Published: 27th July 2020
If financial jargon both terrifies and bores you, this Vizag start-up can make you Fin Lit
"We will not stop until we have reached that goal to imbibe financial literacy within the Indian educational system and make financial literacy a right for everyone," passionately says the founder
When Neha Misra was at Nasdaq MarketSite, New York, for the Female Founders in FinTech programme, an investor she met presumed that she was a 'techie' with no background in Finance. "It is assumed that Indians can work only as testers and developers but can’t take good care of their finances. That image is not representative of the knowledge and skills that Indians deeply possess," shares the 31-year-old. Neha was one of the two people chosen for a fellowship opportunity to work for Eric Ries, author of The Lean Startup. Prior to that, she worked as an independent financial analyst and investor for two years and in 2019, she was a NISM-certified Currency Derivatives and Equity Trader. So instead of taking the investor's presumptions personally, she made other plans. "Once back from New York, we decided to work on The Fin Lit Project to educate engineers about personal finances and how, with the right tools, every educated individual can become financially literate and independent," says the Lucknow-born innovator.
Started in May 2020 by this Visakhapatnam-based entrepreneur, The Fin Lit Project has a singular aim — to spread financial literacy. Running basic literacy programmes for corporates and soon for educational institutions too, their blog, an app in the making and so much more — they have derived multiple ways to achieve their goal. The IIT Madras alumna takes us through all that they do to ensure words like 'investments' and 'savings' don't scare the youngsters of today. Excerpts:
How did your inclinations towards finance begin? Were you always inclined towards leaving a mark in this space?
When my family and I moved to Visakhapatnam in 2017, my husband was diagnosed with a life-threatening disease and I had to take a break from my career. That is when we realised the balance between financial planning and financial management. We understood quickly that if I couldn’t work in a firm, I had to learn to manage our personal finances on my own so that we could make our money grow and prepare ourselves for uncertainties. The knowledge I gained from IIT Madras was instrumental in shaping the beginning of my financial journey and a huge push came from my husband, Commander Vijit Misra, and our son.
Finance for me started as a personal need but quickly turned into an ocean of opportunities with huge potential to learn and grow. For two years, I worked as an independent financial analyst and investor and in 2019, I got myself certified as a currency derivatives trader from NISM, SEBI. I was looking to learn the internal functioning of stock exchange and that’s when I came across a fellowship opportunity to work for Eric Ries. Eric was setting up an ethical stock exchange in New York and I decided to go for it. I was one of the five people across the world shortlisted and among the final two who got a chance to work with him. My experience of working with LTSE (Long Term Stock Exchange) taught me so much about life at Wall Street, internal functioning of stock exchanges and gave me huge opportunities to be at NYSE, Nasdaq, Stern School of Business and so on.
Once back from New York, we decided to build The Fin Lit Project. Our vision became even stronger when we were selected for IIM Bangalore's flagship incubation hub NSRCEL’s Launchpad programme. NSRCEL cemented our dream and vision and gave us the boost we needed.
Neha Misra | (Pic: The Fin Lit Project)
You wanted to change the perception that Indians are techies and have zero knowledge of finances. What else do you want to achieve through it.
With years of experience under my belt, when I returned to India I reached out to my co-founder Dr DC Misra, telling him how huge the gap in financial understanding is and it's only because Finance is looked at as a complex subject. No one teaches us engineers these concepts which inevitably impact all of us, irrespective of the field you pursue. That’s where we realised that it's all about reaching out and telling people "It's your money and if you put in a little bit of effort, you can learn how to manage it". Our vision with The Fin Lit Project is to enable financial literacy amongst tech individuals and with anyone who has an interest in Finance and is willing to learn. We want to make Finance so simple that the phobia surrounding managing ones finances evades us and at the end of the day, financial jargon becomes a simple language.
We love the idea of simplifying complicated jargon, God knows there are a lot of them in Finance. Tell us more!
I love this quote by Joan Robinson which goes, "The point of understanding Economics is to not get fooled by economists.“
With this thought in mind, we decided to break down complicated financial jargon into a language that speaks to us. We firmly believe that Finance is just English and class VIII Math bundled together and it's only if that initial apprehension is removed by breaking down these concepts that people will take the onus on themselves.
