Skip to main content


Vaneesha Dutra wearing a black shirt and gray blazer
Photo by Maddie Schroeder

Vaneesha Dutra, PhD, is an advocate for economic empowerment. She brings this philosophy to the classroom as an associate professor of finance at Howard University and to broader communities through financial literacy programs. She has professional experience in the mutual fund industry and retail banking industry, and research interests in financial institutions and markets and behavioral finance, including investor behavior. She also studies issues around financial equity and inclusion and is passionate about women’s issues. A lifelong learner, she says, “We are never too experienced or accomplished to become better.” She joined the Board of Trustees in October 2023. 

What inspired you to leave a successful banking career to complete a PhD in finance and become a professor? 

My career aspirations changed when I went from asking ‘what’ to asking ‘why.’ In the early stages of your career, you’re preoccupied with the functionality of your role: what are my responsibilities, what are my deliverables, what are my timelines. But I hit a point where I wanted to immerse myself in understanding why financial markets and investors operated and responded in particular ways.  

Things shifted for me at that point.  I consulted with a trusted mentor who helped me uncover what motivated me professionally: researching the markets and understanding how investors perceive risk and make financial decisions. He asked if I had ever considered getting a PhD, and the proverbial seed was planted. He helped me see how a career of teaching and conveying information — a career of lifelong learning — aligned with what I value.  

Your research focuses on financial institutions and markets and behavioral finance. What is the potential impact of AI and technology on the market and broader industry? 

Artificial intelligence will undoubtedly impact the financial markets and how the markets interact with consumers. If done in the right way, AI has the potential to positively impact our financial markets by helping reduce risks, particularly the financial burden financial institutions face in mitigating default risk and fraud.  

AI can also help financial professionals reach consumers and meet their needs in a very personalized and, if programmed correctly, unbiased way. It can detect nuances in attitude and behavioral patterns, for example, that a human might miss. AI could also guide a financial professional in asking more relevant, probing questions of clients in order to better tailor advice. I believe AI is going to be transformative both at the retail and institutional level. 

You’re committed to teaching beyond the classroom — particularly educating the Black community about financial concepts. Why is this so important to you? 

We live in a country and society full of opportunity, but we know that our lived experience is not free of blemish; there are systemic inequities that are still pervasive and have caused significant disparities in the financial well-being of Blacks and African Americans in this country — and around the world. My feeling is that I have been truly blessed with a background and knowledge that has allowed me and my family to prosper financially, and with privilege comes a responsibility to serve.  

When you identify with another person, there’s a level of comfort and trust in a lived experience that you share. As a Black woman, I’m in a position to share my knowledge with communities I relate to, because the deliverer — and the delivery — matter. I can speak to a demographic that historically has not been exposed to financial literacy and wealth creation. I take that responsibility to heart, because at the end of the day, when more of us rise economically, society as a whole is better off.

Bentley trustee Vaneesha Dutra
When more of us rise economically, society as a whole is better off.

Is there a particular person or experience that made you reflect on your value system? 

No one person can teach you a lesson better than your personal lived experience. There was a point where I was burning the candle at both ends: full-time professor, mother of young twin sons, managing a real estate portfolio and teaching financial literacy programs. Needless to say, I was overwhelmed and out of balance, yet this was my best teacher. Personal awareness and growth became paramount. AQ and EQ (adaptability quotient and emotional quotient) maturation allowed me to recognize my values and accept only those experiences that aligned.  I am now very intentional about how and where I allocate my time, so that I can show up authentically and as my highest and best self.     

What excites you about the Bentley mission? 

The Bentley mission itself — providing a transformative education and preparing ethical leaders equipped to handle change — excites me because it aligns with my values. If we can share and encourage transformative and critical thought and prepare adaptable leaders, ready to address a dynamic environment, we are well on our way to solving business and societal ills. And that’s why I’m excited to serve. 

RELATED: Meet the Bentley Board of Trustees