A community at the office: Strategies of the Best Fintechs to Work For

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Any company can put ping-pong tables and kegs of beer in the break room and hope for the best. But fintechs know it takes much more to attract and keep top talent in today’s tight, competitive job market.

Companies that scored highest in this year’s Best Fintechs to Work For (a ranking compiled by our parent company, Arizent) go beyond the basics of strong pay packages, generous benefits and effective leadership to take a more holistic interest in their employees’ lives, according to the data.

This can be especially challenging in a world where more people are working remotely. It takes an extra effort to get to know employees and empower them to design their own job roles and workspaces.

To this end, fintechs are giving employees the freedom to use periodic sabbaticals or “unlimited” vacation policies, underwriting dream vacations and taking other steps to invite employees to become personally invested in the fintech’s mission.

Here are how the leaders of the top 10 companies on this year’s Best Fintechs to Work For list are doing it:

Connecting

A common thread among top fintechs is the way they make a personal connection with employees part of the fabric of the company, which helps build loyalty to the company, its vision and other employees.

YCharts, a Chicago-based provider of online investment research to wealth advisers and high-end individual investors, has created a system to build personal bonds between employees while keeping the organization focused on mutual goals.

A weekly all-hands meeting at YCharts begins with a Know Your Colleague segment, where one or two employees get the spotlight. Each spends five or 10 minutes talking about their lives outside of work, including their family, hobbies, dreams and travels.

"We’re better when we know the 'full person' we work alongside," said Sean Brown, YCharts’ president and CEO.

At Snappy Kraken, an Ormond Beach, Fla., maker of investment-adviser marketing materials, the whole company drops what it’s doing once a month so that its all-remote workforce can take a break and get to know one another. A Slack program randomly pairs up employees for one-on-one “virtual doughnut-and-coffee” meetings where people talk, laugh, and socialize about anything but work.

“Last year I learned one of our lead software testers is a single dad juggling a lot of things. My respect and admiration for him grew even more after that,” said Robert Sofia, Snappy Kraken’s CEO.

Personal connections begin on Day One when employees join New York-based Fundera, whose technology enables borrowers to shop around for the best small-business loans. Each new hire is teamed with a veteran, and for the first three weeks they meet daily to learn the ropes, get introduced to colleagues and become comfortable in the organization.

At Payrailz, a Glastonbury, Conn.-based bank technology firm, work stops to recognize employees for their birthdays, work anniversaries and life achievements.

Tailoring work

Because fintechs are often small — several of the top fintechs surveyed have 50 or fewer employees — it’s critical that employee capabilities aren't constrained by rigid job descriptions.

ActiFi, based in St. Louis Park, Minn., creates practice management solutions for banks and investment advisory firms. It puts a high priority on tailoring jobs to suit individuals.

“Instead of fitting employees into boxes, we draw the job around the individual to emphasize what they’re best at and most enjoy doing,” said Spenser Segal, ActiFi’s CEO.

ActiFi employees have wide flexibility to set their own hours and the latitude to create their own “workstyle,” as long as they stay productive.

“The key to customizing job roles is getting people into that sweet spot where they feel challenged by their tasks, but they have plenty of freedom and flexibility in how they get things done,” Segal said.

Employees at fintechs that score high on collaboration report gratification at seeing their creativity and team labor come to life.

At Ignite Sales, which creates customer-interaction tools for banks and credit unions, one of the things employees say they like is their hands-on involvement in developing products and services.

“We trust employees to innovate, to present ideas that make an immediate difference, and the CEO’s door is always open to everyone who has ideas or issues,” said Barbie Boe, Ignite Sales’ chief marketing officer.

Getaways

Entrepreneurial and disruptive fintechs focused on breaking down industry barriers, inventing solutions and meeting deadlines can often put employees at risk of burnout. Top fintech employers recognize the danger in pushing employees too far.

As a buffer, ActiFi recently adopted an “unlimited” vacation policy, a trend that’s gaining momentum in the high-pressure tech arena. It is popular with workers who want more flexible options around time off from work.

“We get it, one year you might have a bunch of stuff going on and you need five weeks off, and another year you might need less, and we’re going to let employees do what they need to do,” said Segal.

Self Inc., a credit-building service to help consumers get their first credit card, also has a “take as much as you need” vacation policy.

The company doesn't count how many days employees take away from work for vacation or personal business, as long as employees remain productive around the "ebbs and flows" of life and work, said Jeff Smith, Self’s vice president of marketing.

"We look to hire responsible people who are motivated by the company's mission, who actually want to come in and collaborate with their peers and move the company forward," he said.

Employees still need to coordinate with their manager when taking time away from the office so teams don't lose momentum, but so far Self has not experienced any abuse from its open-ended vacation policy, according to Smith.

At Snappy Kraken, full-time employees are entitled to a one-month sabbatical after three years of full-time employment.

Fountain City Fintech, which operates a series of 75-day fintech accelerator programs with nbkc bank in Kansas City, Mo., rewards employees with a paid four-week sabbatical after 10 years of service.

