Having the country’s fourth-largest private bank as a parent company can be a powerful tool for enabling growth and generating profits. In this interview with All Things Talent, Mayank Kapoor, CHRO, Freecharge talks about how the company has gained immensely from its association with Axis Bank and what makes Freecharge a great place to work. He also shares insights on the demand and supply gap of tech talent and the value of data-driven HR in the highly competitive Fintech industry.
It has been five years since Axis Bank acquired Freecharge. Can you give us an overview of how Freecharge has grown in the past five years, particularly from the talent point of view?
The acquisition by Axis Bank has been a major milestone for Freecharge, as post this acquisition, we pivoted from payments to digital financial services, in line with the strategy and core strength of our parent company. From a talent standpoint, we have gained immensely from our association with the Bank. Over the last 5 years, we have increased our headcount significantly (by 180 percent) to meet our growth aspirations and this has been possible because of the stability and support that is offered to us by the Bank. We have also been able to leverage the experienced talent pool which is available at Axis Bank. Many of our current leaders, including our MD & CEO, CBO, and Head – Business Development have joined us from the Bank via internal movement. Further, as an Axis Subsidiary, we get good exposure to many new age HR practices of the Bank in the field of L&D, internal talent mobility, talent management, etc., which has helped us move up in the maturity curve of our HR practices.
How and what kind of talent hires were made as part of the neo-banking platform? Considering Axis Bank has its own Axis Bank Aha, how do the teams, particularly the tech talent, function? Are they shared resources? How was the decision made?
To become a neo-banking platform, we have invested heavily in ramping up our talent base in the technology, product, and analytics verticals over the last year. Today, the tech talent at Freecharge works on two kinds of projects – one for our own platforms, and the other as a service provider for the Bank’s products. While the tech employees are not shared resources, the different teams at Axis and Freecharge, like the product and program management, do support each other by leveraging each other’s expertise to drive project completion.
Freecharge moved from being a recharge platform to a wallet and now to a financial service platform. How have the transitions impacted your growth in terms of your workforce? What kind of adjustments were made to the existing HR policies and recruitment to facilitate these shifts in business?
There has not been any major shift in our HR policies and recruitment philosophy over the last few years. We continue to focus on attracting and retaining Millennial and Gen Z tech talent, which is critical for our business success. Additionally, we have significantly benefited from our access to the talent pool of Axis Bank, as they have substantial expertise in financial services products, which is a current focus area for us as well. Also, Axis bank is one of the front-runners in defining the best-in-class HR practices for the financial services industry, and we have also been able to adopt some of these practices in our business, especially in areas such as diversity and inclusion, succession management, inclusive benefits, etc.
“There has not been any major shift in our HR policies and recruitment philosophy over the last few years. We continue to focus on attracting and retaining Millennial and Gen Z tech talent, which is critical for our business success. Additionally, we have significantly benefited from our access to the talent pool of Axis Bank, as they have substantial expertise in financial services products, which is a current focus area for us as well.”
In an interview, your CEO mentioned that Freecharge is looking to engage with 10 million merchants in three years. To reach such a number, would it also involve hiring people? If yes, what are the skills you are looking for and what are the channels you use to acquire talent?
Yes, we are currently in an exciting phase as we are scaling our merchant business, and the focus is on ramping up our business development and the technology teams, to support our merchant business in achieving their ambitious plans. We are focusing on internal referrals and campus hiring as key channels to hire talent. In addition, we are also hiring a gig workforce across different available roles, as this gives us access to a much larger and more diverse talent base.
Employees are returning to offices. What has been Freecharge’s journey in the same context?
At Freecharge, we are currently in the process of segregating all our roles into three categories – The ones which require mandatory office presence, those which can be managed in a hybrid mode, and lastly the ones which can be done fully remotely. We believe that most of our current roles will fall in the hybrid category. We will expect such employees to work from the office for 2-3 days per week, with the option to work from home on the remaining days. While working from the office is important for team bonding and collaboration, we also understand that working from home will provide them with the much-desired flexibility to work from a place of their choice. Also, at Freecharge, we strongly believe in an outcome and output-driven culture. Hence, we do not track employees’ work timings, and FCians are free to take breaks between work for personal reasons if they take ownership and accountability for their work.
From the perspective of human capital, how has it benefited Freecharge in having Axis Bank as its parent? Did it aid in getting talent interested in Freecharge due to brand recognition?
From a human capital perspective, Freecharge has benefited significantly through its association with Axis bank. Firstly, being a subsidiary of Axis Bank provides us the much-needed financial stability, and this helps us inspire confidence in our employees that we are committed to building their careers on a long-term basis. We are proud that even during the peak of Covid, we did not resort to any layoffs or salary cuts. We are also exposed to many mature HR practices and new-age talent management initiatives which are run by Axis bank. Further, due to the large employee base of Axis Bank, we are also able to access many important employee benefits such as parental insurance, employee benevolent fund, retiral benefits, EAP programs, etc. which we may not have been able to offer on our own due to our relatively small employee base. Lastly, through the internal mobility programs, we have been able to attract talent from Axis bank who have significant expertise in the financial services industry.
