Shabnam Panjwani talks about campaigns she is proud of, diversity in the workplace, balancing work and home, and the need for women to learn to grow their savings.

“Be fearless, be passionate”

Shabnam Panjwani, Executive Vice President and Head - Marketing Communications, Edelweiss Financial Services, is a brilliant multitasker who has done it all – she’s built an inspiring career spanning 25 years while raising a child and managing her home beautifully. 

Before taking charge at Edelweiss, she worked with agencies such as daCunha Advertising and Everest DY&R Advertising. 

Here, she talks about campaigns she is proud of, diversity in the workplace, balancing work and home, and the need for women to learn to grow their savings.


1. How would you describe your leadership style and philosophy?

These are some simple principles I live by that have honed my leadership style:

  • Walk the talk
  • Find a convention and break it – it gains leadership and builds differentiation
  • Ask WHY? Be curious, display learnability, question the status quo
  • Impact mode – everything is for an outcome; define that and get there   
  • Ownership is the attitude 
  • Empower – help teams take decisions, build frameworks, agree on strategy, and then have the freedom to execute
  • Manage risk. Always ask: “Is it worth it?” “Can we afford it?”
  • Remain dissatisfied
  • Be fearless; be passionate

As a senior executive, I spend time on building, sustaining, and empowering relationships across our large and diverse marketing team by communicating and immersing everyone in the brand vision, brand belief, and strategy. This builds a strong and unshakeable sense of purpose for the whole team. 

The second most important thing that I concentrate on is building leaders within the marketing group. 

2. Being associated with Edelweiss for over a decade, can you tell us of some of the most successful marketing campaigns that still make you glow with pride?

One of our first campaigns – which won us four Abbys – was the Now You Can campaign. The attempt was to take a leadership stance in an environment battered by the financial crisis of 2008-09. Highly distinctive, it differentiated Edelweiss in a compelling manner and the brand track recorded one of the highest awareness scores.

We also did a SME loans campaign with Irrfan Khan that completely changed the way SMEs were addressed. It helped in owning the SME space and becoming the ‘confident voice’ for this audience. The brand track recorded the second highest consideration scores across the highly cluttered BFSI space.

We also partnered with Indian Olympic Association and are the principal sponsors and insurers of Team India for Rio Olympics, the Commonwealth games, and the Asian games. These helped in differentiating Edelweiss further, while building an aura and goodwill for the brand. The marketing initiatives around these games reached large audiences via 360-degree multimedia campaigns. To further empower our athletes, we produced – for the first time ever – a film with 20-25 athletes singing the national anthem. It was released around India’s 72nd Independence Day celebrations.

Lastly, Edelweiss Tokio Life’s ‘Insurance se badhkar hain aapki zaroorat’, built around clear insights, is a campaign we are particularly proud of. It was highly resonant as it highlighted the three concern areas (unkept promises, mis-selling, unmatched needs) and charmingly provided ETLI’s proprietary Need Based Solutions as the answer. The brand scores (both ETLI and Edelweiss) increased significantly. We have respectable consideration scores even though we are the last entrant in the highly competitive insurance industry.

3. What is your next big plan for Edelweiss?

Our Be Unlimited positioning (based on the simple premise that Edelweiss will remove all limitations faced by customers, enabling them to pursue their aspirations) is being rolled out across all the businesses. Each business is at a different stage of ensuring that our positioning converts into demonstrable tangible benefits. 

We will then roll out the following:

  • Campaigns for our credit businesses – SME and mortgages 
  • Insurance – life insurance and general insurance 
  • Olympics 2020 sports campaign

4. As a working woman, what were the challenges you had to overcome to reach where you are today?

The biggest challenge is to BELIEVE that by managing both work and home well, one is NOT compromising either. This belief frees one from guilt and helps to focus on the job at hand – either at home or at work.

People react differently to opinionated women as opposed to opinionated men. I believe opinions and beliefs are what make us what we are. Earlier, I did try to curb my natural tendency to speak my mind but found it frustrating. Instead, I learned a different approach to voicing an opinion that was ‘more acceptable’

5. India ranks 121st among 131 countries in female participation in the workforce. What, in your opinion, stops/discourages women from working?

As a developing country, we face many issues that discourage women from actively working –inadequate infrastructure, lack of safe and well-connected public transport, sexual harassment, and pay parity issues. Also, there is still a stigma attached to letting women step out of the house and work. 

However, year after year we see female toppers in all central and state level exams. This will convert to a young and dynamic workforce across sectors, tech, social entrepreneurs, the service sector, retail, hospitality, etc. 

6. How important is gender diversity with respect to an organisation’s work culture?

It is extremely vital for a company to observe gender diversity in order to flourish. At Edelweiss, we have made ‘diversity’ a priority. Managers are encouraged to select women candidates across roles, when faced with on-par situations between female and male candidates. Meritocracy, however will never be compromised.

