UK FintechWeek 2020: Managing Scale in Times of Crisis

As the Innovate Finance UK Fintech Week drew to a close, we were treated to a fascinating discussion about how fintechs and startups can drive expansion and growth, whilst managing their workforce, during this crisis period.

Moderated by Dr Desné Masie, Chief Strategist at IC Intelligence, this was a wide-ranging and engaging webinar discussion, aided by the larger number of panelists, who had a large diversity of backgrounds. The panelists were:

Eric Mouilleron, Founder & CEO, Bankable
Jeppe Zink, General Partner, Northzone
Pierre Lion, VP Growth, Mangopay
Claire Altman, Chief Corporate Officer, Smart Pension
Simon Loong, Founder & Group CEO, WeLab
Gemma Steel, General Counsel, Project Imagine (Dozens/Pi1)

Maintaining Growth in a Crisis

One of the first topics up for discussion by this panel was concerned with how can startups attempt to maintain a high level of growth, despite these unprecedented challenges. Giving his response to this was Eric Mouilleron. He began his comment on a positive note, stating that he had been “happily surprised by the reaction of all our team, so they all adapted extremely quickly […] so I think there’s a sense of hope here. I think the attitude and I would say the level of energy we found remotely is a big surprise.” This is probably an opinion that would vary from company to company, but remote workers experiencing a boost in productivity is not necessarily a new or uncommon concept.

In terms of growth during this difficult period, Eric remained bullish. Part of that was due to the nature of Bankable, and that of their business and operations. Eric commented that they were “lucky not to be in the restaurant business, where a 100% of your business disappears right away. We provide transactions, so we make money every time there are transactions, so it’s 24/7. So on that front, we have a business that is resilient.”

He continued along with this theme, with resilience being a quality that is in demand perhaps more than ever before. Eric sees the current struggle in terms of “resisting and adapting. There’s very few winners in this crisis, but we are demonstrating resilience. We are not losing much, but we were supposed to be on a much higher growth path before the virus, so we are organising the resistance, and we are preparing [for] the exit of the lockdown.”

Therefore, Eric’s answer is that the focus of companies should be away from unrealistic attempts at continuing growth, and should be shifting towards what is essentially ‘survival’ mode. Growth can be revisited when this is all over, and behind us. And what’s more, there should be no stigma against looking ahead to that time.

Managing Employee Welfare

Employee welfare, and in particular their mental health well-being, is something that should always be of concern to employers. It is clearly particularly relevant during a time such as the current crisis, due to the inherently stressful situation that has been caused by this outbreak, along with a physical detachment of people from their offices and headquarters. Gemma Steel, Project Imagine, agreed that is a potentially serious issue, and described three ways in which her company is trying to tackle it.

Firstly, the senior management implemented a series of measures aimed at preventing mental health issues during the Covid-19 crisis. This included, according to Gemma, introducing measures such as “for lockdown, we’ve actually limited the working day to technically from 10:00-12:00, 2:00-5:00, being mindful of the fact that people have got lives outside of their computer, and that also it’s quite stressful and difficult facing your screen all day without necessarily the level of human interaction that you would be used to.”

Secondly, they made sure that there are staff responsible for both the monitoring of people’s mental health, and helping them to access the right tools for dealing with the lockdown situation, “We help our staff members with access to counsellors, we’re also introducing a mindfulness coach. We actually have a morale manager in the office, and I guess his role has really come to the forefront during lockdown, and he’s been a real lead in terms of kind of getting the troops to join activities and keep in touch with each other, on a human level.”

Thirdly, Gemma stressed the importance that Project Imagine is placing on regular check-ins with their employees. She pointed out that you needed to check in on people “not just in terms of the work that they’re doing, but in terms of how they’re feeling and how they’re getting on with work.”

Providing support to everyone

Eric also agreed with the need to address this potential problem. Whilst he may be appreciating the productivity benefits that some of his employees were currently enjoying when working remotely, he acknowledged that there would be a real need to regularly check in on them. This is because, he says “strong people can be weak as well, people who say they are okay, are not necessarily okay […] If you start working 15 hours in a row, 15 Zooms a day, that’s not okay, that’s crazy. So it’s all about asking questions, I suppose.” Hopefully many other employees across the board will be taking a similar conscientious approach as displayed by the panelists here.

The Road Ahead

Jeppe Zink wanted to offer some words of caution, along with some advice going forward: “ Hopefully it’ll be over soon. I think once we look back at this, if we are dealing with two months, this isn’t the big thing, the big thing is what’s coming. I see far too much focus on Covid and the lockdown, and far too little focus on the different economic environment we are about to enter into, and how we fare in that, and all the lessons we can learn from 10 years ago, and the last crisis before that.”

Gemma Steel also pointed out the challenges ahead, but with a sprinkling of optimism: “While the lockdown is a difficult time, and the times ahead are likely to be even more difficult, I do think that at least Britain has kind of been brought together. I’ve enjoyed a bit more cohesion with people, I’ve enjoyed a bit more of a community spirit, even amongst the Fintech community, and I really hope that that continues after lockdown, particularly because I think we’ve got tougher times ahead.”