My Dubai Salary: ‘I earn up to Dh30,000 a month as a FinTech co-founder’

Sulochana Betwala started working at 17 and invests in gold, property, mutual funds and equities

Sulochana Betwala, chief operating officer and co-founder of digital payment app Totl, says taking a mortgage at the age of 23 instilled financial discipline in her. Chris Whiteoak / The National
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Sulochana Betwala is the chief operating officer and co-founder of digital payment app Totl, which helps customers and businesses through cashback rewards and e-vouchers.

Totl is based in the Dubai Technology Entrepreneur Campus in Dubai Silicon Oasis.

Originally from the Indian city of Mumbai, Ms Betwala started working at the age of 17 and is an arts graduate.

Her father, who was the five-member family’s sole breadwinner, worked for Air India’s technical department for 35 years and retired in 2009. Her mother is a homemaker.

Ms Betwala, who says she was ambitious from the beginning of her career, worked in the contact centre industry for 10 years.

She has worked in the UAE for 11 years. Before joining Totl (formerly known as Znap) in July 2019, Ms Betwala, 39, worked as an advertising specialist and sales manager with an advertising company.

She lives with her younger sister in a one-bedroom apartment she purchased in Dubai Silicon Oasis last year.

What’s your current salary?

I earn up to Dh30,000 a month in my current role.

What was your first job and how much did you earn?

My first job was in a retail store in India, where I improved my communication skills by interacting with high-profile customers, for a salary of 4,000 Indian rupees ($48). I left the company as a floor manager with a salary of 6,000 rupees.

Being ambitious has helped me a lot in my career. I then joined a US-based call centre to earn more. I always had the itch to do better and not settle for less.

I spent a year on the job and later moved to an Australian contact centre as an adviser in 2005 and was promoted to team leader in four years.

I took up this job to buy a home for my parents and I managed to do this when I was 23.

Over the years, I managed to buy two more properties, one in Mumbai and another in the town of Palghar in Maharashtra state.

I quit the job in 2012. Stability has been very important to me at my place of work.

I joined on a monthly salary of 18,000 rupees ($215) and when I left, this had grown to 40,000 rupees ($480).

Did you learn to value money more since you started working early?

I had already learnt to demarcate between my wants and needs, but taking a home loan at a very early age made me more disciplined.

In 2012, I convinced my father and came to the UAE since I had to pay off the house loan. I was 28 then.

I came here with a job since I had the financial commitment of paying off the mortgage.

How was it to move jobs from India to the UAE?

I worked in my twenties and am still working in my thirties. I came here to make more money and wanted to accelerate my savings by 10 years.

Whatever you do in India doesn’t really count in the UAE because you lack local market experience.

My first job in the UAE was as a salesperson with a third-party credit card company on a salary of Dh3,500 ($953). But I quit after five months because I felt my potential was underutilised.

I then got an opportunity as a sales manager with an advertising company with a 100 per cent salary hike. I stayed there for six years and my salary rose by 50 per cent in that time.

How do you manage your earnings?

I send part of my salary to India and some of it stays here for share market investments.

What assets have you invested in?

In India, I have investments in mutual funds and recurring deposits. These mainly serve as my emergency fund.

Savings have always been in my DNA and I am wired that way.

I’ve also invested in the share market. It’s a new space for me, but I learn and get more insights from my mentors.

I have invested in initial public offerings of state-owned companies in the UAE and also buy gold consistently.

Do you have any debts?

I have taken out a mortgage to buy my apartment in Dubai, which was priced at about Dh500,000.

Debt is a living requirement, so, yes, I do have these finances running. But I'm very budgeted for it.

I plan to get rid of all debt in the next five years. My home loans in India have been paid off.

Have you ever inherited a sum of money?

I come from a very simple, middle-class family. There was not a lot of wealth.

But I’ve always seen my dad work very hard to give us all the basic requirements and get us into the best school in the area.

I think I’ve inherited my dad’s quality of working hard.

I learnt how to manage money from my mum because she raised a family of five and my dad was the only person who was earning. That brings a lot of awareness.

To be able to give them a comfortable life and see them at peace now after working hard all their lives, I think we’ve been able to do well.

How do you budget your monthly expenses?

About 10 per cent to 15 per cent of my earnings go into savings in different forms.

That’s a discipline that I adhere to. Also, I don’t have the time to splurge because my work doesn’t allow me to go out much. But if I want to socialise, I do.

I am not a shopaholic and brands don’t fascinate me. But if I need something, I’m able to buy it.

The remaining money toward meeting expenses and other debt commitments. I am also setting some money aside to pay off my debt soon.

Have you started saving for retirement?

I started working at 17, a phase when you go partying with friends, but I didn’t do it. I’ve always worked. That’s my identity.

So, the word “retirement” doesn’t fit well in my dictionary. But I understand that after a certain age, you need to rest but I will keep hustling till I can.

I will make sure that after a certain period, I don’t have to work so hard to make money.

I want to settle down in the UAE in the long term.

What do you spend your disposable income on?

I put in the effort to be healthy, which means I train. It’s a preparatory time for me to spend the day.

I am not a shopaholic or a spendthrift. But I spend my money on good health, for me and my family.

I spend a big chunk of my salary on investing in a personal training programme.

I understand that after a certain age, you need to rest but I will keep hustling till I can
Sulochana Betwala, chief operating officer and co-founder, Totl

Do you currently earn any passive income?

The rent from my Indian properties and small investments in the capital markets.

Do you ever worry about money?

I’m very conscious about where I’m putting my money. I plan two to three months in advance.

I don’t really worry about inflation because as long as my basic needs are met, I keep my spending in control.

Growing up, were you taught how to handle your finances?

No, I've never had any formal training to manage money.

My mother always taught us that if you need to use something, earn it. When you earn it, you know where to spend and not to spend.

That was the biggest learning I received from my parents. My dad always taught us to avoid wasteful spending.

What are your financial goals?

In the long term, I want to be able to not worry about income.

For the short term, I want my parents’ health to be taken care of and to be able to support their medical requirements.

What is your idea of financial freedom?

Not to worry about money a lot and being able to live a comfortable life.

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Updated: December 05, 2023, 5:00 AM