Belgium’s largest fintech company is Top Employer 2023: “Keeping employees is no longer done with a one-size-fits-all HR policy.”
As one of the largest fintech groups in Belgium, Isabel Group aims to take a leading role in the development of secure and user-friendly solutions to simplify the financial administration of companies, accounting firms, banks and private individuals. To realize this ambition, the group can count on a team of 350 experts. The search is on for new people to support further growth. Not easy in a tight labor market, but the sustainable and innovative policy focused on cooperation and recognition is attracting a lot of talent. “We want our employees to feel good at work and to develop their full potential. People demand a lot of flexibility, and we offer it to them,” says Géraldine Valentini. She has been Chief HR Officer of the company since 2018, which was recognized as a Top Employer in Belgium in 2023.
Isabel Group aims to be the most reliable and solid link between individuals, companies, accounting firms, banks, software suppliers and public authorities. “You only become a ‘trusted leader’ with the right people on board,” knows Géraldine Valentini, who started her career in 1999 as HR Officer at Eurocall and as HR Coordinator at IP Global.net.
In 2003, she joined I.R.I.S. (Canon Group), the UCL spin-off specializing in optical recognition. In 15 years there, she rose to HR Director and made a major contribution to the professionalization of the HR function, evolving it into a strategic partner in the company.
Innovation as a common thread
In 2018, Valentini became Chief HR Officer at Isabel Group, an evolving organization. At the time, the financial world was going through a real upheaval. From 2017, for example, the Payment Services Directive (PSD2) came into force, a new European directive on payment services and the Single European Payment Area. Electronic invoicing was also gaining ground.
To respond to the growing issues surrounding online security and the other challenges these evolutions brought with them, Isabel Group made innovation its top priority so that it could continue to develop new services. This focus on innovation and diversification is present in the company today more than ever.
“We operate in a complex sector, with many challenges and opportunities. To evolve, we need people with the right hard and soft skills. That is why we have recruited a lot of new talent in recent years and obtained new colleagues from acquisitions: today there are 350 of us,” Valentini says.
“My goal is to smoothly integrate all these new people into the organization, and give them every opportunity to bring their knowledge into the company so they can create value with it. I don’t do this alone, of course, because it goes much broader than just human resources. In particular, there is an important role for the people manager of each team. That person is trained specifically for that during a multi-year leadership program.”
“Our managers embody and realize the learning culture we need in the company. They are the critical bridge between today’s employee expectations and the company’s priorities, and hold the key to unlocking the potential of our employees.”
Valentini emphasizes that development and deployment are not hollow concepts at Isabel Group. “We make many efforts to understand our employees. What do they want, what expectations do they have of their job and of the group in which they function? Only when we know that, can we support them to develop and utilize their skills and strengths as much as possible at work.”
To this end, every employee can receive a customized personal training program that focuses on both hard skills and soft skills. For this strongly developed and innovative HR policy, Isabel Group received the “Top Employer 2023” recognition.
Valentini is obviously very proud of this: “It motivates me to continue this exciting journey with our people, and to continue to focus on well-being and togetherness at work in addition to our positive training culture.” Because that too is a crucial pillar in Isabel Group’s HR strategy.
For example, all employees are invited at least twice a year for a personal interview with their people manager and with the HRBP (human resources business partner). “It’s not then about their performance but about their career in itself. Especially for us as an IT company, this is a must. Technology cycles are getting shorter and our people expect us to keep challenging them with exciting projects. If they don’t get the chance to learn and grow, they will soon be gone,” says Valentini, who is aware that anno 2023 it is more important than ever to be an attractive employer.
With a score of 81 percent, Isabel Group scores all but higher than the IT benchmark of 80 percent in terms of engagement. Still, finding new people remains a challenge. “In 2018, 25 new employees were recruited annually by a single recruiter. That is no longer possible now.”
Despite the severe labor market crunch, Valentini remains optimistic. “I am convinced that we stand out because of our warm corporate culture and our focus on innovation. Of those 25 hires I spoke of, an average of 20 are referrals by our employees or people who know us. We may not be a ‘sounding name’ like the Big Four, but we do have an excellent reputation.”
Continuous innovation and improvement is in our DNA, and we actively involve our people in it
“We offer numerous training opportunities and believe in a healthy, motivating work culture,” says Valentini, who adds that intrapreneurship is strongly encouraged at Isabel Group. “Continuous innovation and improvement is in our DNA, and we actively involve our people in this. Whoever has an idea may come and present it to our innovation board. If it is approved, he or she gets a budget and our full confidence to work it out.”
Another element of Isabel Group’s corporate culture that appeals to many is the high degree of flexibility offered by the company. For example, employees can completely fill in part of their remuneration themselves with benefits under a cafeteria plan. Examples include buying additional leave days, having their hospitalization insurance adjusted, ordering inexpensive hardware equipment for their homes and much more.
We have been offering a flexible mobility plan since last year, where you can choose a smaller car to free up budget to pay part of your mortgage loan, for example
“In addition, since last year we have offered a flexible mobility plan, where you can opt for a smaller car to free up budget to pay part of your mortgage loan, for example. This is possible thanks to the Federal Mobility Budget launched by the government. We complement that ourselves with a mobility plan we developed ourselves to give our employees as many options as possible. Some work 4 days from home, others only 2: you have to be able to respond to that as a company,” says Valentini.
Flexibility: it really exists
Recognition as a Top Employer does not mean that Valentini and her team are resting on their laurels. “There is always room for improvement. For example, we are going to structure our onboarding process more, with an extra dose of ‘fun’ in it. We also plan to build out a more comprehensive feedback culture for the people managers, so they can play their key role in our organization even better.”
What is Valentini’s biggest ambition as CHRO, we’d like to know. “Above all, I want our people to be enthusiastic and interested in the company. That they don’t ‘just do their job,’ but want and dare to take responsibility to think with an open mind about how the company can grow.”
“We give all people a lot of opportunities and hear that they experience it the same way themselves,” says the CHRO, who realizes that “a lot of attention to well-being” is a term that appears in every job description and does raise eyebrows with many candidates. “The reality is often different in many companies, it’s true. But here it really is.”
Our employees work hard, but they also enjoy life. If I can continue our HR strategy in this way, my mission will be accomplished
“I clearly remember how impressed I was with the corporate culture when I just started working here. Flexibility, right to disconnect, commitment, respect: all of that really exists here. Our employees work hard, but they also enjoy life. If I can continue our HR strategy in this way, my mission will be accomplished.”