We have launched the Basic Financial Literacy programme (a five-hour course) that includes stock market anatomy, stocks, bonds, mutual funds and an introduction to F&O which educates people about these concepts and ensures that they make informed choices when selecting a mutual fund and don’t buy anything that is sold to them. We have received great feedback so far where people have said, “We never realised how simple it is.” For example, one of our blogs talks about how tough it might be if the concept is made to look like something that doesn’t make sense at all. And that is what The Fin Lit Project is trying to achieve. We break down financial jargon into simple English and reiterate concepts like time value of money and the power of compounding which resonates with our students and clients.
Dr DC Misra | (Pic: The Fin Lit Project)
Investments! It's a big word, something that youngsters don't understand or are too scared to get started on. How does The Fin Lit Project help youngsters with this?
The reason it's important to understand investments early on is very simple, the younger you are when you start investing, the better your corpus (fund) will grow. The mantra being ‘Invest early, invest well’. We’re building a community of youngsters wanting to learn about Finance and yet, they don't know where to start. Fascinatingly, we’ve received great interest not just from India but across the globe.
As of now, we have four international collaborations signed. We’re working with some great firms around the world, from the UK, USA, West Africa and Europe to help make financial inclusion a reality and it is all about reaching out to people and converting it into a language that everyone understands.
Some of our members are from Amsterdam, Hong Kong, London and New York, in addition to Indians, and they all feel empowered as they start understanding the financial jargon and slowly start their investment journey.
We recently completed the first batch of our Basic Financial Literacy Programme for Indians in tech and also a Financial Literacy for Startups programme for start-ups in Owerri, Nigeria. Through collaboration with FinTech firms, we ensure that the end-product being consumed by the customer is being understood well and that’s how we build trust among people.
At the moment, we are leveraging WhatsApp and Slack, both community-building platforms. Youngsters like to explore new technology and that’s where our Financial Literacy Slack community is seeing great traction. Every day, we break down one financial jargon.
The idea of collaborating with educational institutions to make financial literacy a part of the curriculum is the need of the hour. Tell us what you think about the current level of financial literacy among the youth.
In India, the level of financial education at the moment is not very good. According to a 2019 S&P 500 Financial Literacy survey, only 25 per cent of adult Indians are financially literate. This is not true of just Tier II cities but also of bigger cities. People are so focused on earning money and modern-day desires that they don’t realise the interest rate that their credit card might be charging them. That is what we hope to change. It’s tough to change the mindset that people have about Finance but we think that this is a marathon and we will make our best efforts to incorporate this at the very elementary level in educational institutions because we believe that this is how we can be the change to make India a self-reliant country.
Their vision became even stronger when they were selected for IIM Bangalore's flagship incubation hub NSRCEL’s Launchpad programme
Are you in talks with educational institutions already?
We have already spoken to almost 200 Engineering and Management institutes in the country and will be working closely with them to make financial education a part of their curriculum. These technical institutes have to have an AICTE-approved curriculum and hence, this will take some time to imbibe into the educational system but we are putting in our best efforts to make financial education a right.
Tell us about your upcoming app.
We’ve launched the web version of The Fin Lit Project, on which, clients as well as students can book sessions with us. We also host Financial Literacy sessions for companies as well as educational institutes. Dr DC Misra, co-founder, The Fin Lit Project, who is the CTO and the CIO as well, is working on the app and we will be launching it very soon.
In the future, what other features or additions can we expect? What is the way forward?
We will be adding an investment advisory service as well to our platform soon. This will be a support system for our clients because our primary motto is to enable individuals to take care of their finances on their own. In addition to that, our vision is to serve at least 5,000 people in the first year of operations and we hope to accomplish that goal not just on the surface but with a deep impact.
Breaking jargon down for you:
- TVM or Time Value of Money: It is the reason we need to save and invest regularly. It implies that if today, you can buy four apples for $100, after 10 years, you will be able to buy maybe just two apples for the same $100
- Pyramiding: Just as you build a pyramid using blocks, this concept is about increasing your positions in your investments on the basis of which ones are actually giving you good results
- Scalping: Scalping or scalp trading implies trading in such a way that we take multiple profits from the same amount of money. We can equate it to peeling a resource for only that amount that we currently need
- Position Sizing: Position Sizing refers to the number of units invested in a particular security by an investor/trader
- Capital Gains: Implies the rise in the value of an asset that you've bought
For more on them, check out thefinlitproject.com