Image: Tim Chen, co-founder and CEO of NerdWallet.
For financial resources provider NerdWallet, the impact of COVID-19 immediately meant two things: Their growing customer base would need help navigating financial uncertainty, and their staff would need to feel supported.
The U.S. economy saw a record loss of 22 million jobs in March and April as the pandemic shut businesses across the country, either temporarily or permanently, resulting in high search demand for financial support information.
Meanwhile, NerdWallet employees had to adapt to remote work and added stressors like increased caregiving duties, while maintaining their own physical and mental health.
As number 17 on our Fortune Best Small & Medium WorkplacesTM 2020 list, NerdWallet addressed these demands for both customers and staff by focusing on financial wellness, mental health, a great remote onboarding experience and diversity and inclusion.
We talked to Tim Chen, co-founder and CEO of NerdWallet, about how his company creates a culture of care amid these challenging times.
Great Place to Work: Tell us about your role and career journey at NerdWallet.
Tim Chen: I’m the CEO of NerdWallet. I co-founded NerdWallet in 2009 after working on Wall Street and realizing there isn’t much transparency when it comes to financial decisions.
My sister had asked me to help her find a credit card, but even with an economics degree and a Wall Street background, it took me a while to find the right recommendation for her! To see all options, I compiled credit card information into a spreadsheet. From there, NerdWallet’s first credit cards tool was built, and our mission to bring clarity to life’s financial decisions was born.
Before founding NerdWallet, I was a hedge fund analyst at Perry Capital, investing in payment processing firms, credit card networks, and technology companies. I also worked as an equity analyst at Credit Suisse First Boston.
Great Place to Work: Your company helps people take control of their finances, which is even more crucial today. Is financial wellness part of the employee experience at NerdWallet?
Tim: Nerds (NerdWallet employees) are our greatest asset and we are committed to investing in their financial wellbeing. We provide them the support needed to be financially savvy.
Financial wellness begins with education, so we host frequent NerdTalks and Brown Bags, where we invite industry experts (both at Nerdwallet and outside) to share their knowledge. Recently, our in-house experts gave insight on topics such as travel rewards programs, 401Ks/retirement accounts, and the impact of COVID-19 on the economy.
Great Place to Work: Only 32% of the U.S. workforce has a 401K plan, and as little as 14% of employers offer one. Why is having a 401k plan, etc., important for company culture?
Tim: We match 100% of 401K contributions, up to 4%, because we understand how important it is to have a retirement plan.
Nerds are vital to our growth, so it’s only fair for the company to invest in their future and wellbeing — offering retirement plans and matching contributions has helped us attract and retain strong talent.
Great Place to Work: How do you maintain your strong company culture while growing?
Tim: Investing in our Nerds is our main priority and we’ve retained our benefits, while also introducing caregiver guidance and flexibility, mental health offerings, and remote working support.
Nerds also have the ability to work remotely permanently, allowing them to relocate based on their preferences or leverage a hybrid situation, splitting time between working from home and the NerdWallet head office.
We welcomed Lynee Luque as our new VP of People Operations. Lynee will play a significant role in evolving our workplace culture, managing and supporting an increasingly remote workforce, and advancing the company’s diversity, equity and inclusion efforts.
Great Place to Work: In terms of employee experience, how have you onboarded in this virtual environment?
Tim: We’ve brought our in-person onboarding experience online. New Nerds participate in a two-day orientation session, which includes an introduction to NerdWallet and our company values, followed by deep dives from various departments such as IT, recruiting/HR, and legal, as well insight on our business and product strategy.
In order to ensure seamless onboarding, we send out laptops and equipment prior to orientation, so new Nerds can familiarize themselves with the tech and connect with their teams informally via Slack and Zoom.
We also offer them the ability to order NerdWallet company swag such as notebooks, coffee mugs, or a backpack through our online shop, to make the first day a little more special.
Great Place to Work: In your employee survey, NerdWallet employees score the company culture high on measures of caring. How do you create a culture of care?
Tim: We made the decision to invest in our employees’ mental health and productivity and we are continuously improving our people programs. Diversity, equity and inclusion is a priority and we strive to improve our company and product’s inclusiveness. We want to foster a community where Nerds support one another and feel a sense of belonging.
Our leaders share regular “Reflections” with Nerds on trending topics, but recently these have been used to provide comfort and inspiration. “Reflections” are testaments to our managers’ vulnerability, leadership and desire to see all Nerds as individuals.
We host bi-weekly All Hands and Town Halls to provide updates on the business, celebrate wins, and address questions. We conduct virtual workshops, including half-day management trainings and multi-day in-depth workshops on skills employees would like to improve.
Employee surveys help us to understand what Nerds care about most, so we know what we should be implementing, evolving, or eliminating.
Nerds give back to the community through NerdsPayItForward, our employee-led corporate social responsibility program. While volunteering opportunities are on hold, Nerds continue to donate to local and national organizations and we match each contribution 100%.
Great Place to Work: How do you create and maintain a strong company culture with a remote workforce? What advice would you give other SMBs not accustomed to such ways of working?
Tim: About 20% of our Nerds have always been remote, so we didn’t need to make any sweeping changes.
We encouraged Nerds to use our $750 home office stipend to set up their home offices, held a seminar on home ergonomics, and created resources for working virtually, managing a remote team, and maintaining high morale.
Programs such as Do Not Disturb Wednesdays encourage Nerds to use their time however they want — to take a walk, focus on a project, or play with their kids. Our company-wide “Speedy Meetings” initiative cuts meetings by 5 to 15 minutes, giving everyone more time in their day.
To help Nerds stay connected to their co-workers, we introduced several fun initiatives such as healthy habits contests to reward Nerds’ acts of self-care. We also host virtual workouts, happy hours and our annual Little Nerds Day, where we had more than 100 kids RSVP.
Cultivating a strong company culture starts with listening to and investing in employees. Supporting their wellbeing could mean revisiting the benefits and perks offered, prioritizing mental health, and focusing on diversity, equity and inclusion.
Great Place to Work: Anything else that you’d like to add?
Tim: Transitioning to working from home has been a difficult change for all of us, especially those who are caregivers. We’re supporting our Nerd parents and caregivers as the school year starts by bringing in Ph.D. experts and productivity coaches to host seminars on topics that Nerds have voiced as a hardship, such as how to work from home productively with kids.
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