Washington, D.C.-based Promontory Interfinancial Network, which places deposits and performs sweeps for community banks, gives employees a month’s paid sabbatical leave after 15 years.

Indulgences

Because the daily work fintech employees do is often precise and demanding, savvy employers build relief valves into the daily routine. Many of the top fintechs surveyed emphasize their comfortable offices equipped with relaxation zones, occasional meditation sessions, toys and refreshments stashed around their facilities.

The YCharts office refrigerator, for example, is stocked with food and snacks and beer kegs are regularly delivered.

Though employees are never required to work late at YCharts, whenever anyone works on a project that continues into the evening the company reimburses them for their dinner.

“YCharts is no sweat shop, but many of our team members regularly work late on their own initiative because they get the big picture that what they’re working on is important, and they feel accountable and inspired to do their part,” said Brown, the CEO.

Fountain City Fintech has an outdoor patio with a water feature and grilling area that’s frequently in use. On many Fridays, food trucks are summoned to the company's headquarters for lunch.

At Washington D.C.-based Promontory Interfinancial Network — which provides deposit and sweep services for community banks — employees have access to a rooftop deck, a wellness room and a gym.

ActiFi sponsors employee happy hours with food and drinks at least once a month, and pays for lunch for a different employee team every week, making sure the restaurant choice rotates around to everyone.

New York-based T REX, which develops financial infrastructure for investors working in risky markets, promotes a “people-first” environment in its offices. Employees are encouraged to be themselves at work and chill out between projects or after work in the loft space in its offices.

Playing

In addition supporting spontaneous office hijinks, top fintechs often take people away from the office to play together as a way to build staff cohesion.

Each year YCharts sponsors several company outings geared to combine learning, competition and fun, according to Brown. Last year employees boarded a boat for dinner one evening, which included solving a murder mystery during the cruise. Employees also tackled a big puzzle together at an escape room on another company outing.

An annual tradition for YCharts is the annual 3.5-mile JPMorgan Corporate Challenge race, which most employees participate in. Many play in the company's intramural sports teams at local parks, and the whole Chicago staff goes out to Wrigley Field for a Cubs game every year.

At the end of each year, YCharts flies all out-of-town employees and their significant others to its headquarters for YChart's annual holiday party. "We learn and bond with even more with our colleagues when we interact with them in nonstandard ways," Brown said.

Self Inc. regularly schedules fun and intriguing team-building activities, with employees brainstorming and voting on the type of outing.

One recent example was an axe-throwing competition Self organized, where several employees unexpectedly revealed their skills at an activity they’d never tried before.

At Ignite Sales, the office has a battle pit full of Nerf toys and walls of whiteboards for employees to doodle and draw on during breaks in the workday.

“Employees at our company need to be highly creative and extremely precise, so it’s really important that we have fun along the way. Nerf footballs fly from cubicle to cubicle and we have Nerf guns that shoot around corners to make everyone lighten up and laugh,” said Ignite Sales’ Boe.

This year, Ignite Sales kicked off the year with a party that included a version of Jeopardy based on who knew the most trivia about other employees and the company’s most significant moments over the past year.

Despite the typically high turnover of workers in the nation’s capital, Promontory Interfinancial Network has managed to retain 44% of its workforce over the last 10 years by scheduling fun events every week. Scheduling fun events every week doesn't hurt: There are sponsored breakfasts every Monday, bagels every Wednesday, regular birthday celebrations, frequent talent shows and recently the company had a puppy-petting party that was wildly popular.

Pay and benefits

Competitive salaries and bonuses are among the key metrics that helps decide the Top Fintechs to Work For, and the companies that rank highest pay close attention to making sure employees feel appropriately rewarded.

At Fundera, the head of human resources meets with all department managers twice a year to check that each employee’s compensation package is regularly reviewed and that people are getting promotions, raises and bonuses if and when they’re due.

Snappy Kraken asks every employee to create a “dream board” capturing their personal aspirations, and these are posted on the company intranet. Every year management randomly selects three employees’ dreams to underwrite. Last year Snappy Kraken sent its senior graphic designer on an art retreat to a treehouse.

ActiFi likes to give out small rewards continuously. Each time an employee’s individual effort produces a noteworthy example of the company’s mission, that person wins a $10 gift card and entry into a monthly drawing for the primo executive parking spot.

Like a number of top fintechs, ActiFi pays 100% of its employees’ health insurance premiums and deductibles. ActiFi goes a step beyond most and also pays about 97% of spouses’ and dependents’ health insurance premiums, with 100% of dental insurance covered.

“We offer very generous benefits, which is a huge recruiting and retention plus,” said Segal.

A growing number of top fintechs also offer best-in-class perks for parental leave.

A big draw at Fundera is its support for families. New parents may stay home with their babies at 100% salary for four months (for birth mothers) and 10 weeks (non-birth parents). This year, Fundera has added backup childcare through UrbanSitter so employees have access to daycare credits they can use when needed.

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