocates that saving should begin from childhood. In fact, it should also be a time to invest in one’s own business. Knowing Priyanka for a while now, I know she walks the talk so it came as no surprise when she revealed that her first investment was at the age of 21 in a PPF and her second investment was in a business franchise of Cafe Coffee Day (CCD) which she bought for 3 lakhs at Noida Expressway – all with the money she had saved since childhood.

Priyanka shares that at that time, Noida Expressway was a desolate area. After her day job as a business journalist from 8 AM to 4 PM, she used to drive and go all the way out there to run this outlet of CCD. She had hired a guy who used to run the place at night. This went on for two years. There were no offices at Noida Expressway then, so they were running this outlet with no competitors.

But pretty soon, Domino’s Pizza opened inside, Maggi and omelette sellers started opening roadside following which, their CCD outlet lost a lot of business. Priyanka took this failure chin-up. “The key learning from that was that any business should be ready for future threats,” she shared.

And to have this learning at the age of 21 turned out to be a blessing because all these experiences were preparing her for her future role as an entrepreneur of her business Women On Wealth which she started at the age of 26 to provide skills to women who experience financial anxiety or suffocation and lack the skills to take them towards financial freedom.

It is one thing to create wealth for yourself and another to do this for an entire community. But Priyanka believes that a business should be about value creation for people.

If it adds value to its team as well as to its clients, then there is no way a company can fail.

She recalls a time from her childhood when a lady from her neighbourhood used to visit their home. She had lost her husband, and Priyanka’s parents supported her in creating wealth. The fact that her parents set an example towards extending a helping hand to others became the seed that germinated into her own business idea for Women on Wealth that aims at creating 50 lakh women investors in India.

But like any other journey, the road to set up this business has been far from easy. Many-a-times Priyanka found herself alone for this onerous task ahead of her. One of the biggest challenges she faced was that people didn’t even know about Women on Wealth. At times, due to lack of funds, she could not bring on board the best trainers for the job because the organisation is primarily self-funded. She candidly admits that there are days she has to drag herself to work, even when she doesn’t have the energy to work, and she has to do it for six days every week without showing the pain to the rest of her team.

There has not been a single day that I felt like giving up. I tell myself that these are the challenges, now work around them.

I find myself being more and more inspired by Priyanka, but then her pep talks have lifted many women out of the dumps. In a strange way, she is part-entrepreneur, part-coach, part-cheerleader, part-friend and a sum of all these beautiful parts that make magic every day.

Almost as if listening to my next question, she speaks over the phone, “The purpose keeps me going.”

The fact that she has seen financial freedom in her life makes her want to share this knowledge with all women… of what this same freedom can bring to all women.

I wonder how difficult it is to be the leader of an organisation where a community of women look up to you, to emulate not just your financial attitude but your personal habits as well.

Discipline is an innate ability in me. It becomes a practice; if you have to wake up at 5, you have to do it. However late you’re sleeping at night…if you have to study, you have to talk to people…then you have to do it. I work from Monday to Saturday, from 8 AM to 8 or 9 PM …and sometimes, even later.

But a business that cannot run without the support of this community of women faces its biggest challenge in the women themselves. Priyanka almost sounds a tad disappointed when she says that so many women are resistant to the idea itself. She feels as if she is hitting her head against a rock. “Women have lost faith in each other. They don’t trust anymore. If I tell them I am free and you can also be free, they think that this isn’t possible… that I am lying to them,” she said.

She shares that listening to personal stories of many women has made her realise that at times the baggage of the past is so huge that it is difficult to trust. So much so that it’s impossible to convince them that this program is good for them. Sometimes, the situation seems almost hopeless.

But then she immediately cheers up in her true spirited style and says that once she sees the difference that she has brought in the lives of 50-100 women who have been a part of this journey, she is encouraged to start the same thing next day all over again. She wants women to trust each other and themselves so they can be free financially. She is just waiting for that time to come when women switch gears and say that, ‘I trust you’.

Instead, she hears the opposite of this in almost every free introductory session that they conduct to familiarise women with their programs. “This is not my work,” they say. A lot of women feel that since they look after their kids, relatives and other things, they ask husbands to handle their money, and because of this, their dependency on their husband increases.

Priyanka’s impatience shows as she reflects on the irony of the situation.

First women complain that this is not my department and then they say I am financially dependent on my husband…I have to ask for money for little things…

Then there is another set of women who tell her ‘ First, you get married then come and talk to us’ Priyanka laughs over the phone and says she never understands what marriage has got to do with this. ‘Sometimes it pinches me that here I am to support you and there you are insulting me. But then I see women gaining financial security through this program. They invest and see a 30% return and feel good about themselves.’ In that moment, all criticism is forgotten.

It makes one ponder over society’s obsession with wealth and money. Why does money bring in so much satisfaction? Priyanka answers this question with so much depth that the simplicity of the idea astounds me. “You have the skills, and I need a service. You give me your skills, time and effort, and I pay the money. So, basically a transaction is taking place, and you can derive whatever meaning you want from that.”

I think of money as a tool. Now whether that tool empowers you or disempowers you, is a question you need to ask. Do you consider building wealth a burden or a privilege?

She also adds that all of us need to live consciously and understand how we relate to money and wealth and the things they bring.

When I hear this, I almost feel like I am in the presence of a spiritual guru who has cracked the code of how to live in this material life. Look at it as a tool and detach from it without looking down upon creating wealth. Isn’t this sense of balance that we are all striving for in our lives?

Priyanka quickly reminds me that only two minutes of her time are left as she has to attend the Skype session with a group of women all over the country training to be investors. And a thought strikes me. So far, wealth creation has been the privilege of a select few, and among those, it has predominantly been a male bastion. Just the sheer power of the idea that every homemaker in the country can become an investor induces goosebumps.

But Priyanka says it with unparalleled ease.

The way I see it…I see contributing to other women’s life as a responsibility that I have got in this world…this is my purpose.

I want every woman in the country to become the Finance Minister of her house. This last line is what Priyanka says to every woman who joins the community.

Nirmala Sitharaman took the oath of Finance Minister of the nation last week. To me, it just seems to be a resounding echo of the dream that Priyanka Bhatia pursues with her vision of Women On Wealth.

To know more about Priyanka Bhatia’s work, visit Women on Wealth

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