How company culture can drive success

Date Published

Employees of fintech credit report provider TotallyMoney have an enviable working space at the company’s base in a converted Victorian school close to Silicon Roundabout at the heart of London’s tech hub.

It has table tennis tables, beer fridges and hang-out spaces – but CEO Alastair Douglas says it takes much more than a cool office to make a company a great place to work or to motivate staff.

TotallyMoney was admitted to the ranks of The Sunday Times Best 100 Companies to Work For last year – a milestone for the 90-strong company, with judges praising its ’extraordinary’ staff engagement.

“There’s a real difference between having a good working culture and having good individual perks, and one does not necessarily guarantee the other. Some companies are fantastic places to work and have zero perks and some have all the perks, but the staff are treated terribly,” Douglas says.

“What makes a winning mentality is that everyone makes things happen in the business, so everyone has a day-to-day sense of achievement and gets support from colleagues and managers.”

For TotallyMoney, there is a clear link between a highly motivated and engaged workforce and business success. It launched its free consumer credit report in late 2017 to help people understand and improve their credit score so they can make smart borrowing decisions. In less than three years it has become the UK’s most highly rated free credit report on Trustpilot and attracted three million customers as well as launching a new energy switching service.

“Helping people is key to our mission and the way we treat our team. Our slogan is ‘Move on up’ and it works for staff and customers,” Douglas says.

TotallyMoney ranks in the top 10% in its sector for ‘organisational fit’ which relates to the degree that employees feel the culture and values of their employer match their own – no mean feat for a business whose workforce almost doubled in the last three years.

“A big part of being a good place to work is autonomy. Our business is organised into squads who get on with developing solutions. If you have an engaged, empowered and autonomous workforce you’ll get results,” he says.

Douglas ascribes to the views of Dr Edward Dici, a motivational psychologist who developed a theory of motivation, self-determination and wellness. He attests that self-motivation leads to better performance and engagement, mental and physical health and wellbeing – and that purpose, mastery and automation are the keys to motivation.

“You can pay people more or give them free beer but the best thing they can have is intrinsic motivation. Purpose is very important for a business performing a very useful service for the mass market, particularly for people who need help to improve their credit score,” Douglas says.

TotallyMoney has introduced an employee progression programme, aimed at staff within the first 3 years of their career, which involves equipping people with skills and knowledge to progress. Being part of a supportive work community is also important to the workforce, which has a median age of 27. There are many socialising opportunities from sports clubs to board games and quiz nights. Mental well-being is also addressed with free access to an online therapy app and financial wellbeing training for staff too.

Douglas is passionate about diversity and equality and giving back to the community, supporting staff volunteering and matched giving. The business operates at the intersection of technology and finance where women are generally under-represented. It is a signatory to the Women in Finance Charter designed to get more women into senior roles and is also active in groups like PWC’s ‘Tech She Can’ and Douglas says recruitment is focused on achieving gender balance, including in senior management roles.

He conducts monthly staff surveys. “If you only survey annually, 12 months resentment can build up and that becomes the channel to let it out. You need to do it regularly and build, measure and learn.”

The Covid-19 lockdown forced Douglas to move the company’s entire operation to remote working, presenting new challenge for teams used to both working and hanging out together. He is pleasantly surprised by how rapidly everyone has adapted to online company meetings, coffee hangouts, quizzes and even taking a turn as DJ on the company’s own radio station.

SEP Partner David Sneddon, who sits on TotallyMoney’s board, says the management team have done a fantastic job in shifting seamlessly to 100% remote working and maintaining employee engagement at a difficult time for all.

“Alastair has fostered a strong and distinct company culture. As funders of high-growth technology businesses, we know that engaged employees deliver better service. That builds trust and it helps retain and acquire customers which drives growth,” says Sneddon.

SEP has had a long association with TotallyMoney which was founded in 2007 and helped it develop its products and technology platform. It also assisted its transition from a founder-led business to one led by an experienced management team capable of steering future growth. SEP led a £29 million joint funding round for the company alongside Elliott Advisors (UK) in January 2019.

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