What it takes to be an employee magnet

Competition within fintechs can be fierce. Many that made SourceMedia’s second annual list of the Best Fintechs to Work For have turned to finding the best employees to stay ahead of the competition.

They do this by offering a range of perks that make their employees’ lives easier, create a fun work environment and provide a chance to give back to the community. But leadership at these companies also take steps to ensure they are recruiting a diverse group of employees that will lead to different ideas.

“It's important to have a diverse workforce because having voices around the table with different points of view leads to better decisions,” said Karla Friede, CEO of Nvoicepay. “This is not always easy, because of the difference in communication styles and sometimes this means it takes longer to process and come to a conclusion, but the results are better. Different points of view lead to innovation and speed — and allow us to discover issues before they become problems.”

All of that starts at the top with the CEO setting a tone that is welcoming and inclusive, and gives employees room to grow.

“A leader is someone that the rest of the team trusts and is willing to follow, not because of their title, but because of their vision and things the leader has done for the company and our customers,” said Hailin Li, CEO of Advyzon.

Here are some insights from the companies on the Best Fintechs to Work For list about their leadership styles, why good benefits are essential for keeping employees and unique ways they recruit a diverse workforce:

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Why benefits matter
Many of the Best Fintechs to Work For provide a range of benefits to employees. Some are fun, like foosball and pingpong tables, surfing lessons and beer, and help create a sense of camaraderie amongst the staff.

But these fintechs also focus on perks meant to help relieve the daily stresses that plague employees’ lives. Ninety percent of employees who work for companies that made the list said they were satisfied with their benefits package, while 74% of employees at fintechs not on the list said they were happy.

“The founders wanted a family environment in the company,” said Kingsley Greenland II, president and CEO of Debt Exchange, an adviser for consumer, commercial and specialty loans. “People should focus on doing a great job and their home lives, not worry about healthcare benefits.”

Many companies on the list promote a healthy work-life balance by limiting over time, provide services at the office like haircuts to simplify employees’ days, and consider ways to help their staff financially.

For instance, Carpe Data is headquartered in Santa Barbara, Calif., a state that is known for its high cost of health insurance. To help alleviate this stress for employees, the fintech provides free medical and vision coverage for employees and their dependents. Dental care is available at a heavily discounted rate.

“It's well documented that employees are happier, healthier, and enjoy their jobs more when the stresses of life and work are eased by their employer,” said Max Drucker, CEO of Carpe Data, which provides data and predictive scoring products for insurance firms. “Concerns about health insurance, maternity leave, and [paid time off] balances can place a huge burden on day-to-day life, and I believe that our success as a company is due in part to relieving those concerns.”

Leaders often emphasized how the company’s success began with employees so ensuring they felt valued was essential. A comprehensive benefits package is one way to do that.

Pierre Naudé, CEO at the cloud-banking firm nCino, which was ranked No. 1 on the list this year, said that its “culture and reputation” were the biggest driver of its success. He believes that if employees are taken care of then “they will be passionate about their jobs and committed to nCino’s long-term success.”

Steve Smith, CEO of Finicity, which provides financial data aggregation and analysis, noted that competition also plays a role in driving the benefits offered.

“First, we realize that our success truly starts with our team. So ensuring they don't have to worry about their ability to take care of themselves and their families is important to us. It provides both peace of mind and the care they need from physical to financial health,” Smith said.

Pictured: Greenland shows his pride — and fun side — for the New England Patriots.
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Setting the right tone
Giving employees room to do their jobs was a cornerstone of several CEOs’ leadership philosophy. That means avoiding micromanaging, trusting employees will get the job done and allowing them the space to innovate. Ninety-one percent of employees at companies on the list said they were given enough authority to make decisions compared with 81% at fintechs that didn’t make the rankings.

