People, pets, pay: Secrets of the Best Fintechs to Work For

When talk turns to employee perks at tech upstarts, the focus is frequently on beanbag chairs and pingpong tables.

But based on this year's Best Fintechs to Work For ranking, what fintech employees really want from their employers boils down to three things: satisfactory pay, paid-for benefits and a respectful culture. Along with stress relievers like dogs at work.

Fintech employees were asked to score their companies on leadership and planning; corporate culture and communications; role satisfaction, work environment; relationship with their supervisor; training, development and resources; pay and benefits; and overall engagement. Comparing the average scores of best fintechs to work for against the companies that didn’t make the list, the widest differences were in the categories of pay and benefits and a subset of corporate culture one might call “being treated with respect.”

Fun still counts — the companies that ranked highest scored much higher on a question about this than their lower-ranking counterparts — but it's not the biggest benchmark.

Dog at Redtail office

Here are what leaders of the top five companies in this year’s rankings said they did to score so high:

Respectful culture

Some of the most significant factors in the rankings were how employees rated statements like: "The leaders of this organization care about their employees’ well-being,” “This organization gives me enough recognition for work that is well done” and, “Changes that may affect me are communicated to me prior to implementation.”

Susan Gayle, chief administrative officer at Promontory Interfinancial Network, which provides deposit placement and sweep services to community banks, said the Washington, D.C., company preserves a respectful culture by hiring and retaining only those leaders who share its values of respect, transparency and openness.

“We have little tolerance for leaders whose behaviors are inconsistent with our values,” Gayle said. “Needless to say, we have a diverse workforce; there are differences among our employees. We want leaders that appreciate that our company is our people, and we respect diversity.”

Respect sometimes manifests itself in little gestures, she said. The company sends flowers when employees are sick or have a death in the family. When an employee has a child, the company contributes to the newborn’s 529 savings plan. It commissions artists to create 10-year service awards that include pictures of the employee.

The values at Payrailz, a Glastonbury, Conn., startup that provides software banks can use to create new payment “experiences” for consumers and businesses, are similar: respect, transparency, integrity. On birthdays and work anniversaries, employees are recognized; remote workers get a cupcake delivered to their home.

At Redtail Technology, a provider of customer relationship management software, employees are empowered to make decisions without micromanaging or heavy oversight, CEO Brian McLaughlin said.

“That is a powerful way of making them feel respected,” he said. “Letting people make mistakes and have successes and learn over time is important.”

More Best Fintechs to Work For coverage:

The human resources department has been renamed People Ops and given the goal of providing wellness for employees. For physical wellness, there’s an on-site gym, showers, and yoga classes. For financial wellness, the Sacramento, Calif., company provides seminars during the workday on topics like tax planning and financial planning.

Pierre Naude, the chief executive of nCino, a spinoff of Live Oak Bank that provides cloud-based loan software for banks, said he believes a respectful culture stems from focusing on treating customers well rather than focusing on sales. Naude built his career in software implementation and saw the problems that occur when salespeople sell something the company doesn’t have itself.

“Then your field people have to struggle to implement and maintain customer relationships,” he said. “I said, let’s build a company that promises what it’s got.”

Rather than celebrate contract signings, nCino celebrates go-live dates, when customers actually start using the software in production. Respect especially comes into play when something goes awry, Naude said.

“We have a watertight rule here: When something goes wrong, the last thing you do is ask, Who did it?' " he said. “The first thing you do is say, 'Let’s discuss how we get this right for the customer.' Once you’ve solved the problem and the negative sentiments have gone away, then you look back and say, 'How do I avoid this in the future?' This has cultivated a culture that can function without fear of repercussions.”

At YCharts, a provider of online investment research to wealth advisers and retail customers (like a low-end Bloomberg terminal), there are no offices. Everyone, including the CEO, shares the same open workspace.

“We’re all equal here. We just happen to have different roles,” said Sean Brown, the Chicago company's president and CEO.

Every Friday there’s an all-company videoconference that includes a segment called KYC, for Know Your Colleague. In one round, employees discussed the most influential moments or people in their lives. In others, they talked about their favorite books and travel destinations.

“We think it’s paramount that we all know each other,” Brown said.

YCharts also gives out quarterly awards for employees who go above and beyond in some way. They get $250 Amazon gift certificates and a small trophy.

“The winners have done everything from starting an employee education program to leading our day-of-charity work to working night and day over a weekend to help a client solve a business issue to covering for a colleague during a time of need,” Brown said.

Pay

One of the best ways a company can prove it respects its employees is by paying them well.

In the shoreline area where nCino is based, in Wilmington, N.C., wages trend 15%-30% lower than other markets because quality of life is so high. But nCino sets its pay on a national pay scale.

“That was a fundamental strategic decision we made to make sure we get the right quality people as well as the foundation for a successful company,” Naude said.

At Payrailz, every employee is given equity in the company along with a competitive salary.

Redtail Technology tries to be in the top 25 percentile of pay for all roles.

“We understand that employees will go look at salary.com and try to compare where they stand versus what’s publicly out there,” McLaughlin said. “We’ve made it clear to employees that we’re going to pay in this top bracket. That way they never look back and see they’re on the low side and should be paid more.”

At Promontory Interfinancial Network, where half the employees are in IT, there are two compensation tracks — one for managers and one for IT professionals — so that IT people can earn as much as managers.

