We had the pleasure of speaking to Manoj Varsani (CEO) and Marco Ferrari (COO), co-founders of Hammock Financial Services Ltd, a property finance start-up that works with landlords to provide bespoke banking, bookkeeping and property tax statement software. Hammock is a profit driven enterprise, and its founders are committed to their business being a force for good and giving back to the community. They are also in the process of becoming a B-Corp. We spoke to Manoj and Marco about how they balance purpose and profit in their business and their experience with the B-Corp accreditation process so far.
So, starting at the beginning, where did the idea for Hammock come from?
Manoj: Prior to founding Hammock, I had a lot of experience in finance in the property sector and worked as the CTO for both start-ups and larger corporations, including various FTSE 100 companies. I was also a landlord. Between my professional and personal experience, I noticed a gap in the market, namely that all landlords essentially revert to spreadsheets when it comes to finances and book keeping. The business ambition behind Hammock is to replace the manual spreadsheet model that landlords tend to use.
Marco: Prior to Hammock I had a career in management and communication for start-ups and NGOs. As well as an interest in simplifying the landlord process, we, the founders, also have a common interest in giving back to the community. Our ambition is to promote transparency and fairness in transactions in the property sector.
How do you put your ambition to improve transparency and fairness into practice?
Manoj: It is common knowledge that tenants often feel there is a power imbalance between them and their landlords. I think that problems arise when there is a lack of communication – if tenants, landlords and letting agents could all work to communicate properly most of the problems that you see in the industry wouldn’t arise.
Marco: I agree, for example, when the pandemic first hit, landlords could apply to the government for mortgage holidays, but tenants didn’t have similar means of financial support. What we saw was a big spike in missed rental payments. Hammock decided to facilitate discussions between landlords and tenants to enable them to come to sensible, forward-thinking arrangements in relation to rental repayment plans. While the pandemic has presented many challenges, it has also given rise to innovative thinking and creative solutions, which Hammock is proud to have been a part of.
We know from our previous conversations that both of you, together with the other employees of Hammock, did some incredible charity work during the pandemic, for which Manoj was awarded an MBE. Can you tell us a bit more about that and how it fits in with your business?
Manoj: We established SOS Supplies in response to the PPE shortage in March 2020. Our purpose was to source suppliers that had PPE stock and match them with organisations that needed it. In the end, we shipped approximately £5 million worth of PPE to over 250 UK organisations – including charities, hospitals, and the police force – over the course of three months. The project was a success thanks to the hard work of Hammock employees, plus the help of about 20 volunteers.
Marco: One of the unexpected results from the pro bono SOS Supplies project was that it gave the Hammock team a sense of purpose and positivity, in what was a very challenging time. As a team, and as co-founders, it was a big learning curve for the company, and it was great to see that everybody really came together and enjoyed giving back.
As a challenger bank, is part of Hammock's purpose to break down some of the existing barriers to banking and help vulnerable individuals get bank accounts?
Manoj: Yes, one of our ambitions is to provide our current accounts to homeless people. It is difficult because it requires agreement from everyone in the supply chain to work towards the same goal. For example, getting KYC and AML checks approved can be very difficult, because vulnerable individuals, such as rough sleepers, do not always have the requisite ID, such as a passport or certified proof of address - that is where charities come into play, to identify and build a relationship with vulnerable individuals. We are hoping to partner up with a suitable charity to put our plan into action, but it is a long term ambition, due to the regulations involved.
You've mentioned how important employee engagement is - how do you engage Hammock's employees with your purpose focus?
Marco: We generally don’t compromise on anything to do with transparency or ethics within our team or with our customers. We are very clear with our employees about what is and isn't acceptable. Following the success of SOS Supplies, we are trying to get more of our employees involved in other lateral projects that we are involved with. We are also looking towards building active commitment as one of the elements of our HR package, giving employees a number of days each year for active commitment.
Do you think a business can be profitable but also give back in a meaningful way?
Manoj: Often when people think about charity work or helping their community, they think about fundraising outside of their working life but often it is the skills we learn in our day jobs that can most usefully be applied towards a charitable cause. SOS Supplies was all technology based, and we used our Hammock KYC/AML checks to run due diligence on the companies. The most valuable thing we could give was our expertise in this area applied to different situations.
Marco: It is this false dichotomy that people fall into - either run a business or be purposeful. It doesn't have to be like that, you can have a comprehensive approach to the things you do so that they are designed to be sustainable and profitable.
We were introduced to you at the start of your B-Corp journey. How did you come to here amount B-Corp and what do you hope to get out of it?
Manoj: I was aware of B-Corp before starting Hammock and thought it was a great initiative for corporate organisations. A lot of companies have corporate responsibility teams with extensive policy documents but very little actually comes from it. I admired that B-Corp looks beyond this and forces organisations to act on these policies throughout their infrastructure. The reason the application process is difficult and can be challenging, especially the impact assessment, is because B-Corp want organisations to actually follow through on their commitments. It is more than doing good one day a year, it is making a sustainable effort to operate your business so that it has a positive impact on the environment and your community. The B-Corp process opens business owners' eyes to the impact their business has and connects them to other likeminded people, opening doors to new ways of operating.
How is the accreditation process going so far?
Marco: For a company our age and a team our size it is a lot of work. However, I would say we have been through the bulk of discussions with investors and now we are pretty much ready to submit the paperwork. The process has given us some insight into our next steps. For us it is about formalising processes we already have but are not properly documented. For instance, we had no written diversity statement published with our job postings, not because we didn’t apply the principles, but because a policy had never formalised.
Do you have any advice for companies looking to go through the B-Corp process?
Manoj: If you are just discovering B-Corp my advice would be to do the impact assessment, get your score and see where you are with things. Going through the process initially yourselves can be very useful to work out what you are already doing and where you can improve.
Marco: It might sound trite but unless you are genuinely committed to doing it, then don’t. If you want to do a one-off fundraiser or something where you can be more transactional then do that. If you are doing B-Corp just for the label it won't work – the process is too comprehensive, it requires too much ongoing focus and effort so it is only for those who are truly committed to the cause. The second thing is do your homework, before jumping in look at the B-Corp website and relevant books, it really is a good thing to get ahead of your game to understand what you are getting into.
Manoj: And remember if B-Corp is not for you that doesn’t mean there aren’t other ways to do good!