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Women entrepreneurs in Pakistan — Opportunities & barriers

Published on 12th Sep, Edition 37-38, 2016



Umber Tanya Ansari has been gaining experience in the asset management industry since 2008, and holds a Degree in Psychology from the University of Cincinnati, Ohio, USA. She began her career in advertising at Interflow Communications Limited, handling categories of notable brands such as Pepsi, UBL, PSO, and BMA. Thereafter, she was recruited to work with Crosby Asset Management, where she headed a number of functions, including Marketing, Distribution, and Customer Services. Umber has also conducted trainings and served as President of the local chapter of Toastmasters International, sharpening her own presentation and communication skills, while helping others do the same.

Umber joined UBL Funds in 2010 in the Corporate & Institutional Investments Department, growing the corporate business of the company, developing corporate communication material, and handling the entire distribution portfolio, as well as being instrumental in helping the company grow its Separately Managed Accounts (SMA) portfolio from both the corporate and distribution side. Before taking up her new role as Head of Marketing & Distribution to focus on new initiatives and strategies to educate the masses and meet ever-increasing challenges faced by the industry, Umber was Regional Head of Corporate & Institutional Investments, focusing on sales and distribution in the South Region.


Q. The financial sector is mostly a male dominated industry. How has your experience been with UBL Funds so far?

UMBER TANYA ANSARI: That’s true – it is, by in large, male dominated, and I’ve certainly had a pretty interesting experience. I’ve been associated with UBL Funds for over 6 years now, starting from the sales side, where I grew to Regional Head. I have to say, I witnessed a fair amount of jaw drops when people found out that I was going out and doing sales – I think the most common question I got was linked to how the male clients behaved with me and if anyone ever misbehaved. I’m very fortunate to report that I have managed to carry out my professional responsibilities with enough care that I have not had any negative experiences with my clients. Contrarily, I have been given a tremendous amount of respect and have made many friends.

That isn’t to say that being a woman in this industry has not had its challenges. It most certainly has! When I first joined the industry, I feel I had to work much harder to prove my worth than my male counterparts, especially in client-centric roles. Many times, there would be leads in distant locations and it was just assumed that I wouldn’t go to pitch and, eventually, close. When I took up those challenges and managed to succeed, I think it dispelled a significant amount of stereotypes about women in sales, especially of financial products. Over time, my efforts did not go unnoticed and I now am able to stand at par with my colleagues as a Head of not one, but two, Departments.

Q: What steps are being taken by your company for reducing gender disparity?

UMBER TANYA ANSARI: According to the rules and regulations of our company, we must have at least 26 percent female employees. We already have a sizable number of women working up to the managerial level who are performing so well in their respective positions and, currently being the senior-most, I feel a personal responsibility to always push women and give them feedback on their professionalism (this feedback is often times unsolicited, but I hope remains well-received). I believe we have to look out for each other because we do still have a long way to go! I won’t lie – I am biased in favor of my female colleagues!

Q. How would you define the mutual funds industry here in Pakistan? What challenges do you see?

UMBER TANYA ANSARI: In Pakistan, the mutual funds industry is relatively nascent. Our biggest challenge here is lack of awareness amongst the masses and authorities on the notable potential benefits offered by mutual funds.

Pakistanis are generally conservative when it comes to saving and investing. I’ve said before as well that 60% of investors have put their money in bank deposits, believing it to be secure, not realizing that they are taking more of a risk with regard to rising inflation because the money they may be making in savings accounts is generally less than the returns they would be getting by investing in mutual funds, and is unlikely to cover inflation-related loss. There’s an inherent need to educate people regarding the multiple benefits of investing in mutual funds, includingthe opportunity to diversify investments, save taxes, and beat inflation through the power of compounding of mutual fund returns.

There is a lot of money in Pakistan, but people have little comfort in investing. A unified effort is required by the government and the industry to encourage long-term investments via mutual funds to help the industry grow and, more importantly, to help people grow their money.


Q. What techniques are you applying to create public awareness about the multiple advantages of investing in asset management industry?

UMBER TANYA ANSARI: We are in constant touch with SECP and other concerned organizations for sharing ideas about mass awareness strategies. Besides using media, we hold regular conferences and seminars for this purpose. Collective efforts of all stakeholders are now beginning to bear fruit,but still on a small scale. As an industry, so much more needs to be done. As a company, we are making an effort of having communication in all different languages of Pakistan so that we may penetrate the masses. We also make educational videos on the benefits of saving and investing. where we aren’t focusing on UBL Funds primarily, but rather on the actual message of the importance of a savings culture.

Q. Most successful people have little secrets to their success. What would you say are your habits that have allowed you to succeed?

UMBER TANYA ANSARI: I’m not sure if I would call my habits secrets because I openly share them with whoever would like to know. There are a few things that I do that I believe have helped me in my career and, more importantly, in my life. I don’t break – I know people say it’s so exhausting to be so strong all the time, but I have a belief that, if it isn’t the end of the world, then it is only a matter of time. This is something those close to me have heard me say repeatedly. Everything passes – the good, the bad, the ugly – all of it. Enjoy the celebrations while they last, bear the grief or anger while you need to, and tame the beast when it comes at you, because you can’t ever expect any of these three things to be around perpetually. That wouldn’t be normal. Which leads me to my next habit – don’t try to be superwoman. Be willing to accept that you might not know something – it won’t make you any less worthy of respect as a woman and, in fact, has nothing to do with our gender – it’s just human. Be ok with being human and asking for help.

Also, take time out for yourself to do something you like – there have been days where I bring my latest book-of-interest to work with me and sit in my office during my lunch break and just read. Finally, have a mentor and have cheerleaders – sometimes these are the same people. Everyone needs guidance and everyone needs support – embrace yourself and let others in on your greatness too!

Q. What message would you like to convey to the young women out there inspiring to be part of the financial industry?

UMBER TANYA ANSARI: I am genuinely happy to see more and more women entering the workforce. It’s so important for character-development and strengthening of one’s personality. Independence, confidence, understanding of how things work – these are things I believe most of our mothers weren’t able to attain as easily as we now are. This can’t be taken for granted or ignored. There will always be doubters – male and female both, unfortunately. There will also always be chauvinists and they will try to make you question yourself. Don’t.

My message is to do it – get out there, pull up your socks, work harder than your male colleagues without getting depressed or angry that you have to. Just do it and, once you’ve broken through the barriers, you’ll be glad you did and you will come out the other side stronger and proud of yourself.

Also, don’t only fill the ‘back-end’ functions. Be in the front line. Be in sales. Be in positions where you have to leave your desk, leave your office, leave your comfort zone and meet all kinds of people who are nothing like you and some that you will find to be so similar! Be a passionate woman who takes ownership of everything that she does and is proud to have her name as a stamp on her work. And, this point is extremely important: BE THE WOMAN WHO TAKES OTHER WOMEN BY THE SHOULDERS AND TELLS THEM THAT THEY ARE CHAMPIONS.


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