This week we are talking about financial awareness with Joe Clark, Director of Finance at Fluidly.
Following the interview last week with Noemi Diamantini on mental wellbeing at work for National Stress Awareness Day, with Joe today we are covering some of the economical aspects of career development.
I'm very excited about this interview for a few reasons. In my opinion, there is not enough dialogue happening at work and outside work around money, and how career decisions (not necessarily only linked to the base salary or promotions) can impact individuals' lives in the long term. With this interview we want to bring some light on a topic not frequently discussed. I have personally known Joe for many years and I know he's really equipped to provide useful insights.
With Joe today we're talking specifically about the path to financial success, and how organisations can do better to support their employees in being more financially savvy, stock options, and of course, crypto!
I'm grateful that Joe took some time to share his knowledge with us, and I hope you'll all benefit from his wisdom.
Joe, could you tell us a bit about your background?
Sure, I started my career in change management in the banking sector and then when the financial crisis arrived in 2008 I landed a training contract with EY. I knew that a life in financial audit wasn't for me so at qualification I resigned and joined a startup called Qubit, just after their Series A. I've been working in the startup space ever since!
What got you into the wonderful world of startups?
I've always been interested in science, technology & innovation and I wanted to work in an ecosystem that would give me exposure to these kinds of fields. Looking at the opportunities available to me when I qualified startups were a pretty obvious choice. Although I didn't think about it at the time, in hindsight I was also young and risk hungry enough to be willing to take a gamble on an early stage business.
Graduates and young talent entering the work environment have more options than ever. What are the considerations they should be making to get on the right path to financial success?
Staying professionally relevant in a rapidly evolving economy is going to be super important for people just entering the workforce. The rate of change I think we'll see in the types of skills that are in demand is going to continue to accelerate. Developing an infinite learners mindset is going to be an important part of professional and financial success. I'd also argue that success shouldn't just be measured in terms of financial outcomes, graduates rightfully place a lot of value on things like job satisfaction and purpose, which is part of the reason why investment banks and hedge funds are competing for talent against startups these days.
What role does the individual’s personality type play in their financial success? How can a company treat fairly those that have less developed abilities to negotiate a better compensation package?
A person's ability to negotiate shouldn't really have any bearing on how they are remunerated, although too often it does and inequitable outcomes can lead to all kinds of management debt. For a business, having open and well communicated salary banding, good performance management processes and policies around promotion & payrises an important first step here. Ultimately it's a question of transparency, leadership should be comfortable that the answer to the question of "if all our compensation information was published, would we have to have any difficult conversations?" is an emphatic no.
As an organisation, what can you do to ensure you’re providing more beyond a paycheck? Are there any initiatives that in your experience helped employees boost their education around personal finance?
I've never really seen this done well from the perspective of an employer. Personal financial literacy is something that takes time to learn and most employers don't consider it their responsibility to teach. State initiatives like auto-enrolment pensions push people in what might be the right direction, but it's also important that people can understand why it is or isn't the right direction for themselves. Neo-banks like Monzo are doing a great job at educating people on skills like budgeting, saving and investing and I wouldn't be surprised if this increased awareness starts feeding back into the expectations that employees have of their employers.
I worked at 4 startups now, and one thing that still surprises me is the fact that many employees don’t understand what it means to own a piece of the business (equity), how this could influence their total compensation, and what a liquidity event means. Why do you think that’s the case?
Unfortunately, understanding share options can be pretty difficult even for finance professionals. Even with so much potential value at stake few employees take time to get a real handle on the important concepts and terminology involved, things like; vesting periods, strike prices, liquidation preferences, dilution risks etc. Even at a high level trying to articulate the potential value of a grant can be hard given the range of possible outcomes and the uncertainty involved. Coming back to the personal financial education point, few startups have the bandwidth to be willing or able to properly educate their staff around options. Although again, things are improving here as employees increasingly demand transparency around equity offers and there are more and more online resources available to help make sense of the topic.
For those that are less familiar with equity allocation, could you explain what this is about in simple terms and what are the potential benefits for an employee?
Early stage businesses, typically with limited cash, often choose to compensate employees with equity in exchange for a lower than market rate salary. For example, someone might be able to command a £50k salary at a large profitable business but will accept a £30k startup salary plus ownership of a small chunk of the business. The value of the equity is directly linked to the value of the business so for employers this helps to align employees around helping to grow a successful and valuable company. For employees, if everything goes to plan then that chunk of equity might one day be worth a lot of money, but equally it might be worth nothing.
In hubs like London, we’re exposed to many fintech companies trying to simplify all sorts of things: investing, sending money abroad, managing day to day expenses, and more. This also means easier access to their products, like setting up a pension in minutes or getting a loan in a few clicks. Do you see this as a positive advancement or as a new threat to the individual’s financial stability?
As with any new technology, I think the answer to that question depends on how it's used! It's encouraging to see that some of the most successful fintechs operating in this space place strong emphasis on the goal of improving personal financial literacy, Monzo, Finimize and PensionBee being great examples. Similarly some of the companies taking a less ethical approach, payday lenders like Wonga perhaps, have struggled. I'm sure there will be occasional negative headlines but I feel quite confident that the explosion in fintech that we’re seeing today will have a net positive impact on society.
I know that you’re very familiar with the cryptocurrency space, so I’d like to touch base on that with my last question. What’s your view on alternative assets as part of an employee compensation package? Considering their extremely volatile nature, should companies (even if they operate within the crypto space) avoid offering them as an option to protect their employees from losses?
There are already services out there to help companies do this but for the time being I would advise against paying employees using cryptoassets. The space has come a long way in a short time but it's still a long way from being a mature industry or asset class and there are a lot of regulatory grey areas. Right now I wouldn't be comfortable with the prospect of potentially exposing either staff or the business to unexpected tax, legal or market risks. I don't think we're too many years away from crypto being embedded in the global financial system but I'd want to be closer than we are today before running a crypto payroll.
Are there any resources on the subject that would you recommend our readers to check out?
I find crypto Twitter is the best place for trying to keep up with the news and developments in the space. Regarding crypto payroll specifically, there’s a handy summary of important considerations here, and a deep dive on some of the tax complexity here.
Where can people connect or find out more about you?
I’m @thatjoeclark on Twitter!
If you have experience revolving around startups, people and culture, ping us on Twitter @HumaansHQ or drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. We'd love to learn from your journey and share your learnings.
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