What kind of culture from Axis has been adopted for Freecharge? Are there any HR policies that are only meant for Freecharge employees?
At Freecharge, we have the autonomy to define our own HR practices and policies, in line with the needs of our talent base. However, we also adopt many progressive policies from Axis Bank, if we feel that they can positively impact and engage our employees. Further, the entire Axis Group follows common core values, which bind us together and play a key role in shaping our culture.
From a cultural point of view, how is Freecharge different from Axis, considering the former is nimble with a startup DNA and the latter is heavy with compliant DNA?
The key differentiators for Freecharge from a cultural point of view are our focus on agility and innovation. Axis Bank is a regulated organisation and given it is a leader in the Banking/Financial Services industry by the nature of its business, trust is an important part of its model. And, compliance is an important pillar which ensures that the trust in the organisation, by both its internal & external stakeholders, continues. Although we at Freecharge still work under the compliance framework of Axis Bank, we have the freedom to define our practices and policies, keeping in mind the needs of our talent base. Hence, we ensure that we drive ownership & accountability and have a lean organisation structure, so that decision making is faster, and this provides us with the much-needed agility.
Attrition has been one of the biggest challenges in nearly every sector today. What have been your initiatives to counter it? How are appraisals at Freecharge this year?
Yes, attrition is a big challenge for our industry at present mainly due to the demand and supply gap of tech talent. To counter it, we have focused on talent segmentation, and we have identified certain critical roles where we pay differentially higher than the market benchmarks. We also offer learning programs from leading universities for our top 10 percent talent. For all other roles, we continue to ensure that we maintain market parity. Our appraisals this year aligned with the market expectations and were substantially higher for critical roles.
Apart from compensation, we focus on numerous other areas to reduce attrition – we continuously listen to our employees through surveys and 1-to-1 connects, and we make changes to our policies and practices based on employee input. Diversity is a big focus area for us, as this gives us access to a much larger talent pool, and we ensure that we offer flexible working arrangements and gig opportunities to meet the needs of this diverse talent pool.
“Yes, attrition is a big challenge for our industry at present mainly due to the demand and supply gap of tech talent. To counter it, we have focused on talent segmentation, and we have identified certain critical roles where we pay differentially higher than the market benchmarks. We also offer learning programs from leading universities for our top 10 percent talent.”
What are some key HR metrics that Freecharge undertakes?
We believe in data-driven HR and hence track multiple metrics across the life cycle of employees. Some key metrics for us include – occupancy rate, offer acceptance rate, and overall recruitment cost to gauge the effectiveness of our hiring practices; overall attrition, top talent attrition, and segment-wise (based on gender tenure, etc.) attrition, engagement rate, and diversity ratio to assess our culture effectiveness and employee experience; and wage cost as a percent of headcount and revenue to measure our business efficiency.
What have been your HR Tech innovation investments in the last couple of years and how do you see this space reacting in terms of the financial services sector?
Over the last few years, we have focused heavily on automating our manual processes, in order to improve our HR process efficiency and overall employee experience, which is critical in our highly competitive Fintech industry. The automation starts right at the candidate level through our Applicant Tracking System and continues till the exit of an employee. We are currently using a cloud-based, market-leading HRMS to meet our HR digitisation needs. One such example was our ability to quickly launch 360-degree feedback for our leaders last year, by customising the existing capability which was offered by our HRMS platform. We also leverage some in-house talent management tools of our parent bank, such as tools for managing internal career mobility and an assessment platform to measure employees’ subject matter expertise, and this helps us drive initiatives which are unique to us.
Year of Incorporation: 2015
Number of employees: 500- 550
Name of the founders: We are a wholly-owned subsidiary of Axis Bank
Name of the key execs: Siddharth Mehta (MD & CEO, Mayank Kapoor (CHRO), Rameshwar Gupta (CTO), Shweta Singhal (Chief Marketing Officer & Head of Growth), Sumit Bhatnagar (Head – Program Management & Platform Products), Rahul Vermani (Chief Financial Officer), Randhir Kumar ( Head – Business Development), Samarth Govila (Head – Legal & Compliance)
CAGR of workforce growth in 3/5 year period: 8-10% for 3 years
Business line: We are a digital financial services provider.
Hiring Pipeline: Our 80 percent hiring is in tech and product verticals, and the remaining 20 percent in support and business development vertical
Workforce pie (in percent): Our current female representation in the workforce is 23 percent and we target to take it to 27 percent by next year.
Key HR metric: Diverse talent and inclusive culture, Progressive employee benefits (parental insurance, inclusive daycare benefits etc.), Open and Informal work culture. Our current female representation in the workforce is 23 percent and we target to take it to 27 percent by next year.