“My leadership philosophy is to hire smart people with high integrity and then empower them to think like owners so they can achieve great results,” said Stephanie Klein, chairman and CEO at Braviant Holdings, a Chicago-based online lender for underserved consumers. “The best CEO in the world is nothing without a great team. My role is to set clear objectives, ensure that everyone has the resources they need to succeed, provide frameworks to track and measure results, and then get out of the way.”

Treating employees with respect was also a must. Ninety-three percent of employees at companies that made the list noted that they were treated "like a person, not a number." That number was just 77% for companies who didn't make the rankings.

“It's very simple — treat people with respect,” Nvoicepay’s Friede said. “We're a facts-based organization, so people feel empowered to voice their opinion and offer their input. They know we will always prioritize the best idea, rather than the most senior voice in the room.”
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Recruitment best practices
Many of the Best Fintechs are deliberate in their recruitment efforts to ensure they not only find the best employees but also hire a diverse employee base and limit attrition.

“It's important to us to bring different points of view to everything we do. Everyone has a unique experience and by increasing diversity, you'll be bringing new perspectives to the table,” said Sal Rehmetullah, president and co-founder of Fattmerchant. “Our customers span so many different walks of life from all across the U.S., and by having people who reflect our customers, we're better able to understand and work with them.”

To do this, Fattmerchant, which is a subscription-based payments platform, fights the urge to simply hire candidates recommended by employees, Rehmetullah said. Although that’s a great way to find reliable hires, it can also lead to “having a more homogeneous workplace,” he added.

“If you want to see change, you have to make it a priority at every step in your recruiting process,” Rehmetullah said.

United Wholesale Mortgage strives to keep employees happy by showing them the possibilities for growth within the Pontiac, Mich., company. The mortgage lender set a goal in 2017 to promote 1,200 employees by 2020. It is already currently 70% toward achieving that goal, said Chief People Officer Laura Lawson.

“Celebrate diversity and differences with inclusion for your team members,” Lawson said. “It’s not just about hiring different people with varying backgrounds — it’s about how you embrace them for the long haul.”
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Taking action
Ally Financial in Charlotte, N.C., has ramped up its diversity efforts since its CEO Jeff Brown joined the CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion pledge in June 2017. The pledge, which has been signed by 150 business leaders, includes a commitment to implementing and expanding unconscious bias education, creating an atmosphere where employees are comfortable sharing different perspectives and exploring best practices.

In July 2017, the digital bank launched eight employee resource groups, including ones for African American, female, veterans and Hispanic employees. That effort has led to employees finding mentors, getting career advice and having a chance to advocate for new benefits. For example, this year Ally is introducing expanded health care that covers fertility and adoption benefits to support LGTBQ employees and hearing aids and that has no limit for applied behavioral analysis therapy for treating autism.

It also has a range of recruitment efforts to attract employees of different backgrounds. One unique program is Moguls in the Making, a collaboration with rapper Big Sean and his foundation and the Thurgood Marshall College Fund. It’s a competition that “aims to prepare and empower young black entrepreneurs,” said Reggie Willis, senior director of diversity and inclusion at Ally.

During a weeklong event in Detroit in March, teams of students from historically black colleges will develop business plans and pitch their ideas to a group of judges, including Big Sean. The winners will receive an internship at Ally.

“At Ally we take an expanded definition of diversity, focusing on all differences,” Willis said. “We recognize diversity of thought and ensuring a broad base of differences in our hiring practices is critical for us to meet the needs of our customers.”

Pictured: Rapper Big Sean, Andrea Brimmer, Ally's chief marketing and public relations officer, and George Spencer, executive vice president of business development and innovation and entrepreneurship at the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, discuss the Moguls in the Making competition.
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Addressing economic inequality
At SOLE Financial, there is an effort to ensure that its employee base reflects its customers base. The payroll card provider is trying to reach the quarter of U.S. workers who are underserved by the financial services sector, said Taylor Ellsworth, SOLE’s director of marketing.

