If you randomly asked any Kenyan to list the top three digital lenders, there is no doubt that Tala will be first or second.
In the last decade, Tala has become not only ubiquitous but also synonymous with digital lending in the country. And Kenyans would be forgiven for assuming that Tala is a Kenyan brand.
On the contrary, Tala has entrenched its roots across East Africa and the Philippines, where they have disbursed over $3.4 billion in credit to the financially underserved. They are currently expanding to Latin America and Southeast Asia. From their headquarters in Santa Monica, California, they have opened branches in Nairobi, Kenya, and Manila in the Philippines.
Shivani Siroya, the founder and current CEO of Tala, has a rich resume, having worked in global health, microfinance, and investment banking. Her vision to provide financial access to underserved people globally has significantly impacted many individuals’ lives.
Siroya’s success with Tala has earned her a dozen accolades. She was named an Ashoka a Fellow (𝐴𝑠ℎ𝑜𝑘𝑎 𝑖𝑠 𝑎𝑛 𝐴𝑚𝑒𝑟𝑖𝑐𝑎𝑛 𝑛𝑜𝑛𝑝𝑟𝑜𝑓𝑖𝑡 𝑜𝑟𝑔𝑎𝑛𝑖𝑧𝑎𝑡𝑖𝑜𝑛 𝑡ℎ𝑎𝑡 𝑝𝑟𝑜𝑚𝑜𝑡𝑒𝑠 𝑠𝑜𝑐𝑖𝑎𝑙 𝑒𝑛𝑡𝑟𝑒𝑝𝑟𝑒𝑛𝑒𝑢𝑟𝑠ℎ𝑖𝑝 𝑏𝑦 𝑐𝑜𝑛𝑛𝑒𝑐𝑡𝑖𝑛𝑔 𝑎𝑛𝑑 𝑠𝑢𝑝𝑝𝑜𝑟𝑡𝑖𝑛𝑔 𝑖𝑛𝑑𝑖𝑣𝑖𝑑𝑢𝑎𝑙 𝑒𝑛𝑡𝑟𝑒𝑝𝑟𝑒𝑛𝑒𝑢𝑟𝑠). She is also a Senior TED Fellow and one of the World Economic Young Global Leaders.
Before establishing Tala in 2011, she worked as an analyst at Credit Suisse in the early 2000s before joining UBS Financial Services in the same role. In 2004, Shivani became an Associate of PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) for twelve months. From 2006 to 2009, Shivani resumed the Analyst role at Janani, the United Nations Population Fund, and Citigroup. Afterward, in 2009, Siroya became a Financial Consultant at Health Net, whereafter she founded Tala, formerly known as InVenture.
Siroya’s entrepreneurial path was marked by risk-taking and a deep commitment to solving a problem rather than just starting a company. She founded Tala while working full-time, which allowed her to build savings for her venture. Her approach to entrepreneurship involved doing thorough homework, testing hypotheses, and listening closely to customers. Networking and mentorship were key components of her growth, where she reached out to a vast number of individuals on LinkedIn for guidance and advice.
Born to a mother who was a medical doctor, Siroya grew up in New York. She pursued a Bachelor of Arts in Government and International Relations at Wesleyan University and a Master’s in Public Health from Columbia University. In one of the interviews, Siroya recounts how witnessing her mother struggle financially as a single parent in New York fueled her desire to empower underserved communities. These formative years laid the foundation for her future endeavors in finance and technology.
She then joined the UN Population Fund, where she traveled Siroya traveled across West, Sub-Saharan Africa, and Southeast Asia to study microfinance and other economic development programs. During her travels, she spent time with individual entrepreneurs and small business owners and became knowledgeable about their financial situations.
While interacting with small business owners, she realized that those who needed capital but had no access prompted her to lend some of them from her savings. This was highly frustrating.
Those in need of capital for their businesses had no way to obtain it; she became incredibly frustrated with the situation and started lending to them personally. One woman in Chennai, India, named Seema, ran a tile-making business and jewelry shop and had two sons. Siroya made a few small loans to her, and she always paid her back on time.
One day, a friend visited Shirova in Chennai and was surprised that she lent Seema out of her pocket. The friend asked why Shirova was doing it and how she decided who to lend to. The answer was easy in her mind, almost unconscious. She trusted Seema because she had gotten to know her. She had used the story of her daily life to make a lending decision. And Seema paid her back because she trusted her and knew she would be there for her again if she needed her.
“This mutual trust was the missing piece, the reason Seema and many others like her were financially underserved. This was a financial relationship that I wanted to figure out how to replicate at scale.” Shirova told the Female Founder’s Fund, one of the earliest investors in Tala.
During her tenure at the UN Population Fund, Shivani Siroya immersed herself in microfinance projects across West Africa, where she observed the constraints of conventional finance methods, sparking her drive for innovative solutions. Her experience at Citigroup further enriched her understanding as she engaged in the design and execution of financial products tailored to the unique needs and challenges of low-income populations. These roles provided Siroya with critical insights into financial inclusivity, shaping her approach to addressing the financial gaps faced by underserved communities.
The Rise of Tala.
In 2014, Tala launched its app in Kenya and became the first to offer unsecured loans via smartphone, a unique idea at the time. Even though the product’s reception was uncertain, Siroya’s vision to provide an exceptional financial experience to underserved individuals paid off. As a result, Tala quickly gained popularity and built a brand that Kenyans could trust. Customers continued to borrow from Tala and referred others to the app, which helped the company to grow rapidly.
- October 15, 2021: Tala raises a $145,000,000 series E round.
- August 2019: Tala raises a $110,000,000 series D round from DCVC Bio, Data Collective, GGV Capital, Institutional Venture Partners, Lowercase Capital, PayPal Ventures, RPS Ventures, Revolution Growth and Thomvest Ventures.
- April 2018: Tala raises a $50,000,000 series C round from Data Collective, Female Founders Fund, Institutional Venture Partners, Lowercase Capital, and Ribbit Capital.
- February 22, 2017: Tala raises a $30,000,000 series B round from Aslanoba Capital, Clocktower Technology Ventures, Collaborative Fund, Data Collective, Female Founders Fund and Lowercase Capital.
- September 1, 2016: Tala raises a $3,000,000 venture round from Aslanoba Capital.
- September 3, 2015: Tala raises a $10,000,000 series A round from Data Collective.
- December 21, 2012: Tala raises a $239,700 seed round from Artha India Ventures.
- October 1, 2011: Tala (Then InVenture) was founded by Shivani Siroya.
Using advanced data science and machine learning, Tala underwrites overlooked populations and has disbursed over $3.4 billion to over 8 million customers across Kenya, the Philippines, Mexico, and India. People use Tala loans to start and expand small businesses and build more stable financial lives. The company has raised half a billion dollars in investments and debt.
Shivani Siroya s influence in the fintech sector has been widely recognized. In addition to her role at Tala, she has been acknowledged by Melinda Gates as a Wired icon and is a Fellow of both Echoing Green and the Aspen Institute Finance Leaders Fellowship.
Under Siroya’s leadership, Tala focuses on diversity and equity, aiming to provide equal access to opportunities and resources, particularly in the financial sector. This philosophy extends to the company’s culture and operations. Siroya’s role as an outsider in the Silicon Valley startup scene has been a source of strength, fueling her desire to prove the potential of her business and serve a customer base that is often overlooked by traditional finance.
Through Tala, Shivani Siroya continues to demonstrate the transformative power of fintech in enhancing financial inclusion and supporting economic growth, especially in emerging markets.