By Amy Gilman, Head of People, Freetrade

People forget that even though culture is an organic understanding of the way things work, it also translates into actions, behaviours and business decisions—internally and externally. It is an invisible code that is baked in. You can tell if it is there, and you can tell very quickly if it is not. We have all walked into or interviewed at businesses like that and you know they are not very indexed on culture—they do not have a clue who they are or what they represent.

Our co-founders Adam and Viktor instinctively knew culture was important, but they had not fully appreciated the value of articulating that in some way, as opposed to assuming that culture would be organically imbued into everyone from the start.

Our first product released onto iOS in October 2018 and throughout 2019, Adam and Viktor hired more people, baked them into teams, and discovered first hand that without cultural alignment, there can be challenges.

They were honest and transparent with the team and pointed out some of the hard lessons they’d learned. They acknowledged that they hadn’t considered culture enough, from who they’re hiring right down to how they built relationships with customers. At the end of that year, they took the whole company on an away trip to Lanzarote, where the team were invited to help articulate what the cornerstones of the Freetrade culture were, and how to communicate that to customers, plus current and future employees. 

This means that, to this day the team have shaped what Freetrade stands for, the values we hold dear and how we expect it to translate to behaviours. It goes way beyond meaningless words and a tick box exercise. As a result, the team have all built the people experience Freetraders have globally.

Candour and Humility

Candour is about transparency. It is complemented by humility, which is very much about being open to that candour. If we are going to have candid conversations where a lot of feedback is flying around, we have got to be open to that feedback (or, even better, seek it out in advance!) receive it in the spirit with which it is given and be willing to improve as a result. This helps us all constantly iterate what we are doing and course correct as we go.

Curiosity

You can’t disrupt to the extent that we are looking to without being a fundamentally curious person. There is a reason why lots of companies are not doing what we are doing; because it is super hard! There can be a lot of complexity, and with so much that has never been done before, we must learn along the way. Having a growth mindset helps us solve complicated problems so that we can deliver our mission to get everyone investing.

Focus

Focus is about sweating the details to deliver quality work that can be trusted by our customers. This is particularly important in a business like ours because we are regulated. Lots of FinTechs prefer to think of themselves as a technology business that dabbles in finance. Freetrade is a financial services business, driven by technology. We are or are becoming regulated across multiple regimes and locations. This means there are certain parameters within which we have to operate. For example, when we launched SIPPs, (Self Invested Personal Pensions) in the UK this year, we were later than planned due to feedback we got from the HMRC around delivering within their guidelines.

We had to take that feedback and create time and space to improve. You cannot and will not go out to market as a regulated business with a product that doesn't inspire confidence. Customers need to feel like their money is going to be well looked after. Our people are really detail orientated, and they work this way at pace because of the rate at which we are moving. That takes focus.

Grit

This final value epitomises what it means to be a Freetrader. Grit can be dismissed as one of those snazzy New World startup words, which isn't the case here. At Freetrade, it means being relentlessly resilient and having a dogged determination in everything we do. 

We refuse to give up. If we believe it's right for our customers, if we know it’s right for our people, there has to be a solution, even if no one has found one before. Even if we have to try it multiple times, we will keep going. A really good example of this is our European expansion. Our original plan for our European HQ was Luxembourg. We did all of our due diligence and we picked Luxembourg because the regulatory regime is the most similar to the FCA in the UK. We felt this would make European expansion a lot more scalable.

First of all, it went well. It's an attractive place for FinTechs in Europe and we were well received. Our application was approved but with a big proviso: that we would cap our user base to 10,000 across Europe. At the time, we were acquiring 10,000 new users every three days in our home market so this wasn’t an option. Back to the drawing board. 

We looked at the other two options explored during due diligence: Amsterdam, or Sweden. Sweden was the next best regulatory regime and Stockholm was very much a hub for tech talent, plus financial institutions that are highly respected. 

We had three months to turn around the Swedish setup: hiring a local Managing Director and appointing Non Exec Directors, beginning the work on our regulatory application to the Swedish FSA—all over the Christmas 2020 period from the beginning of November to the end of January. 

It was never an option to say "let's put this Europe idea on ice and come back to it in a year's time." We have a timely opportunity to become an iconic, generation-defining Financial Services company, so we had to go again straight away. We had made a promise to our investors, customers, community and people so we had to deliver. Grit fuelled us all the way.