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Top Workplace TransferWise lets employees come as they are

Michael Ramirez, 36, left, and Tamara Wilds, 34, are members of the Customer Support team at TransferWise, an international money transfer company located in Ybor City. [OCTAVIO JONES | Times]
Published Apr. 5

TAMPA — While hunting for a job last year, Christy Herbert found one through LinkedIn that promised "annual trips to Europe.'' She didn't hesitate.

"I said: 'I'm in.' ''

Today, Herbert verifies customers' identities for TransferWise, a financial services company that transfers money internationally. This summer, she'll be joining dozens of other employees in the Tampa office for an all-expenses-paid trip to Estonia, the native country of company co-founder Kristo Kaarmann.

It's the biggest, but by no means the only perk offered by TransferWise, a fast-growing firm that ranks No. 1 this year among Tampa Bay's Top Workplaces in the midsize category.

Employees can set their own schedules. If they want some alone time, they can take their laptops and curl up in a bunk-bed type nook. Break rooms are stocked with complimentary oranges and bananas. There's a free continental breakfast every morning, and beer flows on Friday afternoon.

Top Workplaces: See the full list of this year's Top Workplaces winners in the small, midsize and large categories.

And wait, there's more: An exercise room. A massage chair. A ping-pong table. With advance notice, employees can bring their dogs to work.

But most importantly, "everybody is very helpful and supportive,'' says Herbert, 40, who decided to get back in the job market as her kids grew older. "Your team leader supports what you want to do.''

Kaarmann and Taavet Hinrikus, a friend from Estonia, launched TransferWise in London in 2011. Bothered by the high fees that banks charged to exchange British pounds to Estonian euros, they began doing their own transfers directly to each other's accounts. Then they realized the peer-to-peer approach might have a broader application.

In the past eight years, TransferWise has grown from 25 employees to 1,507 representing more than 70 nationalities. It has more than four million users, who transfer over $4 billion a month in 49 different currencies and save an estimated $4 million a day by using TransferWise instead of their bank. The company has attracted such big-time investors as British billionaire Richard Branson and Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal.

Four years ago, London-based TransferWise opened its Tampa office. After a stretch in Carrollwood, it moved in late 2017 to Ybor City and the historic J. Seidenberg & Co./Havana American Cigar Factory.

Top Workplaces: At the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay, the stakes are high but the job rewarding

Like the cigar workers a century before them, the 175 employees sit in big, high-ceiling rooms with tall windows and exposed brick. Quirky spaces have been transformed into cozy nooks with colorful mats or tiny meeting rooms with cushy chairs.

"Being from Miami, where there are a lot of new buildings, having an old brick building is really a major plus'' says Elizabeth Guerra, a customer service rep.

Guerra, a former freelancer who helped startup companies with customer support and other services, used to be a TransferWise customer herself. After saving her clients $800 by using TransferWise instead of banks, she decided to join the company three months ago. Yet she still enjoys some of the flexibility of her freelance days.

"'It's amazing work-life balance,'' Guerra, 31, says. "I choose my entire schedule.''

Employees can work nights shifts one month, day shifts the next. They get 21 days of paid time off plus 10 paid sick days. Benefits include medical, dental and vision insurance, plus a 401(k) matching retirement plan.

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The Tampa office has an international flavor with employees speaking Arabic, Russian, Vietnamese and many other languages as they chat with customers by phone or computer. Capitalizing on the multicultural atmosphere, the company has themed lunches once a week. Among the first: A meal cooked in the cigar factory's large, modernized kitchen by a Haitian employee who also shared stories about her country.

Every year around June, TransferWise pays for its people in Tampa, Singapore and other offices to fly to Tallin, Estonia, home of co-founder Kaarmann, and gives them a 38 euro daily stipend (about $43) while they are there. They work but also get to know colleagues from around the globe

(Estonia, formerly part of the Soviet bloc, is among the world's most tech savvy countries. Skype started there and everyone has an ID card that can be used for digital signatures.)

Among those making the trip again will be Sean Maguire, who joined TransferWise in 2015 after managing restaurants, including Beef O'Brady's. He knew he wanted to get into finance but struck out applying to more traditional companies because "I'm not the corporate type."

One of the interview questions at TransferWise was: On a scale of 1 to 10, how weird are you?

"I said 'a solid 7,' '' Maquire says. "It was intended to show if you're trustable, teachable and smart.'' He was hired.

Nicolas Soriano, who's from Spain, perhaps summed up TransferWise best as he sat next to a colleague from Brazil.

"I like the cultural atmosphere and the work,'' Soriano said. "It's not a place where you have someone telling you what to do. You can find your own path.''

ABOUT THE COMPANY:

Transferwise provides peer-to-peer money transferring services for more than four million users internationally, saving them high bank fees normally charged for the service.

Employees: 156

Location: Based in London, with large office in Tampa

Website: https://transferwise.com/us

EMPLOYEE COMMENTS:

"You're allowed to be human beings and bring your best self forward. You're not a robot.''

"It's much less corporate here even though it's a financial institution. You can dress as you want, it's much more colorful and lively.''

"What I love is the fact people can focus on their strength and real talents. We capitalize on what makes them different.''

"There are a lot of smart people here. It's a really good place to grow and learn.''

Contact Susan Taylor Martin at smartin@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8642. Follow @susanskate.

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