Executives from Xero, Up and Airwallex on the rise of openness in the workplace

Fast-moving Australian fintech leaders from Xero, Up and Airwallex share why the rise of openness in the workplace matters now more than ever before.

Author: Nina Hendy22nd November 2020

Below you’ll find insights from the third and final in a leadership series that outlines how Australia’s fast-moving companies have successfully embraced the changes that occurred during Covid-19. Three executives leading the charge in the fintech world share their perspective on a range of topics related to the disruption of work as we once knew it.

You can watch the full panel on demand as these leaders delve deep to explore what larger and more traditional organisations can learn from fast-movers when it comes to the benefits of open communication and collaboration within a secure ecosystem. 

During a virtual CEO panel in partnership with The Australian, Xero CEO Steve Vamos, Up co-founder Dominic Pym and Airwallex CEO Jack Zhang share why open communication and collaboration is a conduit to greater efficiency and responsiveness with an organisation.

Fostering true transparency can permeate the culture of an organisation, leading to stronger teams and better resilience in the face of uncertainty. Though it might seem counter-intuitive, fast-moving companies in the fintech world agree that technology is actually one of the greatest tools they have to encourage such openness, especially during fast-growth phases.

Staying open both internally and with external partners

With a fresh Series D round of US$200 million in funding this year, Airwallex has been on a growth trajectory many can only dream of, embedding Slack early in its journey as a way to stay open and consistent in its communication. Leaning toward over-communicating company goals creates a core value that Zhang calls “intellectual honesty,” especially during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Having a way to communicate freely and openly share our vision, our goals and long-term objectives is the fundamental way we’re successfully scaling the company worldwide. We openly encourage people to speak up in a free and safe environment, and constantly reflect so we can keep improving,” Zhang says.

Zhang credits Slack for centralising communication and creating a culture of transparency during the company’s growth journey, ensuring all teams feel integral to Airwallex’s success. A handbook on how best to stay open and utilise technology (such as Slack) keeps everyone moving forward on the same path. To handle issues and apply learnings in real time, Airwallex relies on Slack Connect with both enterprise partners and customers.

“We have a very tech-driven culture and use software like Slack, Confluence and JIRA, to enable our teams around the world to create a culture of openness.”

Jack ZhangCEO, Airwallex

It’s fair to say that Slack serves as the digital HQ over at Australia’s first mobile-only digital bank, too. Headquartered in Melbourne, the Up team has doubled in size in the last year. Pym explains that openness and transparency is particularly important in the fintech world given the rise in phishing attacks, adding that industry standard safety protocols need to be exceeded, not just met. 

“Leaders need to consciously think about how they manage security, how they manage the flow of information, and how they balance that with transparency, openness and honesty,” Pym says.

With Slack Connect, Up can securely manage external communication and projects with its external partners such as Bendigo and Adelaide Bank, Afterpay, Google and TransferWise. Having these partners in Slack Connect opens the dialogue and provides a history and audit log of transactions and communications.

“For us the tools are important. We use Slack Connect to communicate externally with partners like Afterpay, Bendigo Bank and TransferWise. It gives us a history and audit log of transactions of all the communications. It means that all companies are able to communicate with each other really easily.”

Dominic PymCo-founder, Up

Leveraging integrations to facilitate company culture

To add to their culture of openness at Up, the team created a custom Slack integration called Barista that randomly matches colleagues for a digital coffee date, setting up a time and topic of conversation. “This makes it easy to get to know each other and have conversations not just about work, but other things that matter to us as people, too,” Pym says.

Short, playful breaks can also offer powerful team-building opportunities: One of Up’s engineers developed a live integration for the video game Mario Kart, and Pym admits he plays for 15 minutes every day. “An algorithm automatically posts how we’re tracking based on our entire playing history as a team. That’s nearly 10 years’ worth of Mario Kart history. I’m not very good, but I love the interaction with staff.”

Up also hosts a monthly cultural session on Zoom encouraging people to open up about their lives, share their heroes and hardships. It can be confronting and emotional, but leadership encourages these kinds of connections to foster a supportive work environment, Pym says.

The philosophy extends to Up’s customers, too. Social media interactions with customers are fed directly into Slack, allowing employees to connect in real time and at a level that sets the digital bank apart from its competitors. 

“With Slack, we’re able to respond and have a conversation in real time with our customers. It all feeds back to the concept that we’re all humans, and we need to care for each other and build a better world together,” Pym says.

Staying human by embracing technology

Over 200 financial services organisations and over  800 app partners are connected to the Xero platform working together to help small businesses succeed. But as CEO, Vamos admits that he doesn’t have all the answers, all the time.

Given the speed and unpredictability of change in 2020, we know this is impossible. We’re only human, after all, and when we’re confronted with change, the natural instinct is fear. “There’s nothing wrong with that because in a sense, it helps keep us out of trouble when we’re able to recognise something, then stop and confront that fear, get through it and overcome it,” he says.

But leaders need to recognise that fear in times of adversity can prevent the flow of communication if people shy away from speaking up. “This is a critical time for leaders to build psychological safety, share concerns, show respect and be kind about it,” Vamos says.

As technology permeates fast-moving companies, leaders need to foster that human connection more than ever by staying transparent and readily sharing information with the team. “It’s really important to remember it’s people who innovate, not technology. And it’s people that change,” Vamos says.

“The adoption of technology reflects a willingness to evolve,” he continues. “And the critical thing about being good at change means being calm in the face of it, and realising that your success is all about connecting and sharing with others. If you make mistakes, just be honest and transparent about them, own them and learn from them. Because the more technology that’s out there, the more that the human element matters.”

The takeaway for big corporates is that you can successfully encourage both innovation and operational excellence. “But during periods of growth, consistency and openness when it comes to internal processes will steady the corporate ship,” Vamos says.

Read our guide to learn more about navigating the disruption of work.

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