Women generally display higher emotional maturity and tend to be collaborative team players. Further, men and women usually have different viewpoints and approaches to resolving a situation or problem, and we benefit from these diverse perspectives and in-depth insights. 

A gender-balanced team is a more appropriate representation of our customer base, while different learnings bring excellent customer insights to the organisation.

7. Do you think women have a unique way of managing money or do you believe that men are better at managing finances? 

It’s a myth that women cannot be financially independent, or are unable to plan, invest, grow, and save their money. To begin with, women have traditionally managed housekeeping money, salting away small amounts monthly, building up a secret corpus to dip into during ‘emergencies. Women save. Now women need to invest to grow. 

Fundamentally, a man tends to accumulate, while a woman tends to preserve and grow. Men invest with more confidence, while women are more focused on goals and objectives than on transactions. Men trade more; women are more stable – though both end up largely in the same place. It’s not solely about ability or competence. 

Women tend to undersell; they underestimate both their level of knowledge and the potential of their investment. Men tend to overestimate both. 

In fact, there is empirical evidence that women are probably better investors:

  • A study by Vanguard, a fund house, looked at investment portfolios of over 2.7 million accounts between 2007 and 2009. Men in the study were found to be 10% more likely to cash out at a loss than women.
  • A 2001 study, ‘Boys Will Be Boys: Gender, Overconfidence and Common Stock Investment’ found that men traded stocks 45% more often than women. Extra trading reduced men’s net returns by 2.65% per annum, while women’s net returns dropped only 1.72%.

Why? Men are self-directed. They want to do it on their own because they believe that they are knowledgeable (Ever succeeded in getting a man to ask for directions while driving? You know what I’m talking about!). Women start out by saying, “I’d like some advice,” because they believe they lack the requisite knowledge, even though their knowledge levels may actually be comparable. 

In fact, the ability to ask for help/advice is a woman’s greatest strength. This, coupled with the maturity to stay the course regardless of the investment volatility, creates a more stable portfolio under a woman’s watchful eye.

8. You’ve always said that women can and should take control of their finances. Can you suggest how one can start doing the same?

Take a long-term and medium-term view. The reward is when a financially independent woman feels significantly empowered. A few simple steps: 

  1. Take count today. What is your status quo – your assets, your savings, your income, your investments, and your expenses? 
  2. Along with setting long-term goals, don’t ever forget to list the short-term goals; enjoy your present while you secure your future.
  3. Be disciplined and consistent in your approach. Pick automated investing tools such as SIPs and ULIPs that are tailored to your risk appetite (in this case let the experts grow your money). Or follow a structured and affordable approach – e.g. every month buy 10 shares of an identified Blue Chip. 
  4. Diversify your investments and ensure you have both liquid and illiquid assets/ investments. This secures you from volatile economic cycles.
  5. Do NOT keep idle cash (except emergency funds) lying in a bank account/FD/locker or in your cupboard. Paper doesn’t grow; inflation ensures it depreciates.
  6. If you’re making a risky investment, be mentally prepared to lose. Know your risk profile.
  7. Sit back once a year (pick a day – maybe your birthday?) and reflect on what you were worth five years ago and what you’ll be worth five years later.

9. Can you share some tips for young women who have just started working?

  • Start investing, right from the first salary, first income. Enjoy your present but keep an eye on building a corpus for the future.
  • Reaching out and asking for advice is very important at the start of one’s career.
  • Identify a mentor; someone who will back you, give you air cover – and learn from them.

10. Do you have a money mantra you can swear by?

I have two money mantras. Both are the Edelweiss way: 

  • Always ask yourself: “Is it worth it?” “Can I afford it?”
  • Do not invest what is left after spending, but spend what is left after investing

The opinions expressed in this article by Shabnam Panjwani are her own, and do not necessarily reflect those of or its owners. 


How I did it

Praveen Nair

Ever since I retired, I have looked forward to the festive season with added zeal. It is the buzz that I need once in a year in my laidback post-retirement life. I like to celebrate the occasion, get the house painted or renovated, buy gifts for my dear ones or go on a vacation. These things… Read more

Swati Mehra

A couple of years ago I was over the moon after landing my first job. I celebrated regally during the festive season that ensued, only to land in a financial soup for the next few months. With gargantuan credit card bills and barely any cash left, I had no other option but to default the payment… Read more

Rohansh Pathak

It is highly unlikely that all the expenses made during the festive season were worth making in the first place. This is the time of the year when unavoidable expenses are bound to upset your budget plans, and you can do little about it. However, I have made it a point to have a look at the… Read more

Shubhra Banerjee

I am a single mother of one. I lost my husband just 5 years into my marriage. Life has been a struggle for me, but I have managed it and today I have no complaints. 

I was a young widow with a 3 year old son when my husband passed away due to a heart attack. My parents were my rock… Read more