Listen above or read the full transcript beneath, which has been edited for clarity.
Jon Kennard: Welcome to the very first HR tech and transformation focus for UNLEASHcast. And it is my great pleasure to welcome our HR tech and transformation lead and senior journalist here at UNLEASH, Dan Richardson. How you doing?
Dan Richardson: Well, thank you. Thank you so much for having me, it’s really exciting to be on a podcast about HR tech, there’s not too many of us. So it’s good to be here.
JK: Yeah, indeed, this is the first of quite a few that we’re going to be doing regularly monthly for each of the four content pillars at UNLEASH, and this is the HR tech one. This is very much the the focus and the bread and butter, the origins of the company. So it’s very exciting to kick this one off.
What we’re going to do is we’re going to look at three really interesting stories from the last, say, four weeks or so, as we’re going to be doing these on a monthly cycle. The first one is actually about Zoom. So Zoom, obviously was kind of consumer market focused initially, but it’s kind of increasingly targeting enterprises. And you wrote a great story from a couple of days ago, ‘Zoom users continue to boom alongside profits’. And apparently, this year, revenues reached $4.1 billion. They seem to be doing all right.
DR: Very, very well. I think it’s been a weird one, you’ve seen that transition from the consumer side where we all thought, oh, this is kind of fun. And now it’s everyday, part of our life, ingrained. But they’re going to shoot up even more. I can see why. And if you’ve read the read the piece – self plug – when you look at Zoom, there’s just more and more enterprises using it. But now when they’re moving to a basic tier, where you have ads, that’s trialing at the moment, and I think that will really start to push the consumer market as well to maybe give them more cash. So it’s very, very exciting on their side.
JK: We published an interview with Jodi Rabinowitz from Zoom, who was talking at UNLEASH America. And she said, Zoom has become a part of our lexicon,a part of our language, it’s a verb now, which is quite an incredible thing.
It’s surely every place that every company wants to get to, to become actually part of the language that you use day-to-day, don’t you think?
DR: Yeah, for sure. And numbers wise, we [published] a piece earlier this year, where it said that they’ve doubled their headcount. They’ve absolutely exploded in terms of revenue. And I don’t think even they could predict the last two years was going to be quite successful, albeit in pretty bad circumstances. Yeah, it’s been a huge turnaround for them. Well turnaround is too harsh. They’ve just really managed to jump on that market and make it a real success. And there’s been good competition; Google Chat are doing their bit. And obviously, there’s Teams and there’s all these other different networks from very established providers as well.
JK: The interesting thing for me would be that [with] Zoom the shares rose very, very sharply in say, March, April 2020, when when people made a very, very sharp pivot towards working remotely, and it became an essential part of everything we did, but then you saw them drop quite significantly as well, probably six months after that, when people thought, ‘oh, well, it’s over, we’re all going back to the office’, and then they’ve risen again. So you’ve had this really crazy fluctuation in the share price.
Because I think maybe people now realize that we can’t really take for granted the pandemic is going to be over. And also, we’ve settled into this idea of what hybrid working should and can be for a lot of people, I think.
DR: And flexibility is a huge thing for for everyone. I don’t think there’s many people who are absolutely guaranteed to go in five days a week, unless the job really necessitates that. That’s why Zoom is really handy. Because as nice as it is to do asynchronous messages and staggered messages, where you pick up your email, sometimes you need to jump on a call, and get things sorted now. So I think Zoom is really smart. This is how we do meetings now. Like it or not, I know it’s not as nice as speaking face to face, but I think the practicality aspect has really been cemented now.
JK: Other platforms are available, but the general idea of kind of video conferencing is is definitely here to stay. The next great story was about salary loans. The headline was ‘salary loans are not the same as an advance’ and we’re talking here about EWA; earned wage access. Dan, tell us, what is EWA?
DR: So I always described earned wage access as doing what it says on the tin, in respect that it’s essentially having access to the wages you’ve already earned in the month rather than subscribing to that monthly paycheck – it’s one of those when I first started hearing about EWA, I wasn’t too sure I was on the fence because I quite like how my bills work, you know, they kind of all go out at the start of the month, and then we go on week to week, but we’ve been really fortunate at UNLEASH to speak to some pioneers, or people who are really passionate about it and get a bit more insight, get us out of our tower a little bit where you go ‘oh, well, I’ve got my finances kind of in a nice order. And when you look perhaps further down the pay scale, why you need access to wages, sometimes earlier, and sometimes later.
In this case, we were really lucky to speak to Payflow, who have got a lot of exciting things coming up now; a European based, emerging tech company. And [Payflow co-founder] Benoit Menardo sat down with us and kind of gave us his vision, which is a little bit different – not to go on too much about it, and give it all away. But it’s more about taking money off the employer rather than the employee, differentiating it from a loan where you could say, I’ve given you your access, to this money, but now you’ve got a 5% charge on it.
JK: It sounds like something that should have been done ages ago, and a really, really good idea. But it also seems, I guess, on the fringes a little bit at the moment – do you think it will catch on in a major way? Do you think we’re seeing the start of a revolution in the way that salary and payroll work?
DR: You know, I think Benoit made a really good point where it’s almost like a de-evolution, where we’re looking almost back to the industrial age where there was more shift to ‘this is where you get your monthly pay, rather than you deliver, I think his analogy was, you know, a sack of grain and you get paid for that grain, you know, and it’d be very transactional.