“We recognized that technical expertise is just as valuable as management competencies,” Gayle said. “Not all IT employees desire a management role. Some say they want to be promoted, but once they’re a manager they want to go back to what they did. We want to keep them, so we want to pay them comparably.”

Benefits

Fintech employees care deeply about benefits like medical and dental plans and retirement plans.

At nCino, “we looked at the devastating effects of the link between health care, the family unit and how people can focus on the job,” Naude said.

NCino fully funds a health care plan with a high deductible, then funds employees’ health savings accounts to cover 100% of that deductible, so employees and their families should have zero out-of-pocket expenses for health care.

“That was just the right thing to do to build a company with a low turnover rate and motivate and engage employees,” Naude said. “That is one of our biggest tools for recruiting.”

New parents get three months of fully paid leave.

“What that does is, it removes stress,” he said. “Because we’re a smaller community, there’s lots of couples working here. So if somebody is taking care of a newborn and you remove that stress, people remember that. And when you ask them to go the extra mile later on, it comes naturally.”

Everyone gets 25 days of paid annual leave, and two paid days a year to volunteer. YCharts pays 100% for employees’ health care insurance.

“We want them to be healthy, we want them to receive regular checkups, we want them to be well taken care of,” Brown said.

Promontory pays 80% of the medical insurance premium for employees and their dependents.

“I have not had one employee complain about our medical insurance since I started working here 15 years ago,” Gayle said. In a previous job, she had a full-time benefits person who did nothing but handle complaints.

Vacation time at Promontory starts at four weeks and goes to five weeks at the employee’s 10th anniversary. On their 15th anniversary they can take an additional two-week sabbatical. By the end of the year, 35 employees will be eligible for the sabbatical.

“What makes us unique is we actually support them taking time off,” Gayle said. “If I see that people aren’t taking time off, I’ll say, 'Don’t you need a break?' "

Redtail Technology pays 100% of medical insurance costs for employees, 40% for their dependents. It’s working toward fully covering dependents. The company also offers a 401(k) match that ranges from 3% to 5% and pays for pet insurance, gym memberships and tuition.

“If they’re going to school or they want to go back to school to learn anything, we’re happy to pay the bill,” McLaughlin said.

Promoting from within

A theme that emerges from talking to the top five fintechs is they try to promote from within.

At Promontory Interfinancial Network, six employees who were hired as front-desk receptionists have worked their way up into the roles of network engineer, help-desk engineer, IT business analyst, account executive, marketing manager and facilities manager. Several former client service reps are now senior program managers, treasury desk managers, regional territory directors and, in one case, a director of corporate initiatives.

At YCharts, employees can apply for any job within the company, even if they have no background in it.

“We think we can teach you things as long as you come with determination and smarts and hard work,” Brown said.

Fun

At YCharts, there’s Kombucha and Nitro Brew on tap and games, putting greens and basketball hoops.

“We have these things that are fun,” Brown said. “But the thing we love the most is the culture of finding a way to have fun with everything.”

Employees frequently play practical jokes. For instance, Brown just celebrated his 50th birthday and he told everyone explicitly that he didn’t want any special recognition because his birthday is no more special than anyone else’s.

Nonetheless, “I just got out of the last meeting I was in and walked out to a surprise birthday" party, he said. “It’s those unplanned, little nonprogrammatic things that make people say this is a fun place to work.”

Fun at Promontory Interfinancial Network includes jeans every Friday and daily all summer, an on-site gym with showers, compressed workweeks in summer, themed monthly birthday parties, parties and picnics that include family throughout the year, and an employee cafe with video games and TVs.

Redtail Technology has built a culture around dogs. The company is named after founder Brian McLaughlin’s dog. Employees are not only allowed to bring their dogs to work, they are encouraged to. On any given day there are about 20 pooches on-site.

“Today I spotted 13 dogs in the office,” McLaughlin said in an interview on a late-February afternoon. “There’s one staring at me right now.”

McLaughlin said having dogs in the office creates a happier environment for everybody.

“Employees find it soothing. They feel more like they’re at home,” he said. “It removes the stress of leaving a pet at home when you can bring them to work and have them sit with you all day.”

A section of Redtail’s two-acre backyard has been made into a dog park. There’s a Slack channel dedicated to dog owners, who message each other when they plan to take their dogs out to play. There are some ground rules to prevent the office from feeling like a pet store or intimidating those who are not dog people. Every dog has to go through a few hours of training with a professional trainer the company brings in. The dogs are kept on leashes or in small pens. They’re not allowed in the kitchen or near food. They have to behave. Incessant barkers and aggressive dogs are banned.

“If we have a guest walking around, we can’t have dogs crazy barking,” McLaughlin said. “That would never work in an office environment.”

In addition to all the dogs, the office has two slides employees can take to get from the second floor to the first. There’s an on-site gym and showers. There’s a game room with pingpong, shuffleboard and a Playstation. There are hammocks. There’s free food all day, including catered lunches. There are family ice skating events and summer movie nights in the backyard.

McLaughlin tried to get a zipline installed on the property, but that didn’t fly.

“I was pushing the city; I thought it would be fantastic for our culture here,” he said. “They were not a huge fan of the zipline in a corporate environment, as a safety risk. They wanted us to get a full-time dedicated safety coordinator. That’s a really big expense. We’ll install a 30-foot-high playground slide instead.”

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