'Lead from the front': India’s 7 most powerful women in finance

D. Krishna Prasad
·Contributor
·8 min read

Several studies revealed that women are financially responsible than men and are better savers, and have an eagle’s eye for the foreseeable future. However, we still witness women facing gender inequality, less pay, and other stereotypical talks about women's capacity to handle money. Despite these differences, some women are called the torchbearers in the financial space, and that you must know them.

So without any further ado, and to mark the celebration of International Women's Week, we give you the 7 most powerful Indian women in Banking & Finance who are leading from the front.

1) Nirmala Sitharaman

NEW DELHI, INDIA - MARCH 8: Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitaraman, address women's a function to Honour Womanhood On the occasion of International Women's Day, at Maharashtra Sadan, Kasturba Gandhi Marg on March 8, 2021 in New Delhi, India. (Photo By Sonu Mehta/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)
NEW DELHI, INDIA - MARCH 8: Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitaraman, address women's a function to Honour Womanhood On the occasion of International Women's Day, at Maharashtra Sadan, Kasturba Gandhi Marg on March 8, 2021 in New Delhi, India. (Photo By Sonu Mehta/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

She started her political career joining BJP in 2006 and then became the spokesperson for the same party in 2010. Later, on 26th May 2014, she took Independent Charge as the Minister of State for Ministry of Commerce & Industry in Prime Minister Narendra Modi's cabinet. In 2017, she took charge as the Minister of Defence, and also the first full-fledged lady to be appointed for the position after 35 years.

In May 2019, she took an oath as the new Union Finance Minister of India and also the first female to delegate the responsibilities for the respective position held. Moreover, for the last 2 years, she has been featured in the Forbes list - in 2019, she was ranked 34th, whereas in 2020 she is ranked 41 in the list of Forbes 100 most powerful women in the world. Well, today, she’s handling the most important annual budget that decides the future of our country.

This transition from a salesgirl at a home decor store on Regent Street to becoming Union Defence Minister followed by Union Finance Minister, Nirmala Sitharaman’s journey is certainly a penchant for excellence.

2) Naina Lal Kidwai

NEW DELHI, INDIA  JULY 18: (EDITORS NOTE: This is an exclusive interview of Mint) Naina Lal Kidwai - President of Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) at her office on July 18, 2013 in New Delhi, India. (Photo by Priyanka Parashar/Mint via Getty Images)
NEW DELHI, INDIA JULY 18: (EDITORS NOTE: This is an exclusive interview of Mint) Naina Lal Kidwai - President of Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) at her office on July 18, 2013 in New Delhi, India. (Photo by Priyanka Parashar/Mint via Getty Images)

Having an interest in Mathematics and Accountancy, she completed her Bachelor’s in Economics from Lady Shri Ram College for Women, and followed by MBA from Harvard Business School in 1982. She is the first Indian woman to finish graduation from Harvard, which is one of the best leading business schools in the world. After completing her studies, Naina Lala Kidwai has returned to India and held a position in the investment banking department at Grindlays Bank.

Post her stint of 12 years at Grindlays, she moved to Morgan Stanley and worked in the same division of the former’s. Being one of the sought-after women in the banking & finance industry, in 2006, she took charge as the CEO & Country Head of HSBC at a crucial period while India was enduring liberalisation. For her honorary work and contributions made to the industry, she was awarded the prestigious Padma Shri in 2007.

In 2013, she was one among the four powerful Indian women who have made it to Fortune's list of 50 most powerful women in business. Currently, Naina Lala Kidwai serves as the Chairman of Altico Capital and Max Financial Services and also an independent Non-Executive Director for CIPLA Ltd.

3) Alice Vaidyan

She began her career with New India Assurance Co. Ltd in 1983. Currently, Alice Vaidyan serves as the Chairman-cum-Managing Director of General Insurance Corporation of India and also the first woman to lead that position. She never stopped rising where in August 2020, she was appointed as the independent Non- Executive Director for Geojit Financial Services.

Under her leadership, she achieved a 21.4 percent record growth in global premiums to US$2.77 billion for 2015-16. Over the years of her great contributions to the financial landscape, Alice Vaidyan has achieved several awards. Some of them include Business Today recognized her as one of the 30 Most Powerful Women in Indian Business in 2003, Woman CEO of the Year at ETPrime Women Leadership Awards inaugural in May 2019, and ranked 4 in the Fortune Most Powerful Women in 2018 and 2019 respectively.

4) Kalpana Morparia

MUMBAI, INDIA  JULY 30, 2010:  Kalpana Morparia, CEO of JP Morgan, during Mint Money Conclave held in Mumbai. (Photo by Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint via Getty Images)
MUMBAI, INDIA JULY 30, 2010: Kalpana Morparia, CEO of JP Morgan, during Mint Money Conclave held in Mumbai. (Photo by Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint via Getty Images)

She started her banking career in 1975 with ICICI, where she worked in various departments like legal, planning, treasury, and corporate communications. Today, Kalpana Morparia serves as the Chief Executive Officer of JP Morgan, an American multinational investment bank for the last 11 years, and also the independent Director of Dr. Reddy's Lab, Bennet & Coleman, CMC Limited of Tata Consultancy since 2014.