“When you’re creating something for a marginalized group like we are, you’ll always struggle to deliver a useful product if your team has ever experienced your users’ hardships,” Ellsworth said. “A diverse workforce helps better reflect the entirety of the outside world back into the company culture and ensures that there are always a myriad of useful perspectives and worldviews weighing in on every decision.”

The company includes a disclaimer with all job descriptions that states research has shown that “women and people of color are less likely to apply for jobs unless they meet every single qualification listed.” It emphasizes that SOLE is “interested in finding the best candidate for the job, and that candidate may be one who has an untraditional background and doesn’t necessarily check every box on this job description," the note continues.

More than half of SOLE’s leadership is female, meaning it gives it a “broader perspective on what constitutes good work, and our leaders don’t reward employees solely for exhibiting traditionally ‘male’ traits like aggression,” Ellsworth said.

“If your company’s recruiting efforts are being driven by the dominant culture, you’re probably hiring people who reflect that,” she added. “Allowing diversity into the formative, decision-making levels of the company through hiring diverse leaders and recruiters is key to recognizing the intrinsic bias in your company’s hiring processes and culture, and beginning to change it.”
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Reviewing the hiring process to ensure fairness
Through its Lending Hands initiative, LendKey focuses on neurodiversity, an area that not every fintech may consider when planning its recruitment. The company organizes volunteer activities that bring awareness to this issue, such as participating in the National Down Syndrome Society Buddy Walk in New York, and works with local schools to recruit students with Asperger’s Syndrome, autism, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and others with learning differences for internships.

“Many young adults who fall into the neurodiverse category lose support from government and school programs after graduation, so our program is designed to build real-world skills at an early age to help these individuals with that difficult transition of finding the right employment early in their careers,” said Vince Passione, CEO of LendKey, which is a student loan marketplace.

The internships usually run for a semester or full school year, and participants serve in a variety of roles and complete different projects that are created to meet their skills. Most work on coding assignments, such as developing a custom loan origination program or creating a database to track current LendKey employees. Others complete office management tasks.

This effort has also made LendKey more aware about unconscious bias during the hiring process and around the workplace. For instance, businesses usually value traits like making eye contact and small talk but some neurodiverse individuals may struggle with this, Passione said. Because of that, reviewing the hiring and interviewing process to make it more inclusive can be key, he added.

“Encourage senior management to be active in your volunteer initiatives,” Passione said. “Whether you employ team members with learning challenges or help serve meals at your local soup kitchen, it's important for management to be involved, set the standard, and demonstrate your values daily.”
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Serving those who have served
Fountain City Fintech and its parent company, nbkc bank in Overland Park, Kan., has turned its diversity efforts to hiring veterans, which it hopes will then help it better serve customers who were in the armed forces.

The company recruits through a variety of efforts including traditional job fairs, while also putting itself out there through more unique methods. For instance, nbkc has sponsored two seasons of "Military Makeover," a miniseries on Lifetime where its employees and construction experts take on home improvement projects for veterans and their families.

“There is a language that goes with [the military],” said Jessica Eggers, chief people officer. “Veterans know the audience and they know those customers. They know that the veteran may have moved four times so they can handle them with great care in their next mortgage.”
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Failure is not an option
Although the CEOs of the Best Fintechs to Work For maybe at the top of their game now, that wasn’t always the case for many of them. Some had stumbles along the way.

“When I was fresh out of college, I applied to every major firm on Wall Street and I was turned down by every single one,” said Drucker at Carpe Data.

Advyzon’s Li was disinterested in school during his youth and would skip class to spend time with this friends, according to his brother, who also works at the fintech. However, he changed his attitude around the fifth grade and went on to attend the prestigious Peking University. He now has a doctorate in physics from State University of New York at Stony Brook and an MBA from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.

As a child, Braviant Holdings’ Klein had a pony named Sundance, who ended up teaching her a valuable life lesson.

“He was mean and stubborn and threw me off quite a few times, but I still loved him and I always got back on,” Klein noted.
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