Revolutionizing Financial Well-Being: An Interview with Raeesa Gabriels, Founder of Level Finance

In times where financial stress is pervasive, Raeesa Gabriels emerges as a beacon of hope with her fintech venture, Level Finance. Born and raised in the heart of South Africa, Gabriels brings a deeply personal understanding of the struggles faced by individuals striving for financial stability. Level Finance isn’t just a business for her; it’s a mission to empower financially stressed employees with solutions that pave the way for immediate relief and long-term prosperity.

In this exclusive interview, Raeesa shares her journey, inspirations, and the driving force behind her venture. From humble beginnings to significant milestones, she reveals the challenges, triumphs, and determination that fuel her quest for a financially empowered society. Join us as we delve into the mind of an entrepreneur committed to reshaping the landscape of financial well-being.

Hi, Raeesa! Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your venture?

My name is Raeesa Gabriels. Level Finance is a fintech company that focuses on creating salary-linked benefits that connect financially stressed employees to solutions, experiences, and outcomes that address immediate and long-term financial well-being

What inspired you to start Level Finance?

I was born and raised in a low to middle-income working-class community in a small township called Riverlea. My early exposure to the challenges created by segregation, apartheid, a lack of education, and limited financial education and systems catering to survivors profoundly influenced who I am and why I started this business. I was one of the very few privileged individuals who grew up with a significantly different exposure within those communities. I had access to private education, people, and resources that came at great sacrifices my parents had to make, month after month, and at the risk of their financial future. Like the majority of South Africans, I have been raised in an environment where we, at some point in our lives, had to make sacrifices, either for our parents or extended families.

Most of the benefits offered by employers typically include traditional benefits, and well-being and wellness initiatives for employees came into existence much later, with a focus on mental, psychological, and basic financial wellness in the form of provident or pension funds, bonuses, and access to counselors. 

Through my own working experience in a corporate environment, I quickly realized that the benefits offered often overlook people who lack the same advantages in their careers, such as financial support, education, and basic financial understanding. There are employees who depend on every cent of their income month after month to cover basic needs for themselves and their families, either for the first few years or, in some cases, throughout their working lives. I believe this is a narrative that many corporate organizations and companies fail to fully understand when structuring benefits to attract, retain, and support employees.

Can you share any significant milestones or achievements Level Finance has reached thus far?

I must often remind myself that we are a startup business working diligently to bring solutions to every employee, and not an NGO. This often places me in a dilemma as a problem solver and entrepreneur. I can confidently say that my most significant milestones weren’t merely hitting financial targets in a particular month. The true milestones were reached when we successfully freed an employee from debt and realized that this was something we could scale to help every other employee who faced a similar challenge. It was when we empowered someone to the extent that they took control and implemented the discipline needed to make immediate sacrifices for a healthier financial future. We’ve achieved this for numerous employees who trusted us and committed to the process. 

I’m immensely proud to say that we’ve successfully guided employees from high-interest debts to using their own income to escape debt and build wealth. I hope to continue this work. Level Finance is also part of Aions Creative Technology, a venture builder and business incubator, who has provided us with even more support and guidance, which has contributed to the significant growth of our business.

How do you stay motivated and continue to innovate in your industry?

I must be honest that there are weeks when it becomes challenging to stay motivated, especially when facing resistance from employers or employees who aren’t fully committed to the process. Being an entrepreneur, especially in a space predominantly occupied by men in suits with financial backgrounds and qualifications who might consider me a dreamer, can be incredibly tough. Thankfully, I’m incredibly rebellious, and when people tell me “you can’t,” I go out of my way to demonstrate that “I will.” Even if I don’t always prove someone wrong, the knowledge that I didn’t give up is what keeps me going. To stay motivated, you must be extremely resilient and maintain a focus on the problem you’re trying to solve, rather than fixating solely on the solution.

What sets Level Finance apart from competitors?

None of our competitors and incumbents truly grasp the complexity of the problem or have first-hand experience with it, and I believe this is essential for founders. It brings purpose and passion. When crafting a vision, mission, and purpose, alignment with values is crucial – it influences who you partner with, whose money you accept, which customers you serve, and your overall approach. It distinguishes between focusing on solving a specific problem and exploiting every resource to maximise profits. Our team, most of our investors, and our coaches come from experiences that provide deep insight. Through our diverse skills, experiences, wisdom, knowledge, and perspectives, I believe this is what truly sets us apart.

Can you share any advice for women looking to break into your industry?

Don’t get into something that doesn’t align with who you are or your sense of purpose and authenticity. After conducting all your social experiments and interviewing potential future customers, just get started. There will always be competition and those who may try to mimic your work, but they can never be you. The journey for female entrepreneurs is likely one of the most challenging paths you’ll tread. Research and statistics continually remind us of the obstacles we face. These experiences will either humble you, make you more determined, or break you. Ultimately, you get to choose what to focus on in this journey.

What impact do you want to have on younger women?

Younger women, as well as some older generations, are becoming disillusioned by a society that equates power with superficial standards and expectations, at the cost of our well-being, and beginning to uncover who we truly are.  The sacrifices you are willing to make today will determine your outcome and future. Don’t fall [for] the PR campaigns that tell you about the kind of woman you should aspire to become, and don’t let someone else determine what your dreams and future should look like even when it comes with the best of intentions.  This takes courage, and a rebellious spirit but it also brings about freedom, discipline, and constant hard work to become who you truly are meant to be.  

What are some of the challenges of being your own boss and what keeps you motivated when you feel overwhelmed?

I was fortunate to gain valuable experience in a corporate environment that instilled the right patterns and behaviours to uphold accountability and strive for excellence. However, entrepreneurship proved to be a roller coaster ride, with both successes and highs as well as many moments of defeat. At times, I needed to admit my setbacks and allow myself to feel defeated, many times I also found myself beating myself up on the choices I made, all of these are defining moments in the journey.

One challenge I encountered was maintaining motivation for others when I felt demotivated and defeated. To address this, I learned the power of vulnerability and transparency. I openly share my struggles, admit when I don’t have the answers, and allow myself to be vulnerable enough to ask for help or admit that I don’t have the skills or capabilities. I believe by doing this, we create a space where others feel empowered enough to step in, bring in alternatives, and take the lead when needed. Embracing vulnerability and fostering an open dialogue is key to overcoming these obstacles and building a supportive environment for growth and resilience.  

What is your daily mantra?

“I am here to serve the person who had to walk to work today, the person who is stressed about where their next meal comes from, and the person who had to borrow from a mashonisa to get their first job and first paycheck.” This is not just a business; this is my purpose!

Thank you, Raeesa!

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