Fortune Magazine ranked her as one of the “50 Most Powerful Women in International Business” in 2008, and ranked 69 among the “Most Powerful Women in 2018”. Undoubtedly, her inspirational journey is a live example of womanhood.

5) Padmaja Chunduru

She is currently the Managing Director & CEO of Indian Bank and also appointed as the Non- Executive, Independent Women Director for New India Assurance Company as of 12 March 2020. Previously, Padmaja worked with the State Bank of India as the Deputy Managing Director, heading Global Markets and Digital Banking Verticals. Having a commerce degree from Andhra University, she started her banking career as a probationary officer at SBI in 1984.

With gaining plenty of expertise in several departments, she climbed up the corporate ladder. Under her leadership, the Tamil Nadu government has awarded Indian Bank as the “Best Bank” in May 2019. Recently, she’s recognized as “India's Top 100 Women in Finance 2020” by the Association of International Wealth Management of India (AIWMI).

6) Gita Gopinath

Gita Gopinath, IMF Chief Economist and Director of the Research Department, speaks at a briefing  during the IMF and  World Bank Fall Meetings on October 15, 2019 in Washington, DC. - The world economy is slowing to its weakest pace since the global financial crisis, amid continuing trade conflicts that have undercut business confidence and investment, the IMF said Tuesday. It cut the growth forecast for 2019 to 3.0 percent in its latest World Economic Outlook report, and lowered the 2020 estimate to 3.4 percent. The report warned that the global economy is experiencing
Gita Gopinath, IMF Chief Economist and Director of the Research Department, speaks at a briefing during the IMF and World Bank Fall Meetings on October 15, 2019 in Washington, DC. - The world economy is slowing to its weakest pace since the global financial crisis, amid continuing trade conflicts that have undercut business confidence and investment, the IMF said Tuesday. It cut the growth forecast for 2019 to 3.0 percent in its latest World Economic Outlook report, and lowered the 2020 estimate to 3.4 percent. The report warned that the global economy is experiencing "a synchronized slowdown and uncertain recovery."International Monetary Fund chief economist Gita Gopinath said "the global outlook remains precarious" and warned "there is no room for policy mistakes." (Photo by Olivier Douliery / AFP) (Photo by OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty Images)

She is the first Indian-born woman ever who was appointed as the Chief Economist at IMF in October 2018, succeeding Maurice Obstfeld. She’s the second Indian to land that position post-former Reserve Bank of India (RBI) Governor, Raghuram Rajan (September 2003 – January 2007). She’s also serving as the Director of Research Department and Economic Counsellor at IMF.

In 2014, the International Monetary Fund entitled her as one of the top 25 economists under 45. Back in between 2016 and 2018, she also held a position as an economic adviser to the Chief Minister of Kerala, which was appointed by the CPM-led LDF Government.

In 2019, she received the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman award from the President of India, Ramnath Kovind, as an honor for all the contributions she made in her respective field. In the same year, India Today recognized Gita Gopinath as the powerful people of India, with a quote from former IMF chief Christine Lagarde saying, Gita is “one of the world's outstanding economists”.

7) Zarin Daruwala

NEW DELHI, INDIA - APRIL 10: Rajasthan Governor Margaret Alva (C) along with YFLO Chairperson Divya Suri Singh (2 L), Zarin Daruwala (2 R) President ICICI Bank present award to Mitali Raj (L) for her contribution in field of Sports as during the FICCI  Ladies Organization Awards 2012-2013 on April 10, 2013 in New Delhi, India. ( Photo By Sonu Mehta/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)
NEW DELHI, INDIA - APRIL 10: Rajasthan Governor Margaret Alva (C) along with YFLO Chairperson Divya Suri Singh (2 L), Zarin Daruwala (2 R) President ICICI Bank present award to Mitali Raj (L) for her contribution in field of Sports as during the FICCI Ladies Organization Awards 2012-2013 on April 10, 2013 in New Delhi, India. ( Photo By Sonu Mehta/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

She is the current and first woman’s CEO of Standard Chartered Bank, appointed in 2016. A chartered accountant and company secretary at first, she topped in both ICSI and ICAI courses and was presented with the President's gold medal for company secretary programme for her accomplishment as well.

Before stepping up the corporate ladder, she served with the ICICI Group undertaking several departments like HR, corporate planning, investment banking, and credit. Some of the reigning positions Zarin held before Standard Chartered were - Deputy to Chanda Kochhar (Former MD & CEO of ICICI Bank), President at ICICI, served as the Board of Directors for ICICI Lombard General Insurance and ICICI Securities, and held responsible positions in corporate finance and agri-business departments too.

Back in 2016, while she took over as the new CEO of Standard Chartered Bank, the banking sector was drowning under the sea, struggling to rise. But Zarin walked over that difficult phase and later the net profit for FY19 spiked by 13.5% to ₹2,169 crore. In the same year, she was recognized among the top 10 most powerful women in Business by Fortune India.

More stories on Women & Health and Women & Wealth — Yahoo India's special on International Women's Day 2021, here.