I think the gig economy is a big part of that, of why it’s changed and why our attitude’s changed. If you’re an Uber driver, you complete your drive, the money goes straight to you and I think, particularly with work that has a transactional element, or there’s an end goal, and it’s finished, it makes complete sense for people to then get paid.
Because, if you’re doing it job by job by job, then it’s kind of a waste of time, to wait to the end of the month.
I think the the other part of that is, the way we do our monthly bills is dissolving as well. I think it’s quite rare, other than my rent, my internet bill, to go out monthly. Bar that, everything else seems pretty fast, fluid and agile. So, I think it’s a real natural progression from where we are and in some ways that harkens back to a very traditional sense of how pay should work. But if I had to call it I’d say in five years time or so I’d be very surprised if major companies weren’t offering this across the board. That’s my prediction. I was considering saying don’t quote me on that, because someone might play this back.
JK: Well you’ve said it now. It’s on record. I was talking to Marc Coleman our CEO yesterday, he was saying that a lot of payroll providers are getting more into the HR tech space, in terms of HR management systems. That seems like a big move, where fintech companies are moving into HR. Another bigger, wider, interesting development. I think these are kind of early stages. But what do you think about that?
DR: I think it’s a natural progression, especially when you look at compliance. Particularly when you’re billing or you have the company pay for your meal, your train, whatever, to have that centralized, quick and easy and not a crumpled up receipt from 1am if the work do has gone on for too long, I think that absolutely makes sense.
Something really interesting that’s come up when we talk to the smaller financial and fintech vendors is that they want to get higher in a value chain. So it’s it’s not just about, ‘oh, we’ve got you covered on compliance’ or ‘we’ve got your covered on EWA’, they want to be a hub for all these financial transactions because that’s really where the money is. If you’re the centralized place where everyone goes and the money runs through you as it were, and I think that’s really the direction that almost everybody’s scrambling to get to is ‘can we become a neo-bank’, ‘can we do all your bills’, ‘can we do the compliance side as well’. So I think it’s really exciting. We’ve definitely got the technology to do it. I think it’s just a case of who wraps it up in a neat package first, and makes it viable for employers.
JK: Yep, who’s going to be the Zoom of the neo-bank world. So the very final story is about our favorite and yours, the musk family or this time it’s Kimble musk, but also Elon Musk and a story about Tesla and their work with Bitcoin. So a story wrote from a couple of weeks ago, Febri 24th ‘Tesla, ‘very ignorant of environmental impact’ when investing in Bitcoin’. Tesla, the pioneering electric car company, very high-end executive level electric cars, also very closely linked to Bitcoin, which is famously not the most environmentally friendly of cryptocurrencies.
I mean, there’s obviously some hypocrisy, some some conflict of interest going on here. What do you think? Have they done enough to kind of turn around what people think of their initial position on Bitcoin? For me, it seems like Elon Musk says one thing one day and then completely opposite the next. And it’s a bit difficult really to keep track of, what do you think?
DR: I think the huge fans of Musk will say, Oh, great, that may track for me, I may, by that I think the more cynical of us will probably think this might be a bit of a cop out. Or, you know, in nicer terms, it seems quite silly. On reflection. I think Elon Musk obviously had a lot of benefit from promoting cryptocurrencies. He had a huge stake in it anyway, before the Tesla move.
The irony, and everything else that goes on with that, I think is the bigger question, really.
I think they’re in a little bit of a moral paradox. I think it’s really interesting, because I think Tesla don’t shout enough about how they are good for the environment, I think they very much go in a different direction with their ads, which is ‘we’re really cool. We can make fart noises come out of your car’, which all feels very web 2.0. You know, when memes became such a huge thing. It all feels like it’s almost formed out of that very strange environment.
But I don’t think many people will be buying into their, ‘we didn’t realize’ because there’s – I would hope – very intelligent people at the top of Tesla making those decisions. I do feel a bit sorry for Kimbal Musk, his brother. I know he’s a board member. But as I know, his specialty is a chef and a sort of food entrepreneur, which maybe makes it more believable that he was on the side of ‘Bitcoin sounds great, and it’s not, not a big deal’. But I think more generally, if the board’s making that decision, they must have been conscious of the environmental impact. I think any any researchers worth their salt would have probably highlighted that one.
And I’d be interested to see what they do in the future. If I were them, I would double down on the benefits of being environmentally friendly, trying to get staff in through that, if they’re looking for new talent. I don’t think they will, though. And I don’t think they need my advice on it.
JK: I think cynically, it’s all about the optics and the optics are not really with Tesla at the moment. And the stock price is all over the place as well. Nevertheless, it is the pioneer in the market. So we’ll see. So that was the first HR tech focus. Dan, thanks so much for your time. We’re going to be catching up again next month with a few of the biggest stories. How was it for you the first one?
DR: Yeah, I really enjoyed it. I think there’s some really good stories. I was quite happy to ramble a bit about them. We don’t always get to include it in the news stories, particularly our thoughts and opinions.
JK: Exactly. Well, thanks a lot. We’ll see you all next month.
This is the first in our ‘HR tech focus’ series, but there are more…