Banker Turned Entrepreneur – Padmini Gupta

Padmini Gupta, the founder of Xare, started her career as a banker in California, where she grew to run a multi-hundred million portfolio of loans, dealing mainly with small to medium businesses, and won two US SBA awards for being the best banker in California. After spending several years in banking, she pursued an MBA degree at Oxford and then joined the World Economic Forum as a Global Leadership Fellow. Later, she returned to Dubai, where her family had a business.

According to Padmini, her entrepreneurial journey started about seven years ago when the Nepal earthquake hit in 2015. She says, “Our nanny lost her family home and shop in the aftermath and asked for a sizable loan. It made me realize that most migrants do not have access to traditional banking services, and they relied solely on their employers for financial support. I built my first venture, Rise, as a platform to help migrants gain access to financial services and launched it in the year 2017”.

Over the next 2 years, her venture, Rise grew multi-fold – touching half a million users in the UAE, nurturing the migrant community, and scaling through partnerships with marquee brands like AXA Insurance and Carrefour.

When COVID hit in 2020, the migrant community was severely affected – it became impossible for migrants to send money home and difficult for families to spend it in their home countries. Padmini realized that the real problem at the heart of migrant troubles was the one financial tool they use the most – remittances!

So, Xare was born – it effectively allows anyone, anywhere to share their bank card with friends or family members, instantly with full security and control. Xare connects income earners and their dependents on a common platform so they can easily and safely share money. With Xare, you can safely share money with anyone without revealing your card details, even if they don’t have a bank account. Just a phone number will do. And they can share money online or offline (in select countries) using the shared card.

You are the CEO and Founder of Rise & Xare. What made you want to become an entrepreneur?

Padmini: I had a fruitful career in banking and development behind me when I came to Dubai in 2015 to be close to my parents and join the family business here. That’s when I noticed something strange in this country – 90% of UAE’s population are migrants or expats, some of whom have lived here for 20-30 years. They work here away from their homeland and families, and eventually retire and go back. Yet, they have no access to banking services or financial products here in the UAE, nor in their home countries where they are deemed non-residents.

That means 70% of the UAE’s working population in the country is locked out of the formal financial system both here and in their home countries.

In 2015, when the Nepal earthquake hit, the nanny in my home approached me for a loan to help her family back home. That’s when I decided to put my experience to use to build a financial platform for migrants, and my first startup – Rise, was born in 2017.

Rise helped migrants gain access to bank accounts, loans, insurance, and investment products. And Xare emerged out of Rise as way for migrants to manage their money better even after they shared it with their families back home.

What inspired you to enter the realm of Fintech?

Padmini: Founding Rise and then Xare has by far been the most fulfilling professional experience of my life. But my connection to banking and finance is not a new one. I wanted to be a banker when I grew up. In a place where girls wanted to be doctors, lawyers, and engineers, models, and actresses, who wanted to be a boring old banker? This was a strange career choice. But, it was a solid one from a 9 years old girl. Looking back, I realize, my family was always in banking — they were just not bankers.

My great grandfather provided banking to his tribe, but he was not a banker. There were no mass-market banks during his time, so he kept his tribe’s money safe, provided them credit and financial advice. My grandmother played a similar role, and then my father, who as one of the first Indian expats in Dubai, was always helping the growing Indian community — both with advice and credit.

I became a banker in the early 2000s in California, and worked with women and minority owned businesses to bring them into the banking fold. Even now, two decades later I help migrants, families and communities gain access to quality financial services.

Which of your experiences shaped your outlook on life and your approach to business?

Padmini: When I became a banker — in the middle of a recession in California, I realized that bankers were mostly a good old’ white boys’ network. They serviced people that looked like them. Their tribe was impenetrable. Mine had to be built. I spent the next decade working with women and minority owned businesses, bringing them into the banking fold and helping them grow.

The experience taught me some key lessons – from how important it is to be financially independent to the need for building and nurturing communities that can share resources.  

What has been one fulfilling experience in your professional life?

Padmini: As an entrepreneur- initially the work I had had the greatest impact on female migrants in the UAE. A little-known fact is that 1 in 4 women in the UAE is a domestic helper. My maiden enterprise targeted this segment, and we built a lot of important tools for this community – bringing more than 100k domestic helpers into the digital finance fold.

You are an innovator in Fintech, what is the key to success?

Padmini: I am immensely proud of building not one but two successful enterprises that have the ability to positively impact the lives of billions of people around the globe. The secret sauce here is our singular focus on making finance accessible to all, without exception. By using financial technologies as a force of good, we are able to bring about important social change.

What causes have you been involved in over the years and how have they built a stronger sense of purpose in your life?

Padmini: I am a mentor and advisor to several startups and play an active role in supporting women entrepreneurs through my involvement with Dubai Business Women Council, Sharjah Entrepreneurship Center (SHERAA), to name but a few. As a global citizen who has lived and worked in more than 10 countries, I have a unique understanding and passion to redefine migrant banking and help a billion people to build a better, more equitable and more sustainable future.

Are you all about work? How do you manage personal life, family time and work? Balance unlocks how many doors for you?

Padmini: Balance is all about knowing your priorities and being organized enough to follow them through. I’m able to find a healthy balance between my work, family and the things that interest me by setting actionable goals. This balance unlocks many doors for me, from improved health to increased productivity in the workplace.

What is a useful advice for women innovators?

Padmini: There is no universal advice – but I would recommend for any aspiring female entrepreneur do the following:

– Build your pride – your herd of lionesses who will support each other and help each other grow.

– Find mentors – both female and male, who will help you open doors and navigate some old boys’ clubs – having insider knowledge is critical.

– And finally – accept it will be tougher. You can hope it’s not, but plan like it will be. If a male colleague raised 2 million, expect you will raise 1 – or work twice as hard to get 2. It’s always better to prepare for the worst and hope for the best.

Do you have comments for glass ceiling for women in finance and technology?

Padmini: If you look at any metric – whether it be the amount of money raised by female founders or the percentage of female founders that get funded or the percentage of VC investors that are women – on all these metrics, it will seem that there is a glass ceiling. And this is acknowledged by industry veterans even in the most developed markets.

The same conditions and challenges exist in the Middle East. As a woman, you manage by doing what everyone else says – work twice as hard and run twice as fast. The only way to get past the barriers is to jump higher than male entrepreneurs do.