ClearScore CEO: Why my fast-growing company needs HR

Clearscore
Justin Basini, CEO of ClearScore, has set up departments to reflect the customer's journey

Credit checking company ClearScore is one of the UK’s fastest growing financial technology companies, doubling in size every six months. It’s yet to hire its first HR director, and CEO Justin Basini tells Personnel Today just what he’s looking for.

He hired his first employee in January 2015, and in just two and a half years has built a business that is officially one of UK’s 50 fastest growing “fintech” companies, with 110 staff in London and 17 in Mumbai.

Having a people person who can just say ‘it works (and it’s compliant)’ would be a great weight off my shoulders. But I’m also a control freak, so I’d still need lots of peeks in, just to ensure we’re going in the right direction.”

But right now, Justin Basini, CEO and founder of ClearScore (the credit reference company, with the talking dog ads), has one very specific employee in mind: Hannah. And she is going to have far more impact on future employees than she could possibly have imagined.

“Hannah’s our first staffer to fall pregnant,” explains Basini, from his office with a darts board on the wall and a giant brass bell (which rings every time a computer bug is fixed). “We’ve just had to write our maternity policy – we didn’t actually have one!”

It’s a familiar situation – fast-growing company suddenly hits point where people policies can no longer be done on the fly.

Yet this CEO’s solution is anything but typical. “I know best practice is called best practice for a reason,” he says. “And trust me, I don’t want to re-invent the wheel all the time, but I can’t help feeling there’s no such thing as best practice here.”

“That’s why I decided to have a proper conversation about what to do. It turned out Hannah wanted to see a project she’s been planning come to fruition in the New Year, but then go back on leave again. So I said, OK, why don’t we just give you 130 days off, fully paid, and it’s up to you to take them whenever you want, up to the age the child is five? Oh, and while we were at it, I’ve also decided on our paternity plan too,” he adds.

“Men will get an extra 25 days’ full pay, to take whenever they want, on top of their existing 25 days’ holiday entitlement, so future parents will have much to thank Hannah for.

Entrepreneur to people manager

According to Basini, this is just one example of how he now spends his time. It’s a far cry from when he was a mover and shaker, raising capital, and being a fully signed-up entrepreneur. He accepts it’s been a distraction, which is why he now believes the time has come to have a dedicated people person.

But whoever becomes ClearScore’s first HR director, there will still be challenges ahead. Not least because he has a certain perception of HR professionals, saying “I’ve been told HR people are not the best people; they always default to policy”.

To a degree the company is still a fantastic blank canvas to start from. But on the other hand, while Basini – a former marketer at Capital One – recognises he needs help, he still feels it’s his business. This means things still need doing in the established ClearScore way, maintaining a mission-based culture, out to make a difference to people’s lives.

He says: “Currently it’s me that has to ‘win’ the leadership team over with my people-ideas. Having a people person who can just say ‘it works (and it’s compliant)’ would be a great weight off my shoulders. But yes, I’m also a control freak, so I’d still need lots of peeks in, just to ensure we’re going in the right direction.”

Doubling in size

The fact Basini acknowledges he’s at the tipping point in the firm’s development means he could be on his way to developing a more focused people strategy.

“We’ve been in a massive rocket-ship, doubling in size every six months,” he reflects. “But if you look at the last two quarters of last year, growing by 40 saw us doubling in size.

“When we grow by another 40 this coming quarter, it won’t register the same percentage rise. People number growth will come to a natural pause. As this happens, I foresee our staff naturally beginning to ask ‘What am I here for?’; ‘What does my future career hold?’” It’s these questions he will need answers for.

Even without a specific HR function, he’s already set to work on this. Last month Basini restructured the entire company, moving staff previously siloed by function into three teams – acquire, engage, monetise – that will work across different departments.

Not only will this ensure staff mix better, but he also says the idea is that the firm should be set up to reflect a customer’s journey with ClearScore (ClearScore gives consumers free credit checks for life, but makes money by suggesting loans or financial products that suit them best based on their credit score.)

Seeking skills

“In terms of our skills needs, we are – literally – competing with the likes of Google and Facebook,” says Basini. “That’s the level of demand we have for coders, and IT engineers, and good web talent and marketers.

“So we have to accept that we can’t compete when it comes to benefits and things like that, so that leaves us with what I feel we can compete with – drive and passion. Setting up the new structure has been the first part; the next is creating meaningful careers for people, especially as many have been here a couple of years, and need to know what’s here for them next.”

Early in 2016, when growth was everything, a talent acquisition manager was an early hire, a “turbo-charge” in Basini’s words.

We’ll be calling our function ‘people and potential’, because that’s what I feel the next phase is really about. I want to give people the next stage in their life with us.”

Now, it seems the afterburners are naturally fizzling out, but there’s still some ascending to do before a steady orbit is reached.

“We’ll have a ‘head of people’ rather than an HRD,” he is at pains to point out. “But we won’t have it because we want the business to get stodgy,” he adds.

People and potential

“We’ll be calling our function ‘people and potential’, because that’s what I feel the next phase is really about – taking coders, for instance, and helping them become managers of coders. That’s phase two. I want to give people the next stage in their life with us.”

It seems whoever gets the key HR role will have to fall into line in certain areas. Basini is fanatical about people performing – even when he needed bums on seats to meet early growth, he admits he was still ruthless about letting them go if they weren’t up to scratch.

“We’d exit 10% of people before the end of their probations if they weren’t able to work to the standards we set,” he admits.

It’s unlikely he will let this particular standard go. However, Basini is fighting off the urge to be too controlling.

“When it was me, there was no ambiguity in decision making,” he concedes. “But I know this is not how we need to be moving forward. The move to the new structure is about setting up autonomous decision-making teams. There are exciting times ahead.”

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